Managing People in a Christian Context
Managing staff is a challenge! It can have great rewards as you see people develop and make a positive contribution to your organisation. It can also be emotionally, mentally and spiritually draining. This can be true whether you’re a minister with a part time PA or a manager with a large team. Time and time again as I talk with those manging staff in a Christian context, it seems this is a particularly demanding responsibility.

This is a simple introduction to some key tips, principles, practices and issues to

help you manage people effectively. Its based on my own experience of over 30 years of managing others.

We each have our own personality and management styles, we work in different sized organisations with varied organisational cultures. So you’ll need to tailor these tips for your own setting.

 

As an employee, manager and employer in large companies, a church and a Christian charity I’ve been guided by the parallel passages in Ephesians 6:5-10 and Colossians 3:22-4:1. People are an amazing, precious, God-given part of any organisation: we are dealing with their lives, with unique individuals and we must not forget that. We need to take our responsibilities for them very seriously and to seek God’s wisdom, integrity and grace as we put our management skills into practice.

 

If there is only one thing you take from this resource make it this: praying regularly for:

  • the people you work with

  • the tasks you are undertaking together

  • the issues you are facing

This will make a significant difference. It has been my experience again and again, wherever I have worked.

 

It should be made clear at the outset that this is an introductory resource for practical people management. In today’s minefield of employment law it is essential to check that the organisations policies, practice and contracts fulfil the legal obligations. I have found Keely’s Employment Healthcheck Plan invaluable for this (see Signposts at end of resource).

 

1. A Good Start: Recruitment and Induction

 

A good start will make all the difference and that’s why it’s so important to get off on the right footing, setting appropriate expectations about the job and the context in which someone will be working.

 

Recruitment is also a public relations exercise, you’ll come into contact with far more people than you’ll appoint. So it’s important that the information you provide and the way you interact with people, including at interview, gives a positive impression of the organisation and its culture.

 

Recruitment Checklist

  1. Be clear about the purpose of the job and the tasks to be carried out in a simple job description.

  2. Be clear about the kind of person you need to appoint: character, competencies (skills, experience & qualifications) and chemistry are key. Set this out in a simple person specification that differentiates between essential and desirable traits.

  3. Give clear information about how to apply, indicating all the information you require, including references, police checks, whether the candidate requires a work permit, the closing date for applications, time line for shortlisting, interviews, offer and preferred start date.

  4. Be clear in advance about interview travel expenses, what will be required at the interview (any exercises, typing test or presentations) and how long it’s likely to take.

  5. Clearly state the terms and conditions of employment for candidates to see in advance of being offered the job. Check they are fair and legal.

  6. Ideally ask for references for those to be interviewed to help you in your decision making.

  7. Decide who to include in the shortlisting and interviewing. What is each person’s role? Keep the interview panel to a maximum of three so you don’t intimidate candidates.

  8. Prepare the interview: who will ask which questions and how will you deal with supplementary questions? How will the room be laid out to put the candidate at ease?

  9. Prepare in advance the information to give when making a job offer.

  10. Think through how you will communicate with unsuccessful candidates, making it as helpful, encouraging and personal as possible.

 

Induction Checklist

The first day, week and month is key for a new member of the team. You need to help them settle in and to start making a contribution. There’s a steep learning curve in the early days: new names & faces to learn, new jargon to pick up, new ways of doing things. It may not be just a new job, it may have involved moving home and area too. Do all you can to help the newcomer, pacing the flow of information and setting some simple goals for the initial weeks. Encourage them to ask questions and make yourself available: it’s a worthwhile investment of your time. Set a timetable for explaining various aspects of the role. Be patient and reassuring so that you build confidence.

  1. Explain when and where to arrive on the first working day and who to ask for.

  2. Make sure (where appropriate) that a clean desk is ready for occupation with all necessary equipment and facilities. Check that the previous occupant’s personal effects and any files not required by the newcomer have been cleared away.

  3. If the team is large enough appoint a buddy eg to take the newcomer for morning tea or lunch on the first day.

  4. Arrange a briefing about the role. Ideally with the previous job holder and the line manager.

  5. Include an induction to the organisation: people, culture, history, facilities, building, jargon, polices & procedures. If you are likely to be inducting people with any regularity it’s worth putting together a simple staff handbook.

  6. Set some clear goals for the probationary period (typically 3 or 6 months in the UK, 90 day trial in New Zealand).

  7. Review progress with the new team member at the end of the first day, week, month and at the end of the trial/probationary period. This helps iron out any initial uncertainties, wrong expectations or concerns.

 

Guidelines for New Staff

Everyone has their own style. However, I’ve found it helpful to set out a few guidelines for new staff who I’ll be managing. From time to time I also repeat them to those who’ve been around for a while!

  1. My door is always open: In practice it’s not but the principle of being available is important. Let team members know you want to be accessible and approachable and that they can come and talk things over with you. It won’t always be possible immediately but you can set another mutually acceptable time (this probably depends on the urgency and importance of the matter).

  2. I hope you will enjoy your job: this is unlikely to be true 100% of the time but it’s the principle that counts. Encourage staff to tell you if there are things that get them down and to suggest positive changes that can be made.

  3. Flag potential problems: It’s good to encourage a culture where potential issues can be identified at an early stage without blame being apportioned.  Avoiding action can then be taken. This is far better than having to pick up the pieces after a problem has happened.

  4. Ask Questions: Encourage people to ask questions if they need clarification or more information. This includes giving permission to ask the same question again. There’s lots to take in when you’re new!

2. Doing the Job: The Communication Key

Communication is one of the keys to a good relationship between a manager and team members. It needs to happen in a variety of ways: personal and work related, formal and informal, structured and unstructured, one to one and in groups.

 

Personal

Some of us are brilliant with people, we love taking an interest and in fact we could spend the whole morning really enjoying that! But are we interfering or inappropriately using our position? Are we managers or pastors? On the other hand, some of us are so task orientated and set on achieving results our interpersonal skills are almost non-existent. We can hardly grunt “Kia Ora” or “Good Morning” and are in danger of ignoring the people with whom we work. Inevitably the balance is somewhere in the middle. Take stock of your natural inclination (especially when you are over busy) and take compensating action…

 

Reporting progress one to one

People’s jobs (and their personal communication styles) vary hugely and this affects how we work and communicate with them. Both ad hoc conversations and prearranged face to face time will help motivation and give opportunity to discuss concerns as well as tasks and goals.

  • If the role has repetitive tasks eg a weekly cycle you may feel there’s little need to be involved but beware this doesn’t come across as lack of interest.  Encouragement, feedback and an opportunity for either party to flag issues are still important.

  • If the job is project based it’s usually helpful to meet regularly to review progress, discuss and resolve issues, agree new tasks, common priorities and timescales.

Styles vary enormously from 10am every Monday to an ad hoc catch up at the water cooler. Watch out in case your personal preference doesn’t work for the other person & find a format that helps you both. The frequency will vary from team member to team member: some like to discuss things in depth while others are more motivated by being left to get on with things. You alone can decide how much free rein is best for motivation and for successfully completing tasks and projects.

 

Specifying the task and outcome

Have you ever asked someone to do something only to find the end result isn’t what you expected? This is one of the greatest sources of frustration for managers, yet some simple tips can make it far less likely. The cause is most often that you’ve not given a sufficiently clear brief of what you require and when it needs to be completed:

  • What, why, how, when, where, how much are all helpful points to cover.

  • Explain what you expect the end result to be, including the tangible form it will take. Be specific: a short report may be 300 words to one person and 1,500 to another.

  • Clarify why the task needs to be done.

  • Explain if there is a particular way you think something should be done. But beware: for many competent staff members it’s more motivating to work that out themselves.

  • State when you would like the task completed and check whether the individual thinks that’s do-able. Where appropriate this is may also involve sharing expectations about how much actual time it will take. Be prepared to listen and negotiate.

  • Check understanding by asking the other person to tell you what they are going to do and gently correct if needed.

 

Feedback

Feedback is an important part of communication and contributes to positive working relationships. It’s heathy to give feedback on a regular basis: both about tasks well done and where there’s concern or room for improvement. Doing the former regularly earns you permission to do the latter when needed. It is important to have difficult conversations eg about poor performance, rather than avoid them. They should be conducted with empathy and with encouragement to find a way forward.

Praise and recognition are huge motivators for most people and the converse is demotivation if encouragement isn’t given. We need to keep perspective here: valuing everyone and acknowledging publicly in a balanced way, so that affirmation of one doesn’t have a negative impact on those not mentioned.

 

Tips for appraisals

Appraisals can be a great opportunity to feedback, encourage and set new goals yet sadly many people don’t like them and try to avoid them! Its a manager's responsibility to make them a positive experience. It is also important to discuss performance informally on a regular basis and not introduce any major surprises in an appraisal. In advance:

  • Agree date, time and format well in advance, ensuring both parties have time to prepare.

  • If goals (targets/objectives) have previously been set ensure you both have a copy in advance.

  • Find a place for a confidential, uninterrupted conversation.

Topics for a simple appraisal could include:

  • What’s gone well since the last appraisal and what can you each learn from that for future successes?

  • Is there anything which with hindsight could have gone better? What can be learnt by both parties and how will you take this forward?

  • Is the job description accurate and are all aspects of it being conducted ably by the job holder?

  • What would help the person do their job (even) better? Examples might be: further training, better equipment, working environment, the way you support them.

  • Agree some goals for the period until the next appraisal. NB Ensure you review progress together regularly between appraisals as part of regular catch-up sessions.

  • Check if there are any other topics the two of you need to cover.

 

Training

Taking interest in staff development can be another great motivator for the individual, as well as resulting in a more capable and skilled member of the team. Appraisals are a good place to identify and review training. Sadly training is often overlooked by small employers, who may think they can’t afford it. However, it can be a false economy and there are plenty of creative ways to provide good training at minimal cost:

  • Discounts for charities from commercial training organisations. Always worth asking...

  • Specialist charity sector trainers eg NCVO and Directory for Social Change in the UK.

  • Webinars are usually cheaper than face to face training.

  • Providing on the job training yourself.

  • Use contacts in your organisation, other organisations or at church to find people who may be willing to share their experience on a one to one or group basis.

  • Find mentors for staff at all levels.

It’s worth agreeing what the aim of any training is and ensure that the individual reviews this afterwards. You should then review it with them and agree how they will consolidate what they’ve learnt. It really helps keeps focus.

3. Team together and team building

If you have a team with several members it’s worth meeting together to update one another, talk through any common implications and give opportunity for questions. A regular meeting eg weekly or monthly helps set expectations and provides reassurance that everyone will be updated on all they need to know.

 

Every team has its own dynamic, influenced by the personalities and skills of those that make it up. This is affected by every team member change. Every team needs to relate and grow together and there are many ways to facilitate this. Team building usually takes the form of a joint activity which could be work related or pure fun. It’s a rewarding investment and can be something that’s looked back on again and again: “Do you remember when we…” Examples include:

  • A trip out: it doesn’t need to be expensive

  • A meal together which could be a bring and share picnic or at a team member’s home, possibly with partners and other family members.

  • Task related with an element of fun, such as organising a special event for others.

I have fond memories of day trips to France using £1 coupons from newspapers, trips to the London Sky Garden (which is free) and staff pantomimes put on for a church congregation.

 

Tools to identify different strengths, styles and personalities

There are a multitude of tools and systems that help to identify different strengths, working styles and personalities and which analyse the benefits and potential pitfalls when those with different profiles work together. Most people have their favourite tool and familiarity has some benefit. Using the same tool for the whole team and the whole organisation really helps consistency of understanding. My own favourites are Belbin, Myers Briggs and Strengthsfinder 2.0. (See Signposts below).

 

Remote working

Technology increasingly allows us to work remotely from team members, who may be working from home or in a different work location. Remote working makes accountability and all aspects of communication even more important. Regular contact face to face really does help, even if this is using Skype, Zoom or one of the other free online facilities available. Another good practice for teams that work in the same city is to have one day in the working week or month when everyone is at the central workplace.

 

If Things Go Wrong…

Sadly working in Christian organisations doesn’t mean everything always goes smoothly. No one (team member and manager) is perfect, people have different styles and I have found that there are usually higher expectations in Christian organisations. So it’s likely that at some stage there will be difficulties.

  • Wherever possible talk the difficulty through with the person concerned first and only refer more widely if that doesn’t work (the principle is in Mathew 18: 15-17).

  • Work out your policy and procedure for disciplinary situations and grievances ahead of any difficulty. Whilst you hope you will never have to use it, it helps greatly that it’s already in place. Mention it in the contract of employment, give a copy to every new member of staff (this could be as part of a staff handbook) and include it in your (online) staff noticeboard.

  • Consider bringing in a mediator or professional if the situation is becoming tense.

 

 

Sounding Boards

Most of us need sounding boards from time to time. Why not find someone in a similar role in another organisation so you can share your ideas and concerns in confidence. It may also become a place to pray about them together.

It may also be helpful to find a more experienced manager in another organisation who can act as a mentor.

 

Prayer

Prayer is the key to our Christian walk and praying about staff matters is no exception. Do it, do it and do it again! Pray for your colleagues and for those who report to you:

  • For your relationship with each of them

  • For their personal and working lives

  • For the tasks, responsibilities and any issues they may have

  • For their spiritual growth as Christians

Pray together as a staff team if that’s something most of the group would be comfortable with and pray with individual team members, for example at the start or end of a meeting or when there’s a complex decision to take. Although do make sure you aren’t using prayer to manipulate a situation.

 

4. Finally

It’s a tall order to manage staff. We are all learners and we will all face challenges at times. If you can work at setting the right expectations, communicate regularly, motivate people and above all commit your management responsibility in prayer you are probably on the right track.

 

Signpost to other resources

 

Author and copyright:   Helen Calder 2019

 

This resource has been peer reviewed in New Zealand.