Thursday, January 29, 2009

Management Misgivings

Since I was hired as staff at Habitat KC, I've been charged with overseeing our AmeriCorps program. As a member, I got to understand the program from one point of view, but now I'm seeing a totally different perspective. One part of me loves managing my own program. I know myself well enough to know that I have control issues and running the program myself allows me to have more control over something in the professional environment than I've ever had before. However, there are many new experiences for me in this venture and I'm discovering that maybe control isn't all it's cracked up to be. Up until this month, managing the program has been mostly a question of organization and paper work. There are a variety of documents that have to be signed and submitted at various time intervals. Some of them require feedback from our AmeriCorps members, others require supervisors' information and signatures, and all of it needs to be copied and kept on file just in case there's any kind of audit (this is, afterall, a federal grant program). I have no problem with any of that, even while much of the paperwork process can be tedious and redundant. It has allowed me to learn more about how the grant and program works at Habitat International's level and allowed me to regularly communicate with all of the people involved at our affiliate.

This month my management duties shifted when I was told that I could hire a new member to fill the open position we had for the last half of the term (our full terms are September - July but one member decided at the last minute not to take the job and we didn't have anyone else to hire at the time. This term will be February - July). This meant that I had to post the job listing, do some active recruiting, perform interviews and select the right candidate for the job. There are several tricks to this process, and I'm still learning how to deal with all of them. For example, a large percentage of people who already know about the AmeriCorps program and are interested in participating in it are white, middle class college kids. The problem is that as a federal program, the powers that be would like to see a more diverse population that reflects the entire population of this country. Our affiliate has not had a problem with this in the past - we've made a point to recruit for AmeriCorps members among our family partners and their friends and relatives, as well as posting jobs on local college campuses, including technical and vocational programs. At national training events, we have been held up as an example of what a good group of members can look like. However, for a variety of reasons, the people that we have hired in the past haven't always worked out well. Last year we had several disciplinary issues which led to one member quitting and another being terminated in the middle of the program. This put our affiliate on a list with those higher up and they want to know what we're doing wrong that we can't bring in people that are able to complete the program. So I, as the new coordinator of this program, have to find a way to balance what both sides want to see.

I posted the position on Craig's List, on our website and on the AmeriCorps website and that was it. Because I knew we only had one position to fill, I wasn't worried about having tons of people see it - just enough to find a handful of good candidates. And we'd never used Craig's List before so I wanted to see what kind of people that reached and how many responses we got. It worked pretty well and I had several applicants for the position. Most of them were white, male, and college educated but there was some variety. For the first time in my life, I interviewed people. I've been interviewed many times, but asking the questions was more nerve wracking than I expected it to be. I wanted to make sure I was being fair, so I developed a list of questions that I would ask to each applicant and had a rating system with room for comments so I could take notes and remember each applicant when I went back to review them later. I made sure to have someone from the construction dept. in the interviews with me so that it wasn't just my perspective being shared, especially since this position will be working in the construction dept. In the end, I had three good candidates for the job, all of which were young, white, college educated males. None of the diverse candidates made the cut for a variety of reasons and now I'm wondering if the process was somehow biased against them. I know that while I don't want to be racist and try my best not to be, there are things in my life and this culture that are immediately going to rule out people based on race, economic status, etc. The AmeriCorps program requires people to apply online thru the website, so if you don't have internet access or aren't computer literate, you're not going to be able to even apply, let alone get selected. Is this fair? It doesn't seem that way to me, but here I am running this program and now I have to figure out how to make it fair. Any suggestions??

So now that all has been said and done, I've hired one of our three candidates and this week I wrote the rejection letters to the others that we interviewed. I appreciate honesty but also appreciate tact and kindness and had a really hard time trying to bring all of those to a letter that told people they weren't picked. No matter what I said or how I phrased it, I felt like I was still telling them "you're not good enough" and I hate delivering that message. So what does this mean? Perhaps I'm not suited for hiring people. Perhaps I'm not suited for management. Or perhaps I'm just new to this and it will get easier and I'll figure out how to do all of it while maintaining a level of integrity. Or maybe it won't get easier and that's okay with me because if it does that will mean I've lost some of my compassion. If you have any advice, I'd love to hear it - leave me a comment!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Happy Obama Day!

I'm sitting here at work on this historic Tuesday morning, with my radio tuned to a live broadcast from Washington D.C. to hear the Inauguration ceremony as it happens. Like many in this country, I'm excited about today and the possibility of what could be in the next several few months and years. My previous post talked a bit about the controversy of Rick Warren doing the invocation today and now I wanted to add just a little bit of follow up to that situation. Many of you probably know that Biship Gene Robinson (Episcopal from New Hampshire) was invited to do an invocation as well, but his was scheduled for Sunday before the Inaugural Concert. Bishop Robinson is the first openly gay bishop and there was a lot of talk about his invitation coming to help calm Obama's GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) supporters who were so disappointed with the Rick Warren invitation.

Yesterday on Talk of the Nation (an NPR call in show), Gene Robinson was interviewed about his experience doing the invocation at the concert. For anyone not in Washington this weekend, the concert could be seen on HBO and heard live on NPR. I listened to it, but tuned in a little bit late and thought I had missed the invocation (beginning prayer). As it turns out, the prayer was not broadcast - AND it wasn't heard through the sound system on the national mall. Somehow, there were some technical problems on the site and the programming schedule didn't allow for the prayer to be included on the live broadcast. Some people are wondering if this was an accident/coincidence or intentional. Honestly, I don't know what happened and I would really like to think that the Bishop wasn't silenced intentionally, but it's an odd coincidence. His invocation (which wasn't played on NPR's live broadcast of the concert either since they shared the feed with HBO) was anything but a traditional "feel good" prayer. He didn't just ask for God to watch over us and the new President - he asked for God to send us tears and anger for a variety of situations in our own country and around the world, including injustices based on race, sexual orientation, gender identity, economic status, etc. The pieces of it that I heard during yesterday's interview (which you can hear if you go to the link above) were great if a bit shocking to hear in a time when everything else has been focused on how great this whole event is. Since the only people who could hear it were the people sitting up front at the concert, there hasn't been a lot of response to what the prayer said - the reaction has mostly been about the prayer's not being heard.

I don't know Bishop Robinson at all, but after hearing his interview yeserday and the way he responded to callers' questions, I'm very impressed with him and think it's sad that so much of the focus of his ministry is based on his sexual orienatation and controversy that is perceived as being related to that. To paraphrase MLK Jr. (who has been drawn on a lot more this year that the recent past), I have a dream that one day ministers will not be judged on their sexual orientation but on the content of their theology and the actions that they take in their ministries. I think it's sad that his prayer wasn't heard, but not because it's part of a conspiracy to shut down the gay man. I'm sad because so many people didn't get to hear the prayer itself, a message that people would likely be shocked to hear and perhaps NEEDED to hear. While I am an Obama supporter (and a little jealous of my friends who are in D.C. right now), I think perhaps the most important statement the Bishop said in his prayer related to Barack himself. He prayed that we would remember that Barack Obama is a man and a leader, NOT a Messiah. In the wake of all of this excitement and possibility, I think it's important that we not forget that. Obama appears to be a great man, but that doesn't make him a superhero or messiah or the answer to all of our problems. We're all going to need to have patience, a spirit of cooperation, and allow some time for the possibilities to take shape. May God grant us all of those things.