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The Right of Invasion!

By Captain Terry Camsey – 

It was right there before me in the book… “The centre (it’s an English book!) after all carries the ultimate responsibility for the whole. Its reserve powers typically include ‘new money,’ i.e. the choice of strategic investment: ‘new people’ i.e. the right to make key personnel decisions in the group; the design and management of the information system, which is the artery of the organization; and, most controversially, the ‘right of invasion’ when things go wrong. Only those in the centre can have a view of the whole. They cannot run it, and should be too few in number to be tempted, but they can nudge, influence and, if they have to, interfere.”

Charles Handy, writer of The Empty Raincoat and a number of other books, is a well-recognized guru in the field of organizational change. In this particular chapter he suggests that “It is the job of the centre to set standards but not necessarily to specify how they should be delivered. The unit is then judged, after the event, by its performance against those objective standards.”

Interesting stuff, especially for an organization that grew up in that kind of atmosphere but which, possibly, has changed radically over the years as the policy and regulation books have thickened.

It is probably safe to say that, in the movement’s early days, Booth could live with a great deal of what (on the surface) appeared to be chaos. There is no doubt that he judged performance and acted accordingly when results did not match his expectations. On the other hand there seems to have been a great deal of freedom of action at local level by the entrepreneurial officers he dispatched to the field. He was autocratic…but focused on evangelistic results rather than mandatory methods or corps programs. These came a little later, of course and–possibly–are seen by some as a ‘ball and chain’ and by others as a ‘security blanket.’ Certainly, as things became regularized, the initial massive and spontaneous growth slowed, never to pick up with quite such intensity since.

These days, however, there are trends toward more freedom of local response to local challenges as well as a move toward measuring effectiveness more in terms of the fruit of evangelism, rather than counts of attendances and activities. Such trends, too, have nevertheless brought their own concerns to some to whom “imprisonment by regulation” has been a welcome alternative to “freedom in exchange for results.” I may be misquoting slightly, but I believe I read Commissioner John Gowans as saying (relative to such freedom) that he very much feared that if the door to the cage is opened, the “canary” will have forgotten how to fly! It certainly could be that there are those who, though actually given freedom, are reluctant to step outside the security of their “prison cell.”

I remember being in a division in another USA territory where the divisional commander kept repeating to his officers that they had permission to vary the standard program in order better to evangelize. They kept asking him if he meant what he said. I sensed that they preferred not to have that freedom because of the accountability that, inevitably, came with it.

But what I am really wondering (musing aloud, really) is whether an organization designed to function efficiently and effectively through autocratic leadership can do so through “commitment to consensus” and, conversely, whether “full and democratic input” to allow well-informed autocratic decisions is less effective. One thing is for sure…in times of change consensus is nearly impossible to get!

I’m not sure that, when the “enemy” is at the gate, striving for consensus as to whether bayonets should or should not be drawn is the best way to make that decision!

Additionally, I wonder whether the “centre” (at whatever level) could and would really, if they had to, “invade when things go wrong”...or instead indicate that, since it was within the sphere of responsibility of the lower level, the choice of response was up to them?

It’s probably true that we learn best from making our own mistakes, but if the truck is bearing down at high speed on the child in the road…?

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