Tim Maroney (tim_maroney) wrote,
Tim Maroney
tim_maroney

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smarter than the average goals

Today I read keith418's pieces on SMART goals for the OTO. The SMART formula seems workable enough, although I am always wary of smarmy, over-marketed planning models. We might ask why we should concentrate on goals and strategy rather than on requirements, whether a matrix organization or a traditional hierarchy would better fit the organizational goals, or whether specific process and workflow models from business could be useful to us, rather than focusing on the SMART framework, which bears on a limited domain. But many organizations including the OTO do have problems that could be addressed through this model, so it seems like a reasonable starting point for discussion.

Under Strategy, which in nearly any other formulation of SMART goals would stand for Specific instead, I do not find much in the way of useful suggestions for a strategy. There is a characteristic pattern in Keith's discourse that is evident here, which is to insist vehemently and as if it is something everyone knows that "the leaders" are tragically deficient, without really saying how or pointing out any specific examples. Despite appearances, it is not would-be rabble-rousing; it appeals instead to rebels without a cause. They identify with the desire to lash out at some authority to prove their own individuality, but they don't want to get in any trouble, or go to the trouble of developing a Specific (there's that S again) alternative. True to form, rather than present a strategy Keith decries the faceless leadership's supposed lack of same.

The OTO has a strategic vision. It's basically the same as Crowley's though it has needed some tuning. The vision of the OTO is to be a crucible of initiatory spiritual transformation, in which a small number of highly capable people are presented with the opportunity to distinguish themselves before the current caretakers, and become the caretakers of the crucible in turn. The Mysteries of the group both embody the crucible of initiation and are sustained and sheltered by it. The project is multigenerational and in its early stages. I'm not sure why it would seem the leadership does not have this strategic vision.

Measurable is the real meat of any program. It's not only how you know whether you succeed or fail -- it's how you navigate toward your goal.

There are a variety of ways we could measure whether the crucible is actually fostering personal change and growth, but that of course would be psychology, which for some reason is anathematic, even though SMART goals themselves come from organizational psychology. Instead, the goals we see laid out before us, after wading through a few more paragraphs of vague denunciations of the faceless leaders, are not the ones we would necessarily think would be paramount for a spiritual group: money, property, membership size, and management choices. Of these I think the last, management choice, is the only really significant one of the four for a group that is not about money, and does not seek to convert the world.

On the subject of money Keith seems distant from the OTO of which I am a member. "I am asked to contribute to the legal fund, but not to a building fund, a charity fund, an internal publications fund, or any number of other areas." I've seen fundraising projects of these types, and many others, and contributed to some of them. Most of my donations go either to a local body or to OTO USA rather than to a particular fund, since I think earmarking unnecessarily complicates bookkeeping. Thankfully, I have never yet had reason to think that fundraising had become a primary goal of the organization, rather than a necessary evil.

To the extent that the property question is useful for the group it is being addressed through the national building fund. Owning property is not necessarily the best goal at this point. Tax liability has driven many fraternal lodges into receivership. We have been transitioning by policy to the use of neutral meeting grounds rather than private homes. A number of dedicated facilities have sprung up around the more successful local bodies already, by the hard work and support of the people in those communities. There seem to be sensible policies on property and they seem to be bearing fruit.

In membership Keith says that we do not watch membership numbers and strongly implies that we are losing members. Again, size of membership is not necessarily a good goal for the OTO, though we would expect it to grow if it were healthy. Membership numbers are published annually, by region and degree. They show a slow, incremental increase over the years. So I'm not sure what exactly the problem is here, or what justifies this classic KS substance-free rant:

If we have been losing members, are our leaders engaged in objective analysis and examination of the factors creating this loss, or spin and excuses that are entirely self-serving and subjective? One needn't debate the "quantity vs. quality" issue here at all, but what can ask – “What do the numbers tell us?” If this question is being asked, who is it being shared with and how? Good leaders admit that there are serious problems based on measurable factors and address them. Poor leaders spin away at the problem and obfuscate around the evidence. If the leaders do it, can we expect any different from their followers?

However, Keith does proceed to one point where he and I agree, which is that the OTO has had a bad track record in leadership choices. "If I was running a business it might naturally be my job to appoint managers. If I had a bad track record with my appointees, if many of them quit the company or had to be fired in disgrace, what would that indicate about my ability to judge character? Would subordinates naturally wonder what other skills I might be lacking?" This is one area where I am also greatly frustrated with the OTO. This frustration is only marginally abated by the fact that most businesses seem hard-pressed to find good managers. I hear the same concerns about leadership abilities from members of groups similar to ours, such as Pagan organizations and the Temple of Set, and in the history of other occult orders. As recent events have made clear, mainstream religions hardly seem to deal with the choice of leadership better than we do. I think we are facing a problem that is fundamentally hard for humans.

That is not to excuse the problem, only to contextualize it. It is a problem so serious that our continued existence and the rightness of that existence are both threatened. Perhaps it is hard to solve in part because it is so important. Here I am glad to say that there are tangible signs of improvement. Unwise choices from the past fall away -- or are pushed where necessary -- faster than before, and later-generation leaders (often but not always younger) have taken and are taking their chairs. The middle and upper degrees have expanded and been refreshed, and there is much more scrutiny of local body masters and those who wish to apply to speak for the Order, as opposed to the very damaging anything-goes and it's-their-funeral attitude toward volunteers from the 1970's to about the early 1990's. We are shifting to a governance of laws rather than of men, with the necessary concerns for due process and other forms of human rights and "business way." This work toward better internal process and less reliance on potentially whimsical and wrong leadership decisions is everywhere evident and to me it seems a serious attempt to deal with the problem, and one that so far has had tangible results for the better. I think, hope and pray there is more we can do but the direction of change is positive.

The next letter in SMART is "A", for accountable. Or, it is sometimes. Among the hundreds of SMART pep talks in a Google search I see A for Action-Oriented, and sometimes Attainable or Achievable, not Accountable, just as the S usually means Specific, not Strategic. These idiosyncratic usages appear almost as if someone had been bending the SMART concept to fit their critique. But not to quibble. Surely accountability is a principle with which no one could disagree. If someone shows that they can't handle a certain responsibility, then they won't continue to do so. It also means some investment in human resources will be respected and that people will receive warnings and be given the opportunity to discuss problem issues when possible. It's common-sense thinking about management, as many of these planning programs turn out to be, hidden behind acronyms and charts.

Yet while no one could disagree with the principle of accountability, Bro. Keith manages to put it in the most disagreeable way possible, as yet another protracted series of accusations against "the leaders". If we are going to take a motivational-speaking approach to planning, then let's at least be aware that talking about improvements and relief from pain points is going to sell better to almost any audience today than the fire and brimstone approach Keith actually takes in explaining, not accountability itself, but the dire consequences of lack of accountability.

Paragraphs pass before one real point bearing on the organization appears. There can be a problem with cronyism, and with the one-way nature of OTO degrees. This is almost lost in the spluttering, though:

Instead of ratifying accountability and demonstrating it, the hierarchy exists to thwart accountability and render it meaningless. This is easily seen when people of higher rank are allowed to get away with more and have more excuses made for them. There is no clearer evidence of inversion and the parody of rank and honors than that. This sets up a new diminishing spiral of expectations, so that one expects less and less from the hierarchy and makes more and more excuses for it. Naturally this serves to call into question its justification as local efforts, uninformed by the corrupt nature of the hierarchy, are seen as more effective and have greater practical justification. How many then notice the very damning questions this situation brings to bear?

I've heard fewer cronyism complaints of late than I used to hear -- again, around the time when the OTO started to shift more toward a basis I could identify with, in the mid-1990's, when two particularly unpleasant leaders were held accountable and selected out -- and I talk with a lot more people these days. I think it is a problem in any small self-governing group and that it has been and continues to be a problem in the OTO. As I said with respect to leadership choices, I see distinct measures of progress. I am not going to say too much about procedure at this level, especially since it is not something of which I am directly part. However, the improvement of the Grand Tribunal, the shift of the Electoral College from a forum for accusations to a policy-making and leadership-selecting body governing the Man of Earth, the understanding that international members or even national members of the VII may not exercise the privileges of the SGIG in all cases, and the apparent increase in activity by Chapters of Rose-Croix, all seem like positive moves toward correct and accountable internal governance.

Moving on past the ominous closing comment that "In the long run the implicit conflict, caused by a steady opposition to real accountability, will doom the hierarchy much more than admitting to failures, and accepting accountability for them, ever will", we proceed to realistic. This seems like a peculiar word to use for a spiritual program, and Keith does note the issue himself. In typical KS fashion the inherent tension between realism and spirituality is stated as a blast against mystics as contrasted with magicians, who are presumably much more realistic. Beyond this we are given no particular statement of what the realistic goals should be, and I am left with no response but to note that the areas where I have seen improvement are, unlike some spiritual areas, ones to which pragmatic and realistic criteria apply.

Finally we come to T for Time Line, or more normally, Timely. Personally I am part of this every time my local body, Mons Abiegnus Oasis, has an event. We need to be timely on this meso-level, but on the macro-level, we who tend the OTO are more like farmers or gardeners than entrepreneurs. We are not trying to double profit for the fiscal year, or beat the three-minute mile, or sell insurance, all normal SMART domains. Our Mysteries are alive and we tend them, improving in that as we go, and hopefully leaving something better for the next wave of caretakers than we have gotten in our turn. A multigenerational spiritual project grows toward goals that vary across generations, can't be imposed by mandate, require field trials that last for years, and necessarily adapt to an unpredictably changing environment.

I think it is hard but also unnecessary for me to answer Keith's question "What can we expect from our communities in our lifetime?" Over a long time horizon, I don't think detail planning is fruitful. Neither myself nor anyone alive can tell us where the human species will be in fifty years, much less the OTO. As long as the Mystery of the OTO is alive and transforming itself into something better I am willing to work with it. I do not control the OTO, nor does any one person or one generation. It may transform itself into something I would not choose to associate myself with, either during my life, or after it. These are risks I am prepared to accept. During this period of my life I am one of the many people helping to improve the OTO, and that is what I'm looking for, not assurances that we will own churches by the time I enter my dotage. Others' goals may well differ, and be no less smart than mine. And yet, as Robert S. Rubin reminds us in his paper on acronym drift, Will the Real SMART Goals Please Stand Up?, “only one thing remains clear, not all SMART goals are created equal.”
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