Unleashing Staff Creativity with Data

As leaders of congregations, it’s important to remember that as you come to see the significance of what understanding data derived from electronic communications can mean for you and your staff, your staff may not feel the same.

Data, properly used, can have a liberating effective on staff creativity and energy. But very often, at the outset, your staff may well feel threatened by the emphasis on numbers.

It’s not hard to understand. Unless you’re the top person in the organization, any attempt to introduce data—which is objective and, to many, feels cold—can seem like a threat: to their ability, to their self-esteem, or to their job.

Removing the sense of threat, and bringing about the creativity, can take some time.

Change Comes Slowly

Anything new and different takes some getting used to. Though I have experienced this in my own professional life (as we all have), and have helped employees overcome their apprehension about analytical data, even I need reminders of how hard it can be.

Data, properly used, can have a liberating effective on staff creativity and energy.

I was reminded again on Monday night, July 15, as I watched Yoenis Cespedes of the Oakland A’s put on a clinic in the All-Star Homerun Derby—crushing shot after shot deep into the New York night.

Afterwards, as he was presented awards—always in English—the non-English speaker’s fear was palpable. And when an ESPN analyst asked him a probing interview question, I began to feel for the young man. It could have been a disaster. Instead, it became a shining moment. After asking the question in English, the analyst, on national television, asked the same question in Spanish. Cespedes answered in Spanish, and the analyst translated for the public.

What an extraordinary change from our not-too-distant past. As a child, I recall watching Roberto Clemente, and listening to announcers consistently call him Bobby, refusing to use his real name. A subtle, and at the time, pervasive racism fueled by fear of a culture few European Americans understood.

Change has indeed come—but it has taken a lot of work on both sides. And the same will be true in your congregation as you begin using analytics.

Pick at Yourself

The most important thing to remember is to be quick to pick at yourself.

When in staff meetings, be the first to point to something you did for the website or the newsletter and point out that it didn’t do very well numbers-wise. Then listen to your staff. Do they say things like “I’m sure it wasn’t your fault,” or, “it was a really great piece, don’t feel bad.” If they do, chances are good they are projecting their own fears of offering pieces that don’t do well—and they are watching to see how you handle it.

By being quick to point out your own failures, and then ask the probing questions why (Did I word it well? Was this the best time to run it? Do people really want this material? Was it placed poorly on the page?) staff members will begin to see that data is not a tool for judging them, but a way of learning more about their own work and thinking about ways that they can do things better.

So long as you treat your staff members the way you treat yourself when their article numbers are down, you should begin to notice something powerful: the staff taking ownership of the work, and being willing to risk more and more to produce quality material.

By using data to reflect, and not punish, you give people room to expressive their creativity and learn for themselves.

It’s a great gift for you; most important, however, it’s a greater gift to your church.