steve ball

personal thoughts on family, faith and work

Archive for the tag “work”

reflections on… may

During the last week in May I was in Harrogate at a New Wine Leaders conference for three days, back at work for a day and then off on holiday to Cornwall – so (while on holiday), I’ve finally got a chance to write up my thoughts on the month of May.

There has been much to be thankful for this month, much to think through and also some changes at work. All of which are pretty exciting

Family:  We have had some lovely times together as a family this month.  We went to see ‘The Wizard of Oz’ show at the start of the month, which was excellent. We have had some lovely walks with my sisters family – one was a nine mile walk around ‘Darling Buds of May’ country in Pluckley.  This was the longest walk the boys had been on – and they did brilliantly.

James went on his school trip to the Isle of Wight for a week which was great for him – he really enjoyed it – but was a little strange for us as it left the house rather quiet

Faith:   Church has been good this month.  Our Overflow service had the largest worship band we have ever had and I thoroughly enjoyed writing some parts for the brass section that we had.  This meant that James was able to join in on his saxophone for the first time which was fantastic for me to see.  Hopefully the first of many times he will be playing

For three day in the last week of May I was at the New Wine Leaders conference in Harrogate.  This was a time to really get to know people that went better over food and drink and also to re-asses my thinking on where the church is and how we could be serving the community more effectively.  Some of the sessions were rather intellectual, but the content was excellent – lots to digest and work through when I get back home

Work:  I continue to be busy at work with various projects which I’m enjoying.   Have increased my hours from this month which will help give me the time to get through the work load more effectively. I will reduce my teaching a little to offset the extra hours I’m doing at the office.

Highlights of the month:

  • Seeing the Wizard of  Oz
  • Our long walks
  • The leadership conference
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the challenge of change

Change is inevitable. It may be a gradual, subtle process or it may be an unexpected crisis that happens out of the blue which necessitates change – but change happens. Without change a church or organisation will stagnate and, in my view, eventually die. How we approach and manage change is therefore vitally important if we are to support and keep the confidence of the people the change effects. 

I think I’m pretty good at change. I enjoy the challenge of improving systems and processes at work, and I love seeing people develop into new areas at church. Many of the projects I’m involved in at work require a change in work practices (currently a new internal communications system). Although there can be mileage in the thinking ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it’ I firmly believe that you can only ‘not fix it’ for so long. At some point change will have to take place, or we essentially are going backwards.

Subtle changes are relatively easy to manage – most people may not even be aware of the changes until they look back over a period of time. Major changes are much more of a challenge. 

Most reasons for change will fit into one of three categories – and there is one key thing that best alleviates objections or aversion:

Keeping up to date.
These are primarily the more subtle, day-to-day changes that keep a church, organisation or relationship relevant and active. It’s the organic process that should (in my view) be embedded in the ethos of any organisation. Examples of this could be as simple as keeping a website up to date, improving systems, making and developing new personal contacts etc.

Development.
This category often is centred around people. Whether it’s a promotion or new job, moving into a new role at church, or a change in direction for an organisation – because the change will affect people directly it is more difficult to manage. Change in this instance can be accepted differently depending on your perspective. I hope that I would see the positive, trust the people proposing or appreciate the necessity for change – even if it doesn’t feel right at that time to me personally. I’m then in a much better place to help shape and facilitate the change. Some people, however, seem to always fight against change – just because they can.  I’m all for constructive discussion, but that’s very different from being deliberately obstructive. I think this is the hardest type of change to manage and throws up the greatest challenges.

Crisis.
Change due to crisis is dramatic and often fairly instant. Whether it’s being made redundant from work, the death of someone you love or the final breakdown in a relationship – the effects are immediate and usually painful. I know that when my dad passed away back in February, the changes I (and the rest of the family) had to come to terms with were very difficult. Paradoxically, it can be easier to cope with the challenge of change due to crisis, as you have been forced into a situation (willingly or otherwise) and have no option but to work with the implications of it.

The best tool to manage change.
In my view the single, most effective way to best manage change is good, clear communication. ‘Announcing’ a change will more often than not lead to an automatic reaction or objection.  If a change has been carefully explained, and the rationale given, it is much more likely to be accepted and people will work with you to implement those changes – something for us all to work on, no matter how good we might think we are at communicating!

Points to ponder:

  • How do I instinctively react to change? 
  • When was the last time I encouraged someone to develop into a role and help them implement their changes? 
  • Are my comments about change part of constructive discussion or deliberately obstructive?

reflections on… april

I’m writing this post on the train home from Blackburn after a busy day at the end of a busy month! A short break, visiting family, Easter, days out, deadlines for my diploma, the marriage course, church, work… I feel worn out just thinking out out it all – although, in the main, it’s been a good month.

Family: At the start of the month, we had a short break with my brother, down at Winchelsea Beach which was good – always a time to switch off a bit. The noticeable missing person was our eldest who was snowboarding with the school for the first week of the Easter holiday and then straight off on a church mission in Spain (alright for some!). Our youngest comfortably passed his Grade 3 sax which is excellent, and I’ve been continuing to enjoy playing with him, getting ready for a worship service next month. We also went to the gadget show which was great fun. We have been on some long walks (before the constants rain of the last week or so) ensuring we always passed the house my in-laws hope to buy.

Faith: Church is usually busy over the Easter period, but this year I’ve not been quite so involved as usual, which has been a change. Barbara’s home group has been going well – a lovely bunch of people – and we had a good curry night a couple of weeks ago which always goes down well. Our monthly Overflow service starts again in a couple of weeks and I’m getting prepared for that – hoping to have some new people as part of the worship team.

Work: Work has been incredibly busy. With various projects on the go and the usual work on top of that it has, at times, felt like I’m chasing my tail! Add to that the diploma work and my teaching and you can see I’ve been busy.

i love my ipad, but…

I got my iPad about eighteen months ago for a ‘significant’ birthday. At the time I thought it was an extravagance, but I very quickly (too quickly!?) realised that it was a brilliant piece of kit that I would have to replace straight away if it ever broke. Since then,  my eldest son (14 years old) has got one and Barbara uses a company iPad – which they too love! My youngest (11years) has various electronic gadgets including a 3Ds and an old iPod – all of which can access the internet.

What I find really concerning is the lack of any significant parental controls or web monitoring for my children on their iDevices. It’s not a question of trust, but one of accountability. There is a plethora of software available for the PC or Mac to give real parental control of a child’s Internet use – but nothing (as far as I can see) available for the iPad or iPod.

This is a huge oversight that, in my opinion, does nothing for the credibility of Apple’s social responsibilities. Also, on the iPad, there is no way of disabling the ‘private browsing’ facility. Why ever not!?

I don’t think my family is that unusual from others. With the age of wi-fi and broadband we (and our children) can access the internet from anywhere in the house and be watching anything online whenever we want. We speak to our boys about the potential dangers of the internet and searching seemingly innocent things on YouTube, but if a parent is not given the technical tools to be able to help their child be accountable for their internet use, we are already at a disadvantage and putting preventable temptation in their way.

And it’s not just as simple as saying to your children ‘you can’t use the internet in your bedroom’ these days – they can access from any wi-fi hotspot. Education, accountability and the tools to do the job has to be the way forward.

Our children (and adults) are faced with all sort of temptations and issues these days. Why should safe internet use be one of them when there is the technical ability out there to prevent it?

I would really love to be wrong on this one. If anyone knows of something that will do the job, (without having to jailbreak our iPads) I’d love to hear about it.

Points to ponder:

  • When was the last time you spoke to your children about safer internet use?
  • How do you monitor your children’s online world?
  • How would you feel if your online habits were publicly known, and would that affect how you use the internet?
  • How are you accountable for your your internet use?

reflections on… march

March has been one of the busiest months I can remember in a long while! As well as being busy ‘doing’ stuff it has been a bit of a roller coaster of emotions too. The sadness of dads funeral, the fun and laughter of being with extended family, the concern for friends going through very hard times, the satisfaction of getting work done on my diploma, the excitement of being with my son in his sax exam – all mixed up together. I’m looking forward to some time away this weekend to give my brain some space!!

Family:  It was lovely to be with all my family, despite the sad circumstances, at the start of the month. Catching up with Aunts and Uncles over a (rather ambitious) three course meal planned and cooked by my eldest son (with help from Barbara) was a really fun evening.

We started The Marriage Course this month and discovered we like each other!! Three sessions in and it’s fantastic to see how strong our marriage is. I’m very thankful to God for Barbara and our boys – especially when you look at the difficult times many other families are going through.

My youngest son has been working really hard ready for his grade three saxophone, which he took on the 23rd. I was able to accompany him on the piano for two of his pieces (which was a bit of a shock as usually the teacher does) which turned out to be a great project we could share together. Just the wait for the results now – very proud though, whatever the outcome. No doubt we will be playing together lots more.

Work: My diploma is going well. Interestingly, some of the concepts we have been discussing can be equally applied to other areas of life including church. I’ve caught up with the work after loosing a few weeks last month due to circumstances and my first assignment is done with only a couple of minor alterations to make.

Today we had our annual staff team day for all CCPAS staff and trustees (which is no mean feat as they are spread all over the country). It’s great to be part of a fantastic, enthusiastic team.

Faith: Getting back into the swing of things after a bitty February was good. More encouraging was that everything carried on without me being around all of the time.  It’s always good to see people happily taking a lead when needed.

Highlights of the month:
Having family, who we’ve not seen for ages over for dinner
Accompanying my youngest son in his sax exam
Finishing my first assignment

thoughts on accountability

In my view, accountability is very much under-rated and under-valued.  Too often I see situations (sadly, too frequently in churches) spiral out of control and eventually cause real damage; and at the heart of the issue is a lack of accountability. Some people may see accountability as a threat, others as a hindrance to their vision or leadership.  But I believe if a culture of accountability is developed in any area of life, it can only lead to more positive outcomes – for everyone.

Below are some thoughts – not in any particular order:

Accountability promotes teamwork
In any role (paid or voluntary), being let free to work completely independently without any reference to anyone else is a dangerous place to be. Being accountable to each other in the group gives a united purpose and the feeling of being part of a team where your voice is as equally important as the next persons.

Accountability should not be a threat
If I want to embark on a new project or develop a new system, and feel I can not run the ideas through others who I am accountable too because they may disagree or suggest a different way of doing it, I am acting like a bit of a control freak!  We all have a little bit it in us!  Usually – if there is good relationship – the person(s) I’m accountable to will actively encourage me in any new area if it fits with the overall direction of the organisation.  They may suggest alternative ways of doing it, but I’ve learnt (and am still learning!) to hold onto things lightly – other people can probably do the job as good if not better than me anyway!!

Accountability should not hinder leadership
Every organisation needs good, solid, visionary leaders. But leaders need to be accountable too. Whether it’s to other leaders, their immediate team or some other group, a good leader will always seek council from those that they respect.

Accountability gives security
Working together as a team and being accountable to each other brings a confidence and security in what you are doing. (Security is very different from being comfortable – a team can feel secure in the path they are leading and still be pushing ahead with new ideas.)

Accountability moves up and down, and side to side
Accountability is not a one way flow. We should be accountable to our boss, our peers and those that work for us. This does not take away from the fact that as a leader/manager, I am responsible for setting a vision and purpose; but including and being accountable to other people gives a vision credibility within the group and – very importantly – gives the group a sense of ownership.

These, as I said at the start, are my views. I would be interested in what you think!

Points to ponder:

  • Who are the people I am accountable to?
  • What other benefits of accountability are there?
  • Should I be more accountable to those around me?

reflections on… february

Keeping a positive outlook can be difficult – especially when you go through tough times.  My dad sadly passed away, peacefully, on 15th February; which makes now one of those times.  I am though, determined to try and keep positive through this strange period between dad passing away and his funeral, which is not until the first week in March.

Family:  We started the month with a visit to my sister-in-law and her family. The plan was to leave our boys there while we went on a worship training day, but things didn’t go to plan and we didn’t end up getting to the training. We did have a lovely time though, and it was definitely the right thing to do.

After dad passing away, a lot of my time has been with my family sorting out the many things that need dealing with.  This has been a sad time and I posted about it in the post “time-a-precious-gift” earlier this month.

In contrast, last weekend was a great, happy occasion when we were at a family christening.  It was good to meet up with extended family that we hadn’t seen for a while – and some of them are staying down until the funeral, so no doubt we will see them throughout the week too.

Faith: With everything that’s gone on in the last couple of weeks, I feel slightly out of the loop when it comes to church. We have had lots of cards from church family which has been lovely.  It’s good to know you’re being supported in prayer when you go through tough times.

With the loss of someone close in your life, it brings your faith into sharp focus – and I’m absolutely confident that dad is in a better place now and I will see him again one day.

Work: I had another session for my diploma on managing quality which was enjoyable and provoked thoughts on what that means outside of work. (See my previous blog – managing quality.)  Colleagues have been very supportive and dealt with as much of my work as they could. I’m fortunate and grateful to have an understanding boss who has given me the time I needed after dad passed away.

So, like January; February has had its ups and downs – I wonder if a pattern is emerging!

Highlights of the month:

  • Being with family at the christening last weekend
  • The murder mystery dinner at church – excellent!

Below is a link to a challenging song that was played at church a few weeks back.  I didn’t know then that I would be listening to it with the backdrop of loosing dad. Casting Crowns – Praise You in this Storm…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGPS8sa-bRQ&feature=youtube_gdata_player

managing quality

The latest session for my Diploma was on managing quality, which I found really interesting from a business point of view.  Having read through my notes again and written up a ‘reflection of learning’, it became clear that managing quality should not just be restricted to business.  If we, in all areas of our life, are looking to improve quality, it seems reasonable to have some way of measuring where we were, where we are, and where we want to be in a given time frame.

We were asked to define quality in three words, and as you can imagine, there were lots of suggestions from the group like, professional, efficient, experienced, knowledgeable, proficient which are all good things to strive for in business.  The course leader came up with ‘fit for purpose’ which I slightly struggle with – partly because it’s an over-used phrase which has watered down its meaning, but mainly because it doesn’t convey (to me) a willingness to improve and aim for better.  It’s a ‘does the job’ and nothing more approach – but maybe that’s just me!

After writing up my notes, I started to think of words that would describe quality in terms of a person.  Integrity, honest, reliable, dependable, encourager, faithful, all come to mind.  The challenge is, to improve and develop these qualities – and have a way of measuring those improvements. This may be done on a day by day basis, or over a period if some time.  For example, if I aim to be more encouraging, it could be possible to look back and see those people I have encouraged flourish in what they are doing.  If I aim to be more dependable, I can look back and see how many times I have let people down.  It may just be that you say to yourself ‘ I want to be more reliable today’. Most things are measurable in some way.

Having a mindset of ‘continual development’ in our work and personal life can only be a good and healthy thing.

As a christian, I do of course have a set of qualities set out for me in the Bible – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22, 23 NIV). I have these on my work computer desktop as a continual reminder to myself!  Some of these are harder to measure as they’re not always an ‘instance’ thing, but more a way of life – which is often easier for other people to see and measure.

Certainly I know people who have obviously developed in their faith and are showing more and more of these qualities, but they don’t see it themselves sometimes as its a gradual process, and it’s much harder to be self reflective on qualities of character.

Points to ponder:

  • What are my three best qualities?
  • What other qualities could I strive to develop?
  • How will I measure these developments?
  • What effect will these developments have on other people?
This post was written, but not published the day my dad passed away.

reflections on… january

The start of 2012 has been a series of ups and downs and we’re only a month in!  I tend to remember the downs clearer than the ups, so I thought each month I would look at the positives and things I can be thankful for – not to dismiss the negatives as unimportant, but I know that at the end of the year I will remember them more than the the positives if I don’t write the down.

Family:  I am truly blessed to have a fantastic family – both immediate and extended.  It’s easy to take something for granted when it is a constant in your day to day life, but that’s one of the strengths of my family – it is a constant.  Speaking with my sister last week, she commented that our families are pretty similar – probably slightly boring – but boring can be good!  I’ve had some interesting chats with dad over the weeks which has been great, and also helped him play sudoku (which he is still better than me at!). Mum has had loads of support from family (especially her sister) which has helped with looking after dad.  Barbara and I went on a lovely walk together, which was great just spending time being on our own, chatting and ‘doing lunch’.

Faith:  Church life quickly springs back into action after the busyness of Christmas and we have had some good times.  Our monthly ‘Overflow’ service was great with lots of people being spoken to.  We had our first Worship Team training session a couple of weeks ago which I was really pleased with – mainly seeing new people emerge and take new things on, and doing them very well!  This I find exciting!  We continue to meet as a Leadership Team each week, and I’m sure God has lots of blessings in store for our church throughout the coming year.  I am thankful for an incredibly supportive Worship Team and Leadership Team.

Work:  I started a Level 5 Diploma in Management this month (with Barbara) and I’m up to date with all that I need to do which is a relief – we are only a few weeks in though!!  I am working on a couple of large and interesting projects at the moment which should keep me busy for the next few months on top of my usual responsibilities.  My teaching continues to  be as busy as I need, which is amazing considering the financial pressures on many households.  I am blessed to have two jobs that, for the vast majority of time, I enjoy.  (I don’t think there is any job that is always perfect if you’re dealing with people!)

So… ups and downs in January, yes – but still a huge amount to be thankful for.

Highlights of the month…
  • Going out with Barbara for a walk and lunch.
  • Forgetting I was leading at church last Sunday and being told two minutes before the service started was not good – but it certainly made me rely of God which is always a highlight!

Points to ponder…

  • Do you take time to think on the blessings as much as the more difficult times?
  • What are you thankful for in January?

… a little introduction

Family, faith and work
In four words, this pretty much summarises what I get up to.  All are very important to me.  I’m blessed to have a fantastic family, privileged to be able to serve at my local church and really enjoy both of my jobs.

Why write?  I’ve never kept a diary, but I thought it would be interesting to see what I can learn – not only about myself, but about life in general – from keeping a blog. Why make it public?  You never know, my experiences may help someone else, and I’m sure other people have a great deal more wisdom than me and so will be able to help me!

Family
I have two fantastic boys (yes – really fantastic), a beautiful wife (beautiful in many ways) and a small hamster (hmm… it’s OK).

We’re a musical family.  Barbara sings and is part of the worship team at church, my eldest son plays the drums regularly at church and also school events and my youngest is learning the saxophone.  I play various instruments – so between us we’re quite a band!  (For the record, the hamster doesn’t play anything.)

My extended family are all fairly local, so we get to see them several times during the year.  More recently, I’ve seen a lot more of my brothers, sisters, mum and dad as my dad is seriously ill.  This sort of situation often brings families closer together.

Faith
Having grown up in church (sometimes it felt like I lived there!) my faith has always been a central part of my life.  I lead worship at a Pentecostal church before moving several years ago to our local Anglican church.  There, I’m part of the Leadership Team with specific responsibility for worship.  This is something I count as a privilege and a responsibility.

With the ups and downs that come with church life, it’s good to know that there is a committed team all working together for the same goals.  I have valued the support from the worship team and the Leadership Team – especially in the last months with dad being ill.

No doubt I will be posting plenty about worship in time to come.

Work
I have two jobs – both of which I enjoy and give different rewards.  The majority of my working week is at a safeguarding charity (CCPAS).  I’m responsible for overseeing the IT side of things (with help from other people).  I also design all of the literature that comes out of the office, which is wide and varied.  Any ‘special projects’ usually come under my remit too.  Most recently, an interactive ‘Safeguarding in a Digital World’ resource and managing a new Safeguarding App that has just gone live – all very exciting!

My other job is a piano teacher.  I’ve been doing this for getting on 25 years now.  Starting as a favour to a family friend, it developed into a successful music school in a music shop before I took the plunge to teach from my own little studio at home.  This was a great move, as it meant I could see a lot more of my family – the commute from my garage to the back door is about two meters!

Well, that’s about me in a nutshell to start with. Will I keep it up?  We’ll have to wait and see!

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