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How do you hire great people?

In general, in ministry, we do as bad or worse in hiring people as those in business do.  If we followed Jesus’ model of walking with people before selecting them and then seriously praying about it, maybe our batting average would be better (see Luke 6:12-13).  That may seem unrealisti…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
In general, in ministry, we do as bad or worse in hiring people as those in business do.  If we followed Jesus’ model of walking with people before selecting them and then seriously praying about it, maybe our batting average would be better (see Luke 6:12-13).  That may seem unrealistic, but I suggest, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.
 
Most of the time, I’ve not followed Jesus in this way. I’ve had to quickly size up the possible fit between someone I barely knew and a job I needed to have done. When I was young, I made a lot of mistakes. I wasn’t discipling people, I didn’t understand how to assess people, and I didn’t really understand how to match them up with what we needed to be done.
 
I particularly wince at some of the mistakes I made in hiring middle-aged guys, who having succeeded in one area of their life, decided to make a switch to ministry without really understanding their fit with our culture. One man had led thousands in the army. Seeing his administrative skills, I brought him on staff. Pretty quickly I could see it wasn’t working out. He just seemed lost. When I took him out for coffee, he confessed, “Seth, I’ve always wanted to be an FM radio announcer.” 
 
“Oh, OK, thanks – better late than never.” That made our disengagement much easier. And he eventually did commence a career in radio. More difficult still were the situations where I knew that they weren’t working out, but they just weren’t feeling it. It produced a great deal of stress until I just dealt with the situation.
 
Somewhere along the way, I read a book called Topgrading by Bradley Smart that helped me immensely. Some folks overspiritualize things and say that if it’s not based on the Bible, how can you follow the person’s advice. But I say “all truth is God’s truth.” If you have an eye for truth, you can find it in unusual places.  Studying Smart’s methods just helps you sharpen your discernment and become a better steward of people’s talents. 
 
Smart estimates that half of all hires are actually mistakes that eventually blow up in a manager’s face. The main reason being that the hiring manager didn’t take the time to establish the competencies he needed were the ones his new hire actually had. A 50% failure rate seemed incredible to me – but as I looked back, I could see that was about right. Using Smart’s methods, he forecasted I’d increase my chances of a good fit to 90%.
 
The secret? Rigorously use the standard tools of an interview, references, and a work history review and match them against your own needs for the position. Begin by identifying the five or six key competencies that a given position will require in advance. This takes some thoughtful analysis, especially if you’re just creating the job for the first time.
 
Let’s assume that you’re hiring an admin person. Let’s further assume that you determine that the top skill you’re looking for is that your admin person be able to coordinate a lot of people and details. Then, as you check  references or interview your candidate, you’d ask the person you talk to to cite examples of how she demonstrated herself to be a good coordinator. You really probe to understand how that coordination skill played out.
 
Past performance, Peter Drucker says, is the best indicator of future behavior.  If a candidate has demonstrated herself to be competent through her performance in her last job, then she will likely carry that competency to her next workplace. Of course the easiest way to assess this is to hire from within – that is, as Jesus did, only selecting people you’ve observed over time.

Comments (5)

  • Instant coffee, instant food, instant opinion. Disease of the age methinks! Depth takes time to see, especially in your line of work.

    Hiring from within – good plan but can lack injections of new blood into a place. Probationary periods are probably good then. Watch new people for 6 months or a year on a temporary contract with no obligation to continue. That depends on your local employment laws, I guess, but I’ve always been employed on that basis in the past. In one job I had in London, my bosses had me on a 6 month probation but dumped it after a month, gave me a real contract and upped my salary. When you are a good fit, it doesn’t take long to see. Could equally have gone the other way and neither of us were tied to it if it did.

  • Seth

    With some 70 or so people currently working under me, I say amen.. Wished I’d heard this about 32 years ago….

  • Building on your comment… ‘Some folks overspiritualize things and say that if it’s not based on the Bible, how can you follow the person’s advice. But I say “all truth is God’s truth.” ‘

    My perspective: while the bible is absolute truth, it does not contain all the truth in the world. It is really just a partial revelation of God (but all we need to know). They key is to embrace no apparent truth that is in conflict with the Bible, because if it is in conflict, it cannot be truth.

    Andrew
    http://andrewlewis.com

  • Seth – Thanks! I’m praying about hiring my first US person for our young organization. This is a helpful note, as I think through what to look for and consider.

    Thanks for sharing your honest experiences, etc.

    All the best,
    Ryan

  • Good stuff Seth. I checked out working for your organization but I didn’t see anything that matched up with my legal background. 🙂

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.



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