Embracing and magnifying our MBA culture!

Sisters' Meeting Broadcast Flyer A common complaint of recent decades, from both within and without the church, is that the church leadership culture is too corporate. Complainants say there is too much of an MBA aesthetic, as opposed to, say, some ideal of religious leadership that exudes a more Zen, ascetic, or monastic sensibility. Not me! I wish we took the MBA theme just a little bit further! Case study: a flyer for a Europe area “Sisters’ Meeting” featuring photos of three headline speakers, all of them male.[1]

To my amateur anthropologist eye, this artifact suggests we are yet lacking in enough MBA culture in our church leadership. If we had true MBA chops, what would be happening right now is an emergency meeting convened by the highest levels of the church. A careful but very swift investigation would identify every individual, top to bottom, who had anything to do with organizing this broadcast and creating the flyer. They would all be flown to a central location and subjected to the following gauntlet of executive exercises:

  1. Post-It Notes and Whiteboards Brainstorm: Everyone who knows anything about organizational agility and success these days knows that Post-It notes and whiteboards are the secret sauce that unlocks your team’s creativity and general awesomeness:

    [Organizations] encounter a messy problem and, desperate for a solution, send a team to the d.school. They learn to empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test. They make key breakthroughs, develop prototypes they likely wouldn’t have back home, and in the process, become enamored with the ubiquitous whiteboards and Post-its. Then they go back, order their own whiteboards and Post-its, and follow the process as they learned it to try to institutionalize the magic they experienced here.

    Some key thought questions for brainstorming: Why might people have found our flyer strange, and what is wrong with them? What other shade of pink might we have used to better convey that this is a meeting about how powerful and necessary women are?

  2. Ropes Course: There’s no better place to sharpen your leadership courage than a ropes course! With a ropes course, our leadership can get results like this:

    Each session introduces new competencies in breakthrough execution and leadership, challenging leaders to go beyond their current ways of producing results. They continuously see their business through a fresh lens, unleashing their creativity as well as their willingness to question and alter how things have always been done.

    Wow! Sold!! Seriously though, with those promised results, every single person in any way involved in the creation of this meeting and flyer should participate in this hootenanny for the high-powered! Imagine everyone’s surprise when, post zipline, in the trust-building time, when each person is supposed to voice a scary thought before falling backwards into their coworkers’ arms, someone whispers, “How is it possible that not one person in these meetings noticed that this flyer has really, really bad optics?”

  3. Improv Comedy: Another go-to tool for supersizing leadership performance in any organization is sending executives to an improv comedy centered team-building exercise. Through improv, your leaders can: “embrace uncertainty and exploit change as an opportunity. Today’s leaders must learn to react in the moment, at the top of their intelligence.” Improv is especially helpful in training your leaders to overcome fear of speaking up within the group when they notice something amiss, such as a “Sisters’ Meeting” flyer with an all-male speaker photo lineup.
  4. Six-Sigma Black Belt: With black belt training, leaders will karate-chop bad ideas right out of the organization! Or at least they’ll be able to knock un-self-aware types upside the head with a well-aimed kick. Teamwork!

The bloggernacle is famous for having an overabundance of lawyers, but I bet we have a fair number of MBAs as well. I invite you to contribute your ideas to the discussion: How can we best synergize our core competencies to get buy-in and empower our team to move the needle and grow our scalable cloud infrastructure? How can we inject voices into the organization who would prevent us from doing things like this?

[1] According to Jessica Moody, responding to questions about the flyer, “the list of speakers for the meeting has not been finalized” and there will in fact be women speaking at the event.


  1. In all seriousness, a real “kaizen” activity (as the corporate world uses it) would be helpful.

  2. And we wonder why women in western societies are not tripping over themselves to join the church. (Actually, I seriously doubt that very many people are perplexed by their lack of interest.)

    I enjoyed your “modest proposals,” Cynthia. Jonathan Swift would be proud.

  3. A Myers-Briggs personality test ought to be on the list of exercises somewhere, being another favorite of the corporate world.

    Although some have said that when their company starts doing the Myers-Briggs thing, they know to start looking for a new job because it probably means the firm is on its way under.

  4. Well, the church certainly does create a repeatable service experience for women. (One exclusively designed by men). I suggest a few crucial conversations and perhaps some life-mapping activities. The DPMO is incredibly high. Maybe we need to scrap the design and start over with some basic focus groups and R&D.

    In all seriousness, I noted the tone-deafness at a female executive meeting (my company’s top 200 VPs and up) a few years ago in which 4 of our senior leaders (all men) sat on a panel to talk about how women could advance their careers: things women should do to adapt to the male culture. I pointed out to our top HR guy at dinner that they were giving their advice to the 200 women who have adapted most capably of everyone in the company. We also heard from rock stars like Tina Brown, Ursie Burns, and Vanessa Williams, as well as our very own Susan Sobbott. Susan and I talked about this optics problem as well. She’s high ranking, but likewise found that male understanding of what women experience in the workplace, where we are essentially cultural outsiders, was limited, even among those who are sympathetic and enlightened and supportive.

  5. If you think about it, Kaizen is actually the plan of salvation put to use in a corporate setting: plan, execute, review, adjust. This is simply repentance on a corporate scale. It would make sense to use that same process in the church.

  6. Jennifer Poff Koski says:

    The ropes course link was the funniest thing I’ve read all day. Please tell me it’s not real.

  7. In all fairness the design of the poster is not the issue. I think it probably does appeal to women. Its the fact that there are 3 men as speakers.

  8. Pssh, the problem is less that we have too many MBAs and more that we have too few from the humanities.

    Were I in charge, for example, we would soon see a blessed change!

  9. @Jennifer: Oh it’s real. And it’s spectacular.

  10. Did someone actually use “prototype” as a verb? He ought to be taken out and hung . . .

  11. How about 20% time for GAs? It’s like the Sabbath for creative professionals…a day to relax, rejuvenate, and work on whatever side projects you want?

    L Tom Perry could learn to code in Scratch. D. Todd Christofferson could build the first functioning temple in Minecraft. Linda K Burton could finally finish that X Prize project she’s been working on with Bonnie L. Oscarson.

  12. Okay at this rate, I am seriously thinking we need to start with the 9 to 5 movie model. If this summer has been anything for me, it has been a power surge of personal religious feminism I never knew I had. Darn it. I am so ready to channel Belle Spafford and those before her. These girls didn’t play in posey pink. They were out to rule the world.

    The real kicker here is BYU Women’s Conference does a better poster, so we do have a model. Just copy paste and change the pictures.

  13. Ordain Jack Doneghy

  14. Focus group it! There is no better way to corporatize a problem than to introduce “group think”. Be sure your groups are comprised of “key stakeholders” (e.g. people you know). They don’t have to be diverse, the point is to show you care about your friend’s opinions and get buy-in from people you need to kiss-up to. You need to show those people that you are incorporating their ideas. You are not to conducting scientific research or looking for “answers” to problems that affect the whole.

  15. Forget management; they created the mess in the first place. Skip them and go straight to a blue ribbon commission for some fresh outsider perspective.

  16. I stopped needing everything to be soft and pink about 30 years ago.

  17. If it’s true that the program wasn’t finalized by the time the poster went out, then I don’t blame the poor graphic artist who put this ridiculous poster together. S/he put the photos of the (then-announced) prominent speakers on the flyer. S/he is probably accustomed to including photos of prominent speaker in promotional materials. Eh, I say it’s not the poster designer’s fault.

    If we need any corporate sacking here, it’s Sister Moody for her pathetic response (quoted in the Tribune article). She apparently sidesteps the poster issue and says that the list of speakers hasn’t been finalized and that there will be some female speakers at the meeting after all. Why couldn’t Moody have simply laughed at the obvious irony evident in the poster? C’mon, it’s funny. Just acknowledge the absurdity. The PR department evidently doesn’t have a sense of humor. Ropes course and improve comedy sessions for the lot of them!

  18. But it is pink and soft, Tracy M! And lavender and green. With 4 yellow flowers. That’s how we know it’s for the women. They were going to put a lace tablecloth around the edges but took it out at the last minute. Even some of the ties worn are pastel.

    If it were a meeting for men, Steve Young would be on the poster too. Sports metaphors would have been bantered about. The font would have been in bold BYU colors. But the same 3 speakers would have been on them.

    I have a dream….

  19. I believe in a religion where banal quotes by General Authorities are immediately rendered in fancy fonts over inspiring landscape images. With this great power at our disposal, this poster fills the measure of its creation: I count no less than ten distinct font styles on this bad boy.

  20. What we really need to do is replace the bishopric seats in the chapel with standing or treadmill desks. That way they won’t fall asleep during sacrament meeting. Here’s an illustration. You’ll have to really use your imagination to think about how it would look with your bishop on the stand in the chapel, because the guy in the photo is wearing a colored shirt instead of a white one:

  21. The same thing could be built into the conference center instead of those red wingback chairs.

  22. Kudos, Cynthia.

  23. J. Stapley says:

    I recently snagged a TR1200DT. It rules.

  24. These will have to have custom super short tracks. That’ll keep ’em awake.

  25. marthamylove says:

    Should be an interesting GC in Oct. I predict the Brethren invite Kate Kelly and John Dehlin to join them on the podium to do some damage control.

  26. Okay, I gotta ask, what state’s marriage laws allow for this?

    “Our corporate training programs marry decades of research in Behavioral Sciences with experiential learning from Improvisation.”

    I don’t think that is marriage between one man and one woman, but it could be great improv to watch church leaders explain why this is, or is not, in line with current revelation.

    I am also interested in whether spell check is considered anti-improv and is therefore banned from their website.

    (Quote from the Improv link.)

  27. What over abundance of lawyers?

  28. If only these leaders had had the yellow flowers on the poster pinned to their suit buttonholes like boutonnieres instead…….

  29. Really, J? Jealous! As soon as I save up the discretionary funds, I’m all over that.

  30. There’s also this important study about the effects of standing desks in the workplace.

  31. I have an MBA. I think we probably should have crowd sourced this one and done some data science to see what the big data came back with.

  32. About half of the MBAs out there got it in “IT”. They are basically database admins with some business training. Make them clerks.

  33. Clerks are awesome

  34. Matt W., you’re right, I think we lack a big data strategy. But credit where credit is due, LDS are way ahead of the curve on wearables!

  35. Cynthia, that may be the funniest statement about Mormonism ever typed.

  36. Fred Terman says:

    Cynthia – Perhaps a Silicon Valley / Stanford example might help? Sorry they were all men too.

    And I will disagree with you about the use of pink. It’s brilliant, intentional, and well thought out.

  37. About the sisters meeting, though–to be fair, they may be piggybacking off a prior arranged trip rather than organizing a Women’s Meeting from the ground up.

    When a member of the Q12 was coming to our stake for a daytime business meeting, the stake RS organized a stake-wide sisters meeting with him, to take advantage of the visit. The men of the stake got grumpy since the reason for coming involved less than a dozen local members and they thought it was unfair that sisters got this opportunity. So they got to come along.

    When we got there, he only spoke for five minutes and then took questions from the audience, live questions unfiltered, for the rest of the time. But he announced that since this was an RS activity, only sisters could ask questions. It was a special experience and I didn’t mind not having a female speaker.

  38. Many worthwhile contributions here but we should not overlook the ultimate hard-nosed, hard-bitten MBA approach as exemplified by “Neutron” Jack Welch and his legacy at GE. Namely, the culling of the 10% bottom-feeders on an annual basis. Up until now, it has been just sporadic, but as our former CEO put it, “nothing concentrates effort like the sight of the gallows”.

  39. Proofreaders are sometimes useful, too–M. Russel Ballard

  40. John Mansfield says:

    Peter Vidmar has embraced it and magnified it.
    Converting Olympic Gold into Corporate Wisdom

  41. Erik Larsen says:

    Re: “Oh it’s real. And it’s spectacular.” Very Clever!

  42. Fred, that’s fantastic. Clearly we need to paint the upper room of the SL temple pink.