Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Dilbert Principle

“Don’t do as I do,” the old saying goes, “do as I say.”

In my classes, equipping for cross-cultural ministries, I state that if a family is unable to do ministry overseas they will do one of two things: (1) quit and go back home or, (2) be involved in irrelevant busy work on the field. People that fall into the second category are not those who cannot adjust to the culture but are people who, for one reason or another, can’t seem to find their niche in ministry. Perhaps they are not gifted in teaching, facilitating, or some technical skill that is required. Since they made a commitment for cross-cultural work, left their jobs, raised their support and now are on the field, it would be a shame for them to return back to the states. So what do we do with these people? We make them managers!

I have been observing this phenomenon managerial ministry among different organizations for sometime now, and believe me, they are not confined to a few. I’m not sure what drives this need to generate jobs for people on the field, but it’s now common practice to create a hierarchy of roles and give everyone a title so they can justify their existence as well as their considerable budget. Some organizations have created titles such as regional leaders, team leaders, strategic leaders and short-term coordinators. With all these managers one wonders who they are managing and who’s left to do the work? I know of one group that has only three families on their particular field and, since they can’t work together, they have all been made managers…and they go to area meetings to learn how to manage more effectively.

L. Peter first introduced the Peter Principle in a humoristic book (of the same title) describing the pitfalls of bureaucratic organization. The original principle states that in a hierarchically structured administration, people tend to be promoted up to their "level of incompetence".

The Dilbert Principle, the syndicated cartoon character, has overtaken the Peter Principle. Now, apparently, the incompetent workers are promoted directly to management without ever passing through the temporary competence stage.

Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, states, “When I entered the workforce in 1979, the Peter Principle described management pretty well. Now I think we'd all like to return to those Golden Years when you had a boss who was once good at something. I get all-nostalgic when I think about it. Back then, we all had hopes of being promoted beyond our levels of competence. Every worker had a shot at someday personally navigating the company into the tar pits while reaping large bonuses and stock options. It was a time when inflation meant everybody got an annual raise; a time when we freely admitted that the customer didn't matter. It was a time of joy.”

“We didn't appreciate it then” Adams continues, “but the Peter Principle always provided us with a boss who understood what we did for a living. Granted, he made consistently bad decisions -- after all, he had no management skills. But at least they were the informed decisions of a seasoned veteran from the trenches.”

While there is a role for managers in missions, perhaps we should begin with those who can say, as did the Apostle Paul, “Follow my example. Do as I do, not just as I say.”