Religious organisations in East Africa do not feature much in discussions about quality management systems. One church in Nairobi started the ISO process as part of ensuring efficiency and accountability of its operations. TABITHA AREBA spoke to Bishop David Oginde and finds out what informed the decision.
When the City Council of Nairobi (CCN) received an ISO certification several months ago, people questioned the authenticity of the certification. According to the International Organization for Standards (ISO), standards ensure desirable characteristics of products and services such as quality, environmental friendliness, safety, reliability, efficiency and interchangeability – at an economical cost. Seemingly, as most Nairobi residents will tell you, the service levels at City Hall leave a lot to be desired.
Before the dust about ISO and City Hall had settled, one church decided to preach the gospel in a new way. One Sunday morning in May, churches under the Christ is the Answer Ministries (CITAM) ran an “unusual” advert that startled the congregation. The church had decided to implement the ISO process in its operations. “No! Churches must never go through ISO certification. This is a business/entrepreneurship minded platform, which does not apply to church. In as much as we desire standard procedures in conducting church matters, ISO certification would be a mockery to God and any serious believer,” a congregant posted on social site Facebook.
“We are not seeking fame but efficiency and effectiveness. However, a section of the public thinks ISO is a standard of the world and the church should instead call upon the Holy Spirit for guidance,” says David Oginde, the Bishop of CITAM.
While terming such comments as being fuelled by ignorance, Oginde says the world’s competitive business environment has its rules. For example, when exams are prepared, there are no Kenya Certificate for Primary Education (KCPE) exams for Christians and another for non-Christians. “KCPE is KCPE and parents want to see their children do well. They don’t think about spiritualising the business,” argues Oginde adding; “when we are in the radio market, we have to compete with other stations.” He says managing all this requires a very clear administrative system that will help and guide staff to deliver.
The challenge of administration
One of the challenges faced by the Church is administrative – ensuring that everything works and things are done the way they ought to be done – efficiently and effectively. CITAM has several churches across Kenya, schools, a radio station, a university among other activities that operates through a centralised system. Oginde says this system has its challenges and benefits. “Because of our growth, the administrative and structural challenges were beginning to overwhelm us.”
In a quest to refine these structures for efficiency, CITAM began the search for a tool that could help them deliver services in the best possible way. CITAM recognised that there exists management systems that have been developed to champion efficiency.
“We did not have to invent our own system as management is management and people are people. We looked around for systems that we could adopt.”
The Church was attracted by the ISO system due to the way it helps refine processes without external push or borrowing.
Oginde says the system takes companies through a process of identifying what they want to do, how they want to do it and the level at which they want to do it. “These are questions you answer for yourself. Therefore, you set standards for your company. You set yourself a bar. That bar may be higher than others in the market or slightly lower.”
According to Oginde, human beings tend to lower the bar to their comfort zones when carrying out activities without a measure. But the ISO internal and eternal audits ensure that you jump the bar.
“We found the process of thinking through each procedure very useful. In church, we tend to be spontaneous and do things as they come but the ISO process helps you to think through every process, from cleaning the church to running a school.
ISO goes beyond thinking through these procedures in your mind. You have to write it down and document the expected levels of performance. It means that even if you get an external person to do the job, you have a documented procedure for the activity. You can hold that person accountable.”
Without documentation, Oginde says it is hard to achieve effectiveness. Holding people accountable without documented procedures is hard as people begin to think they are being victimised.
CITAM has been working on the documentation processes since January 2012. The Church has come up with more than 400 procedures of the activities they carry out. “Even if we stopped today without getting certification, we have benefitted from the documentation process.”
The process begun by an introduction to members of staff. The second stage involved documenting the processes for CITAM’s best practice.
“The processes must be measurable, attainable and time bound. For example, if I receive an invoice from a supplier, which is supposed to be paid within 30 days, I will commit myself to paying it within 30 days. Between the time I receive the invoice and the time I pay, what will be happening and who does what?”
Oginde says if anything goes wrong in the process, it is easy to trace where the problem emanated. “If files get lost, you can trace them because you have a clear process that is documented.”
According to the Bishop, people dragging the process behind will be easily identified and have to explain reasons behind failures. For example, delays may be brought about by a system failure or lack of finances. If lack of finances is the problem, there should be a clause within that process that caters for that. Instead of a supplier just sitting in the dark waiting for money, they ought to be told in good time that there will be a delay in payment.
Once processes have been documented, organisations must develop charters. Charters, like covenants, have to be made public. “You develop charters within specific areas, and thereafter roll out the implementation and get all staff to begin executing the documented processes.”
Dealing with resistance
“How you sell a concept to staff determines the outcome. They ought to know that this is not exam to discontinue people, but a system that will help refine the way we do our work.”
Oginde however admits that there was some suspicion in the beginning, especially from people who thought the process was secular. “After the initial presentation by our consultant, they realised it is a good thing and embraced it.”
And for those who thought the church should not embrace ISO because it is not for profit, Oginde offers more insights.
He believes that profits are not just monetary, but may also be in other areas of success. He says that a company’s bottom line is just a reflection that they did business in a prudent manner. “We are profit making even in church, not necessarily in the sense of making money, but in the fulfilment of our mission – our reason for existence. This can only be achieved if the organisational members are operating at expected levels.”
He argues that in church, it doesn’t matter whether profits are in terms of finances or intangibles, people’s expectations have to be met. “If you are confused then you cannot succeed.” He gives an example of church services and time keeping. It is wrong to keep starting or ending services or meetings late. “People will not keep coming because you are a church. When they see too much confusion, serious people will not tolerate it.”
Oginde says as a management tool, the ISO process is not for church members, and does not involve them.
The members can, however, participate in evaluating the quality of service delivery as a result of the tool. “Members will not be involved in the ISO process in any way and they don’t even have to know we are implementing it. They ‘may eventually appreciate that things are happening more efficiently, but they may not even understand why. With that we will be happy,” he says.
He likens church members to customers of a company who care only about their satisfaction with service delivery and not whether the company is ISO certified.
“When I go to a supermarket and I am treated nicely, I don’t care if they are ISO certified or not. But even if they are ISO certified and they are not delivering services to the customers’ expectations, I will question those standards.”
Preaching Water and Not Drinking Wine
As economic actors, churches and religious organisations manage substantial revenues and expenses. A survey by the US bank Citigroup found that the 11 major faiths now embrace 85 per cent of the world’s population and are the world’s third-largest group of financial investors. For example, in the United States, the United Methodist Church pension fund alone is worth between USD 12 billion and USD 15 billion. Total investment of US churches is nearly USD 70 billion.
Standards encourage streamlined and transparent financial management that can be monitored by any interested party.
This openness promotes greater accountability and flexibility in expenditures (for example for school operations or for additional personnel) and may well lead to increased revenue as trust in the financial operations undertaken by religious organizations is improved.
Several churches with certified ISO 9001 quality management systems report their financial highlights on their Web sites, for example the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse, New York, USA. “As good stewards, we intend to keep a careful watch over our assets and to watch this cash very closely, reads a declaration on the Cathedral website. Quality management for churches and religious organizations focuses primarily on accountability and on application of information technology for management and communication.
Following the ISO management system approach, financial managers of churches undertake measures for structuring, standardizing and controlling relevant activities and operations.
Being standardized and optimized, management processes can be automated for improved efficiency. Automation of management processes addresses problems arising from constraints on time and training faced by staff and volunteers who are primarily responsible for religious services. Automation can be achieved through the implementation of management system software suited to the specific purposes of religious organizations.
This is an extract from an article titled: Churches embrace ISO management system standards by Alexander Moutchnik. It was published in the ISO Management Systems (July-August 2008).
Photo by: SAMMI NDERITU
Courtesy: Management Magazine June 2012