Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Council Member: Becoming Businesslike Isn’t Heretical

By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published October 16, 2008

Bill Hughey is the head of strategic planning for at-risk children in Rockdale County.

As part of his job he helped create a model in Rockdale that brings together all agencies working with a child and his family into a team because for these kids this will lead to better outcomes.

“I became the silo-buster,” he said, bringing together agencies that once worked in isolation from each other. “I was the one who worked to help people find common ground.”

“It is a way of doing business, a way we behave, we act, we interact with colleagues. It brings everybody to the table. It reduces cost.”

Similarly, in his role on the Archdiocesan Planning Committee, he sees the “Archdiocese of Atlanta dealing with multiple disciplines and looking at how do we serve the pastors and the parishes in the most effective and efficient way possible.”

In Phase II he was asked to chair the business model subcommittee, which surprised him because he has spent his career working for nonprofit organizations (the Red Cross for 32 years) not in for-profit businesses. The subcommittee met once or twice a month to tackle its topics.

The focus has been to look at how the archdiocese does business and evaluate how well it is doing, he said. “What business do we do and how do we know if we are effective?”

At the same time, “you have to look at the archdiocese as a living, breathing entity,” he said. “It is all about relationships.”

They looked at how other dioceses operated and spoke with representatives of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Orlando, Fla. He listened to archdiocesan departments make presentations to members of the Priests’ Council. Currently a 20-minute online survey is posted for all priests of the archdiocese asking them what departments they use and if they meet needs priests have in parish life.

One area explored by the subcommittee was how to create a culturally sensitive organization. Would the more than 25 different cultures being served in the archdiocese require different operational models? How do you deal with many cultures in one parish? How do you help pastors deal with rapidly changing communities and adapt how the parish serves people?

“How do we better support those Catholics coming from other countries?”

Hughey said no one diocesan approach they explored fit all of the Archdiocese of Atlanta’s needs.

“There is no one single model that is perfect,” he said. “We learned a great deal from all of them.”

The subcommittee also looked at the intent in creating various departments, offices and ministries and whether it is still on target.

“Is what we are doing today relevant for the 21st century? Are we doing what needs to be done? Are we providing the support and services to the pastors and parishes?” he asked.

To find answers they are asking the priests, a survey he thinks is dramatic for the organization.

“This is one of the first times the customers can say ‘this is what we want,’” Hughey said.

“Today in business, in anything that serves people, they want to keep the business. They want to make sure you become a repeat customer. … With this survey to the priests we have started to do the same thing. That is a major, major change in the psyche of an institution, especially in the nonprofit world.”

Asking cannot be a one-time event, he continued. “The critical piece is we continue to ask the questions we need to ask.”

“We do not always go back and research and use data to say this was or was not good. We have always been a people-oriented, people-focused organization. It is not data-driven. Today’s environment has to deal with the question, how do we know we are being successful?”

“Being customer-centric and customer-driven is what will come out of this survey.”

He likened the challenge to adapting the business culture of the archdiocese to turning around an aircraft carrier at sea.

“It is not easy. Nonprofits are not very good at being able to make changes in how they do business,” he said.

However, the difficult process is essential to serving the mission of the church and making the best use of its resources, Hughey said.

“It is the leadership of the archdiocese saying what you provide to this church is being used in the most prudent manner possible.”