May 26, 2014

On Being a Stickler (or Not)

Early on in my first job as an office manager, I was pretty easy going. It was a small nonprofit and everyone was busy, so if a coworker needed some help getting his or her timesheets together or forgot to get a receipt, I was not a stickler. I’d help them out or let small things slide. I’d often put off filing in order to deal with things that seemed more pressing.

Sometimes, this turned out to be a mistake. I got behind on filing, and some employees never learned how essential it was for them to keep their receipts or keep track of their hours. Trying to make other’s work easier just made the office less efficient.

It can be tempting, especially at a small organization with limited time and resources, to let the little things slide. But the processes that we have in place—the filing cabinets and accounting software, the attention to detail—is a sign of good stewardship.

In some instances, of course, flexibility is appropriate. Sometimes receipts for small things get lost, and sometimes filing really must be put off to another day. I’ve worked with people who get so caught up in having every form and file in place they lose sight of the bigger picture, and the office becomes an unpleasant place to work.

With a small staff and limited resources, you often have to decide between what would be ideal and what’s actually necessary to run the office well and be a good steward. A church is also made up of relationships, and sometimes being too bureaucratic can hurt relationships and make people feel unwelcome. It’s not an easy line to walk.

So when should you be a stickler? Here are a few questions I sometimes asked myself when an employee or parishioner asked for an exception or I was thinking about letting something slide:

  • Is it legally required?
  • Am I setting a bad precedent?
  • What is the context? Has this person asked for exceptions before? Am I making this exception too often?
  • Is there someone (the rector or treasurer) who needs to approve this exception?
  • Does the church have any history that makes it especially important to keep rigorous records?
  • Will insisting on this damage a relationship?
  • Will letting this slide cause the church problems in the long run?

I’m sure there are readers who are experienced administrators and might have advice to add. When are you a stickler? When do you let things slide? What questions do you ask yourself?