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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Anatomy of a Bad Hire

[from Where Most Needed]  After firing an associate six months following hire, a minister reflects on what he could have done differently.

There's not a great deal of interchange between secular and faith-based nonprofits, though they have much in common with respect to organizational difficulties.  Christianity Today provides us with the human resource meditation of the week, in a column by Rev. Jack Connell titled Anatomy of a Bad Hire, written right after the termination.  He suggests four errors that could have been avoided:

  1. More face time and interaction between the candidate and other staff.  Rather than relying on a one-on-one interview, the pastor resolves that in the future he would spend more time to give the candidates exposure to different settings interacting with staff. 
  2. Setting the pay too low.  Upon hearing the job description, a colleague suggested an appropriate salary level, but our friend thought that he could get someone for $20,000 less.  Some well qualified candidates dropped out after hearing the salary, which limited the field of choices.  Of course, the cost of the bad hire well exceeded the expected savings. 
  3. Don't settle.  At some point in the process, the pastor decided to "settle" on this candidate, and thereafter overlooked seemingly small incidents that should have been given more weight or raised flags, like an email that went without a response. 
  4. Relying on "signs."  It wasn't that the candidate had the same birthday, but something equally irrelevant played a role in sealing the decision to hire.  Next time, the pastor resolves to pay attention to the process and ignore the coincidences. 

I've always relied on other staff input in hiring, typically including some interviews with subordinates (for a supervisory position), peers, and managers in other departments who interact with the position.  This other input has saved me more than once from "settling" and "signs."   

But getting the salary right is always problematic, particularly in accounting support where candidates above entry level typically have options. 

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May 10, 2006 in Personnel Issues | Permalink

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This is a good article. Our church will be adding a new staff person pretty soon. I e-mailed this to our pastor.

Posted by: Jade | May 10, 2006 4:26:00 PM

What about calling? Shouldn't a new staff person have a call to a place and not just the right salary package...?

Posted by: Donnie | May 10, 2006 11:10:58 PM

I was a bad hire. I can see it now. I thought it was the call of God, but wound up being wishful thinking.

1. The pastor and administrator only knew of me through a friend of mine and a parent with her childern in the ministry. We spoke several times via phone and prayed and agreed that this was the Lord's will.

2. The money/compensation was fine. They invested some $2500 in moving us to their location and once there, no way to return us to our former state. Our goods are still in a storage unit there while we have relocated back to where we began.

3. Because of time constraints, we settled. Both pastor and I. The tight schedule and my strong desire to minister there were being met and this was seen as an OK from God.

4. Most of the staff had no problem adopting us into the ministry. I believe that one did and it was her closeness to the pastor and administration that magnified the faults that I brought to the ministry that I was trying to iron out.

Time was about 9 months, just about the time we were getting settled in and learning to enjoy our new found friends.

Broke my dear wife's heart and I wrote it off as another experience in ministry.

Posted by: Jay Gainer | May 10, 2006 11:19:28 PM

Jay, tell your wife I sympathize and will say a prayer - I have found that it's thru these "mistakes" that God grows me the most. I'm a ministry wife too. Good luck for the future.

Posted by: Abbey | May 11, 2006 9:26:37 AM

Thanks for the helpful article. We've just finished a painful season with a bad "hire" (like the poster above, I prefer to speak in terms of "calling"). I think we made every well-meaning mistake in the book. Our staffer, in his short time here with us, invented strife and, together with many recruited followers, left our small church broken and bereaved (but building back, by God's grace and power). How could we have avoided the pitfalls? Everything in this article is helpful to keep in memory, and to it I would add:

1. Understand on the front end that every "hire" is passing through a particular season of life. It may well be God's calling for the church simply to help the staffer mature in Christlikeness. Granted, such an experience can be painful for the church and the staffer, depending on the level of resistance to growth and change. As host churches and senior pastors, we should not expect perfection in those we "hire" -- not even close.

2. With that in mind, lowering expectations of the new staffer's performance and loyalty can keep the church from becoming psychologically dependent on the new situation. For example: how many churches, struggling to meet the need for ministry to teens, call a young, ministerially inexperienced and administratively inept youth pastor, probably still a seminary student himself, who quickly shows himself as unable to perform at any acceptable level of Christian professionalism? Yet the church expects him to somehow be the "answer" to all the congregation's hopes, prayers, and frustrations in youth ministry! That's unfair, for everyone!

Posted by: Mark Minervino | May 15, 2006 12:14:05 PM

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