Paired with our Integrity and the Entrepreneur symposium last month, Comment also wanted to know: what are the major pitfalls Christian organizations face in Human Resources? How can HR be done with integrity? This from our 2010 Manifesto:
As wide as the sorrows of humanity, as deep as the rifts between human and human, as high as the walls that prevent all God’s creatures from fulfilling their intended purposes, so wide and deep and high reaches the redemptive work of God in Christ.
Faith-Based Organizations and Performance Evaluation
Consulting with secular and faith-based organizations affords me an opportunity to identify an HR management pitfall that Christian organizations face. Many churches, missions, and religious educational institutes struggle with employee (and board) performance and accountability. Are they a “family” that always puts people ahead of goals and ideal practices, or a corporate-like organization run by Christians and involved in Christian ministry? I am convinced that surveying any faith-based organization’s governing body, management, and employees gives a spectrum of answers—clearly pointing to the fact that it often does neither well.
I have seen a CEO of a successful international company forget everything he ever learned in the executive suite the minute he began chairing a church board meeting. I have seen senior pastors behave like the ruthless corporate presidents in Up in the Air or The Company Men. For a myriad of reasons, many Christian leaders fail to take the right action at the right time. Often they’re not aware of what is expected, or they’re inexperienced in taking proper action, or they’re unable to properly execute.
But there are steps through which faith-based organizations can succeed in employee, management, and board performance. I recommend the following ideas.
- Your board needs to decide that performance matters at all levels (board, management, employees, and if applicable, volunteers) and put programs in place to review all performance, improve poor performance, and address unacceptable performance. Communicate that decision, with details, to all the parties. Communicate in general terms to your constituents, such as congregation or donors—they’ll hold you accountable.
- Make sure that you have current, accurate, sufficiently detailed, job descriptions for all stakeholders—board members, board officers, committee chairs, management positions, supervisors, employees, and key volunteers. Those with experience can help follow a good process to develop the descriptions. Then communicate these to all incumbents and make sure they know what is expected of them.
- Work with consultants (if the expertise does not exist in the organization) to develop a performance evaluation program that best serves the needs of those being assessed. Prioritize and faithfully carry out those programs. And remember that a good program includes appropriate recognition, too.
- Address all concerns and monitor progress. Should you ever decide to terminate an individual, be sure you have taken all the steps and have all the documentation required by law. If in doubt, talk to a consultant or labour lawyer.
- Treat each individual with care and respect—whether they are staying with your organization or being freed to pursue life elsewhere. You can read some good books on this topic.
These steps are easier to understand, communicate, pursue, and implement if you and your organization have worked through a strategic planning process and committed to achieving it for God.
Honest Conversations: Why Are They So Difficult?
As a human resources consultant, I am often invited to help organizations resolve their “people problems.” I always ask one question first: “Have you discussed these issues with the employee?” Invariably, the answer is “no.”
Why do Christian leaders avoid critical conversations? Though we think about having these conversations, we put them off. Are we hoping the problem will resolve itself, or are we afraid of hurting the individual? Are we afraid we will be seen as judgmental or lacking grace?
So instead, we put up with poor performance, poor attitudes, negative behaviour, and missed objectives—all of which negatively impact the organization’s performance and culture and prevent our staff from realizing their potential. Individuals often sense that they are “missing the mark” and failing every single day, yet don’t know what to do about it. Our fear of having a critical conversation can, in extreme cases, be toxic to an organization. It creates dishonesty in our working relationships and in how we manage those we are entrusted to lead.
Jesus, the ultimate example of a servant leader, had many honest conversations which were probably uncomfortable, but always loving and always for the good of the individual. Paul encourages us, in Ephesians 4:15 and 25, to “speak the truth in love” and “put off falsehood and speak truthfully to [our] neighbour, for we are all members of one body.”
First of all, servant leaders must ensure that their people understand what is expected of them. Clear expectations, properly communicated, are critically important. Once these expectations have been shared and clarified, the leader needs to provide feedback when there is a diversion from what is expected. The leader also needs to provide specific, positive feedback when the employee meets and exceeds these expectations!
When providing honest but critical feedback, remember that it must be done with kindness and respect, preserving the dignity of the individual. Share your feedback with the intention of helping the individual and maintaining an honest relationship. When having a critical conversation, consider the following:
- Speak to the individual privately once you recognize there is an issue that needs to be addressed. If this is difficult for you, start by admitting that this is a difficult conversation, but an important one.
- Be specific and have examples to support your points. Get to the point early in the conversation.
- Be clear about what changes you want to see.
- Describe the consequences if the individual’s performance or behaviour doesn’t change.
- Be prepared to take responsibility where you need to, as this can help defuse the situation. Admitting that the clarity of expectations or the timing of the conversation (perhaps you’ve waited too long to have it) have been less than ideal are examples of owning up.
- Allow the individual to respond.
- Agree on next steps.
Having honest conversations is rewarding and freeing. It helps your employees know they can trust you—with the good and with the bad. An honest, constructive, critical conversation from someone who “speaks the truth from his heart” (Psalm 15:2) builds the body, creates a culture of trust and honesty, and marks a servant leader.
—Doreen E. Harvey, independent HR consultant
Sacrifice, yes, but at what cost?
People who work at Christian organizations are committed to the cause represented by their employer. From a human resource management perspective, commitment is a blessing. Committed employees are highly motivated and dedicated. They often go beyond the call of duty because they love their work. They willingly sacrifice to work at Christian organizations because of their love for church, missions, relief and development, Christian education, and the like.
Admittedly, the ability of Christian organizations to pay employees is constrained by their desire to steward well the resources entrusted to them for Kingdom work. Such organizations also face unlimited needs for services and programs as they seek to obey the King, who said, “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matt 26:40) and “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19). Thus, it is right and fair to expect a level of sacrifice from those who choose to work at Christian organizations.
But the question is this: At what cost? Or, to put it another way—when does the sacrifice become so great that it exacts an unhealthy toll on both employees’ personal lives and organizations’ abilities to achieve their missions?
When wages at Christian organizations are significantly lower than those at secular counterparts, Christian organizations may no longer be able to attract the most competent employees, since some may consider the sacrifice to be too great. Those who do commit may have to take a part-time job to supplement their income, give up having a stay-at-home parent, and significantly alter their lifestyle.
Christian organizations may also mistake enthusiasm and zeal for competence, and, as a result, hire employees who do not have the best skills and abilities for the job. They may retain employees who are not getting the job done and fail to sufficiently address training and development needs with meagre training and development budgets. While it may seem easier and more loving to retain these employees, this approach is costly. It shifts the burden of unfinished or poorly-done tasks to other employees. It is unfair and unloving to employees, who are not enabled to work to their full potential—either at their current job and organization or, perhaps, another job or place. And it translates into higher costs, lower productivity, and ineffectiveness for the organization.
Ultimately, we best enable organizations to advance the Kingdom of God by ensuring that employees are selected for both competence and commitment and are adequately compensated and well trained. Can we expect employees to make some sacrifices for the cause of Jesus? Absolutely! We are, after all, followers of the Christ who sacrificed his life for us. However, let’s be sure that we also create organizations that are well equipped to carry out their mission of service.
Getting Outside the Friend Zone
The old adage “it’s not what you know, but who you know” seems, at times, to be a fanciful notion, one that should have been shelved ages ago. But within Christian circles, it is alive and well.
We tend to reach into our pool of friends to meet the staffing needs of ministries and charities. But because these hires focus less on the “why” and more on the “who,” the practice of hiring friends not only weakens some great organizations, but also begs a question: Where is the professionalism?
As a potential donor to or volunteer at Christian organizations, I hope we are always asking who is running the ship and what their credentials are. But many organizations simply hire those who will do the job and have some of the necessary credentials—a practice that results in a weaker operational base and less effective ministry. It takes a considerable balance of ability and heart to work in the Christian context, even in the best of organizations. So when organizations don’t search beyond what they know to reach into new, untapped sources of talent or experience, they are putting their efforts in jeopardy.
Christian organizations often put their needs behind their desire to appear to be “good stewards” and to find someone with that elusive ” heart” for ministry, rather than on gaining and retaining a person with the best skills for the role. These things are vital, but not license to simply land on an easy fit, which can cost a tremendous amount of time, effort, and morale for those who seek organizational stability. Broadening organizational reach can be highly valuable, as it often allows you to introduce new insight, thought, and value to your organization—which, in turn, brings strength you might never have had otherwise.