Helping HOWs, and staying profitable.
Editor’s Note: R Bob Adams has an extensive history of involvement in the House of Worship segment. His three-part article beginning this month, in conjunction with our long-running “House of Worship: Business” monthly column written by David Lee, PhD, should provide all of the basic information systems integrators and others need to know to develop successful relationships with church volunteers and staff. R Bob’s discussion complements what David Lee has detailed over the years. For even more information about this segment, be sure to read our annual Worship Center AV Report, which was bound into your March issue, and is available at https://soundandcommunications.com under Additional Resources. If you have comments about what R Bob and David Lee are discussing, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why is there often a seeming “disconnect” between technical system providers and their clients? Are the problems that arise based on distrust, or just a misunderstanding of their mutual goals? How can each provide a clear, concise description of expectations to the other? Likewise, when is it best or even necessary to not work together?
This feature was originally conceived as a guideline for contractors/integrators working with the House of Worship market, to help them better understand how to serve their clients. But religious groups (Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim or otherwise), as well as corporate or commercial clients who will work with these integrators, will find it equally useful to understand some of the contractor’s concerns, hopefully developing insight for a more harmonious and successful project experience. We will be offering this discussion in three parts, beginning here, by discussing the most common types of church representation in the process.
For the purpose of our discussion, the following short definitions are appropriate:
- House of Worship (HOW): A facility operated by an organization for assembly of worshipers. Although some full-time staff will be involved with these projects, many of the HOW contacts may be non-paid individuals. These volunteers are representing the worship facility for a specific task. The HOW is assumed to be a not-for-profit organization.
- Contractor/Integrator: A person or business that exists to serve the HOW market, providing specific products and/or services for a profit, based on a specific and mutually agreed upon contract for these goods and/or services. Most integrators will provide some level of design services, be it a singular design or a design for installation. However, they are not, and should not be considered independent consultants.
- Independent Consultant: A person or business that has no ties or responsibilities with or through any manufacturer, provider or contractor involved in the project. All of their efforts will be on behalf of their client, the church. Their “products” are the associated documents (reports, plans, specifications, etc.) prepared for the project’s use.
- Churches should be aware that the level of detail discussed in several of the tasks identified here will be more often provided by an independent acoustical or technical consultant. For many (if not most) projects, the integrator will be working in a Provided Proposal/Bid or a Negotiated Design/Install capacity. At such times, a consultant normally will not be involved. Regardless of the type of situation, the information provided here can be important to both the church and the integrator.
Being able to answer a few basic questions about the prospective client will go a long way toward a successful project. Ignoring these questions can be disaster. A successful integrator will know:
- Who really makes buying decisions?
- What are some of the important Dos and Don’ts of working with churches?
- What is the most important tool in an integrator’s toolbox for working with churches?
- When to WALK?
- In most churches, there are basically three decision scenarios.
- a strong pastor
- a strong committee, or
- a combination of a weak pastor and a weak committee.
We’ll take a look at the pros and cons of working with each. Then, we will provide an overview of some of the design and documentation steps that should be considered for any technical systems project, regardless of size or market.
The Strong Pastor
When an integrator is working with a Strong Pastor on a project, he will find that the church is most often evangelical or contemporary in style. That is to say, even though it might carry a formal name, such as Baptist, Methodist or other evangelical denominations, it may be less tied to those denominations’ “fixed” traditions. Such churches often will be quite willing to use newer ideas and technology. This can be great for the integrator. It opens the door for more sales and, often, for a longer-term relationship. Also, having a Strong Pastor leading a project can streamline and shorten the decision making process. The pastor hears, the pastor makes a decision “Yes” or “No,” and you know how to proceed.
Difficulties arise because a Strong Pastor sometimes manifests character traits that are annoying. Those might include a hard-headed attitude or even ego problems. Often, this type of pastor will “know” what he wants, regardless of the appropriateness of that direction or decision. Any committees involved in this process will be “followers,” as opposed to actively involved participants. They will tend to let the strong pastor “lead” them in the decision making process. Such committees are often there for general information, but the pastor may not necessarily listen to them.
In these cases, communication is not difficult because, essentially, you have to please only one person. All questions should be addressed directly to the pastor. The most important aspect of this type of project is to tediously detail every part of the contract up front. The most difficult task in this scenario is managing the expectations of the client. As the project moves ahead, the integrator should never venture off any aspect of the project without a change order. Even if the change will improve the functionality or quality of the system, he may not get paid.
Documentation Is Key
To maintain communication in this situation, the integrator must take the time to document every meeting and every decision that is made. Take notes; lots of notes! And, return these notes to the pastor (and his committee) with clear communication regarding all that was said and decided. State clearly that these notes represent what you understand to be their directions, decisions or instructions, leaving them the opportunity to make corrections before action is taken. (We will discuss ways to do this later.)
This Meeting Report should specifically address any item that has a substantial impact on the overall project. Example: The budget allows for a 36-channel analog mixer but a current conversation was centered on a 96-channel digital mixer. Yep, that could be a budget problem and must be documented. Send a Meeting Report, and ask what to do. Tell the pastor how this is a problem and ask for permission in writing to proceed. Do not act without written (Change Order) authorization; you may not get paid.
The Strong Pastor is this writer’s personal favorite type of project. If the lines of communication are firm and kept active, this can be a very successful installation. And, the integrator can become a trusted source to the Strong Pastor in the future.
The Strong Committee
Committees are the “standard operating procedure” for many churches. They come in every form and personality imaginable. Most integrators have worked with them, some successfully. But how can you recognize a specific type of committee?
One simple (yet, understandably general) guideline is to look for how openly involved the staff members (pastor, music director, etc.) are. If the staff is actively involved, then the committee usually is equally open to their suggestions. But when the staff is there “in name only” or worse yet, not at all, the integrator is most likely dealing with a ‘Strong Committee.’
A Strong Committee can be a part of a younger, evangelical type of congregation where many of the members are “professionals.” As such, in their own companies, they are used to making decisions without necessarily relying on others in the process.
But, more often, the Strong Committee is found in an older established church where most of the congregation has been together for an extended period of time. Often, they view themselves as the “guardians” of the church. In such cases, they may be especially sensitive to any technology that infringes upon the (past) accepted aesthetics of the building. This is easily understood when discussing screens or loudspeakers.
Patience Is Key
Also with this type of committee, it is often necessary and quite important to be willing to repeat the same information multiple times to different members in different ways. One member might have an engineering background and understand a subject, while another must be educated about the subject before a decision will be made.
An example of this type of situation can be seen in discussions involving electrical power. In general, few people understand power loads or phase relationships in electricity. They simply think the system will “plug in” and work. As you develop the system, you might have to “educate” the committee. This takes time. And, in the case of a Strong Committee, each and every member will have to understand, or the committee could delay the decision.
It is worth mentioning that, with a Strong Committee, the integrator might be viewed as a “necessary evil” with which the committee must do business to accomplish its goal. This is often shown in the fact that committee members tend to put more weight on their own sources or experience, and are less likely to trust the contractor. Sometimes, they will want to do some of the work with their own members to save money. In these situations, clear documentation is highly important. Again, take good notes, write reports, document, and be ready to repeat information…multiple times, if necessary.
Weak Pastor, Weak Committee
It is easily understood from the two scenarios just discussed that it is impossible for a Strong Pastor and a Strong Committee to coexist. One must overshadow the other. However, it is possible to have a Weak Pastor and a Weak Committee on a project. Fortunately, this situation is less common. However, when this is the case, you must be especially careful.
The big question is, “Who do you work for?” If the pastor leaves the “decision making” to the committee and the committee is looking to the pastor for leadership, this opens the door to many problems. The most obvious is “Responsibility.” Who actually has the responsibility for important decisions? In such circumstances, the contractor often will find that the “finance” person has assumed leadership.
Again, “Who do you work for?” The answer is in the paperwork! Address all documentation to the person who signed the contract. By law, the person signing the contract becomes the de jure Decision Maker. Another person on the committee might be a de facto leader, but the contractor’s responsibility is to the person who signed the contract. Definitions (according to Webster’s Unabridged): de facto = actually existing, esp. when without lawful authority; de jure = by right; according to law.
When working with a Weak Pastor and a Weak Committee, document everything you believe can be questioned later by anyone. The contractor—you—must take the initiative!
Sometimes it might be necessary to route documentation to a specific person. This can be understood easily with regard to technical issues. However, in every case, you should copy the person who signed your contract. And even when documentation and communications are copied to others, only take action when the Decision Maker gives approval: written (Change Order) approval.
This might seem arduous or unnecessary to many but, when problems arise, the “paper trail” of documentation will become critically important. Words (he said, she said) will not stand. For the contractor, the documentation trail can make or break the profitability (and liability) of the job.
As stated previously, HOWs can be wonderful clients. However because of differences in style and types of organizations, it is necessary for a contractor to take time to learn how to work with these clients.
In Part 2, we will discuss the vision and needs determination, the design process and how to properly document these extremely important concepts. We will also address some construction factors to be considered in these projects, and some of the expectations regarding the financial aspects of HOW projects.
R Bob Adams, International Director, SLS Audio, has more than 30 years of experience in architectural acoustics, lighting, video and sound reinforcement system design, installation, operation and training. He has written for many publications, and is featured in Crown International’s video for operators, Live Sound! for Houses of Worship. Additionally, Adams has given hundreds of seminars for organizations such as InfoComm International, NSCA, Acoustical Society of America, the Baptist General Convention of Texas and National Conference of Church Musicians, in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Germany, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, China, Malaysia and Singapore. You can find more information at www.rbobadams.com.
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