Sometimes people just need to move on for a variety of reasons.

How do you let someone go without creating even more problems, and what can you do to insure that you have a good fit before bringing on somebody new? Here is leadership coach Jerome Daley to help us with this critical issue.

Originally posted by Jerome Daley

In recent months, I’ve been hired by two churches to coach someone on pastoral staff who was in the process of being fired. At the same time, I’m working with two additional pastors who are considering “firing” themselves from a position and a culture that don’t really match their calling and values. These relationships have given me pause to consider the many challenges involved in hiring and firing within the church…and the messes that often come in their wake.

The Difficulties

Here are a few of those challenges as I see them:

  • Whether hired from within or without, it is difficult to really know whether people have the essential skills for any given job until they are on the job.
  • It is also difficult to know how potential hires will fit within the undefined leadership culture of a church, even if they have been part of the church.
  • Many times it is difficult to know when someone who did once “fit” the position and culture is losing effectiveness…until it’s too late for a graceful parting.
  • Once it is clear that, for whatever reason, a person does not fit the position they have held, it is difficult to initiate change without introducing pain and bad feelings on one side or both.

The Track Record

Now let’s talk about the messes. On top of the inherent challenges of team-building, here are some dynamics I frequently observe, based upon a lifetime of growing up as a pastor’s kid, being on church staff, and coaching many pastors:

  1. Churches rarely know what they really want in a position.
  2. Churches rarely invest in personal and professional development for their staff. (This is not meant to include the latest “how-to” conference.)
  3. Churches rarely hold their staff accountable in any meaningful way.
  4. Churches rarely help mis-aligned staff find their true fit.

If you find your back getting a bit stiff and protest rising to your lips, well, I sincerely hope that your church is an exception to these generalizations. If your church is excelling in these areas, please look for ways to strengthen and encourage the other churches in your sphere of influence. Chances are good that they are hurting. In a series of brief articles, I would like to explore somecrucial mindsets and practical suggestions related to the four “rarely’s” above, starting with “Churches Rarely Know What They Really Want.”

Mindset:Hire the Person, not the Position.

Positions change. Depending upon the change culture of a church, positions may change slowly or quickly, but believe me when I say that they will change. Changing people every time you change a position is costly by every measure. Jim Collins got it right when he said that the priority is getting the right people on the “bus;” then you can help them find the right seat on the bus.

Granted, hires are usually initiated by a functional gap within the church—a gap that calls for a particular skill-set. Fine. Look for a particular skill-set in the hire, but think on a bigger plane. Look beyond the position and make sure you are building your team with men and women who have the capacity to change positions and continue to contribute their leadership gifts for the long haul.

Action: Vet the 3 C’s.

Ask about education. Ask about experience. Assess their skills. But the 3 C’s are the building blocks for long-term fit and fulfillment: characterchemistry, and competency. In that order. Character can only be established by an in-depth scrutiny of the person’s history, so if you don’t have personal history, you need to get up close and personal with those who do. Spend hours, not minutes with those who know your candidates best—specifically, their past co-workers and teammates. Don’t skimp here.

Next is determining your prospect’s chemistry with the rest of your current team. This can only be accomplished over time—see the mindset and action below. Finally, examine the full spectrum of the person’s abilities…with an eye to what competencies are fully-developed and which ones are latent and in need of development. Assessing competence only begins with the resume; the truth appears more fully on the job and over time. Which leads us to mindset #2.

Mindset:Don’t Commit; Experiment.

People are more art than science. Which means that resumes, applications, and interviews can only take you so far. Despite your most diligent efforts, the 3 C’s are borne out over time. So make some time…and take the pressure off all parties by creating an environment of experimentation. Create an atmosphere where it’s not pass/fail—but learning—that is the goal.

Prospective staff members will quickly sense if you are simply trying to fill a functional gap or if you are sincerely interested in who they are and who they are becoming. If the former is true, they will usually play to that dynamic and be who you want them to be in an attempt to get the job. However, if the experiment is authentically geared toward understanding their true gifts and passions, then you give them permission to be authentic in expressing themselves…dramatically raising the chances of getting the right fit.

Action: “Date” for at least Six Months.

Resist the urge to move too quickly to the “altar.” Instead, enjoy the dating process, inviting your top prospect to essentially intern with you for a period of time. Use whatever language you like, but if you give people a chance to “try before they buy,” everyone wins. You get to see the person in action. They get to see your culture beyond the PR. Chemistry either gels, or it doesn’t.

Yes, geographical moves can make this approach practically challenging. Yet this is when the benefits of a trial period are most called for! Get creative and find a way to experiment for a period between six and twelve months. Three months won’t do it. And if you don’t know after a year, then someone isn’t paying attention.

Yes, I know. This article was supposed to be about firing people—not hiring them. And that’s why one article in my mind became four. Because half of your firing problems will be solved if you improve your hiring practices. Leaders, we must get this right! God’s people are too precious to be treated as disposable. So let’s engage this conversation, learn from one another, and keep upgrading the system until we do get it right. It won’t ever be perfect; sometimes people will still experience pain in these transitions. But without question, we can do it a whole lot better than we have in the past. And that will be to the glory of God and the stewardship of God’s people.

The full series of articles on this subject have been collected and published as a short ebook here.