Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Getting the Right People on the Bus

In his new book Why the Mighty Fall (and Why Some Companies Never Give In), Jim Collins reminds his readers that he that is a “leadership skeptic”; he believes that organizations achieve greatness not because of the efforts of one exceptional individual but because of a strong leadership team. His phrase to describe this is “getting the right people on the bus.” So who are the right people? Here are his ideas and some of my comments.

First, the right people fit with the company’s core values. How do you get people to share your core values? You don’t. You hire people who already have a disposition to your core values and retain those persons. This may be why many churches now look inside the congregation for new staff members. They usually know the culture, have embraced it, and can work within it.

Second, the right people don’t need to be tightly managed. Every new hire has a “ramp up” period, but when that period goes on too long and the person requires continued close supervision, you have made a mistake in employment. The danger for churches is that we probably expend too much energy in being redemptive. We spend valuable time trying to “save” a person who is never going to do the job properly. We forget that “salvation” begins with the individual involved. We would be wiser to put those resources into helping the staff member discern where he or she would best fit (in our church or elsewhere) and not prolong everyone’s agony. I have been on both sides of this scenario. I have worked with an employee to improve his ministry, but we were clear on the length of time that would be involved in that process. When the time was up and nothing had changed, we cut our losses and helped him to move on. On the other hand, I have expended uncounted hours coaching and covering for someone who was just never going to do the work. In so doing, I did not do the individual, the organization, or myself a favor. It only perpetuated the failure.

Third, the right people understand that they do not have “jobs”; they have responsibilities. Responsibility one for ever church staff member is to serve the church (please not that I said “serve” not “worship”). When a staff member tells someone (supervisor or, Lord help us, a church member) that something is “not my job,” they have shown that they don’t understand their true responsibility in the church. This doesn’t mean that they have to accomplish the task, but they do have the responsibility to acknowledge that this is a matter of importance to someone in the church and to make a referral or seek follow-through. “Jobs” pay the bills; ministry responsibilities build the person.

Fourth, the right people fulfill their commitments. The right people don’t promise more than they can produce, but they do follow through on what they have agreed to do. This doesn’t necessarily mean telling a church member of supervisor, “No, I won’t do that” (another way of saying “That’s not my job”). It does mean negotiating realistic goals and assignments and then following through on them.

Fifth, the right people are passionate about the company and its work. A pastor once said to me, “Hey, it’s only a church” when we talked about his level of commitment to his place of service. I hope he was only kidding. When we come to the point of thinking “it’s only a job” (see number three above), we testify that we have lost our sense of calling and passion.

Sixth, the right people display “window and mirror” maturity. In Collins’ words,

When things go well, the right people point out the window, giving credit to factors other than themselves; they shine light on other people who contributed to the success and take little credit themselves. Yet when things go awry, they do not blame circumstances or other people for setbacks and failures; they point in the mirror and say, “I’m responsible.”

A church staff member must be self-differentiated. His or her worth as a person is not determined by the success or failure of the church. In most situations, matters are too complex to either give full credit or total blame to one individual anyway. A mature church leader can look at success and say, “I really did not do it all myself” and can look at failure and say “I gave it my best shot.” And then he or she can close the door and go home and count the ways that God has blessed his or her life.

Getting the right people on the bus requires clarity, discernment, and patience. We may not get it right the first time, but we shouldn’t stop trying. When you get the right (not perfect) team together, your ministry will be much more enjoyable . . . even fun.

(If you would like to purchase this book, click on "The Summer Reading List" on the right and order from Amazon.com.)


Anonymous said...

I think this is one of the best posts you put out there thus far. I especially like the part about hiring people who share the vision rather than trying to persuade people to buy into, at least from a staffing standpoint.

Penny said...

I came across your blog when looking for material for a presentaion to Clergy based on the Jim Collins books. I was interested to find something in the voluntary sector about getting the wrong people off the bus!! not as easy as in the secular world!!!
any ideas.

Ircel said...

Penny, you are right. This is much more difficult in a voluntary setting such as the church, whether staff or volunteers.

One thing that I have found helpful is some kind of covenant (especially with staff). This states expectations and benefits on both sides of the equation. Also, I don't think that there is anything wrong with ssuring volunteers that they will "get something out" of their involvement.

Take a look at Albert Winseman's GROWING AN ENGAGED CHURCH for some ideas on fulfilling the needs of church members.