Recently someone called me from an inner-city non-profit ministry. They had some unfortunate experiences with trying to hire people and then having it turn into a negative experience. They wanted some advice. My discussion with them covered some basic human resource process as well as problems centering around race and class.
I thought the discussion worth writing about and sharing with others in these kinds of ministries, which are of course my background and experience. [I want the reader to know that it has been my passion to champion African Americans as leaders in churches, to enroll in colleges, and be hired by other Christian institutions, as well as the poor, women, ex-inmates and other under-represented minorities. It is up to others to witness as to whether or not that has indeed been true of me, or if I have been at all successful.] I will try to cover some of the topic in two categories.
- We Must Establish A Good Process In Evaluating Whom To Hire.
A. What is your process of evaluation?
B. Do you require references? Do you only look at references the potential employee supplies, or do you look deeper, getting input from others who know this person?
C. The higher level of the position means the more diligence you must take in the evaluation.
D. If there are gaps in record of employment, no evaluation from certain jobs, that is a potential problem. Why won’t they tell you about being let go or fired from certain jobs? Will you only take their word for why they were fired, or will you request information from their previous supervisor? The negative evaluations are just as important or even more important than the glowing recommendations. (I have found it hard to believe when other ministries have hired someone I fired, or a school accepted a student I refused to endorse, and they never asked me for a reference or input on their decision, but later came back to me to complain about their own negative experience with this person).
E. Do you have a committee, or other input, on the hiring decision or are you as the Director or CEO relying on your own reasoning? It is safer to have someone else (or a committee,) especially if they are intuitive about people, to be a second reader on the hiring decision.
F. It is good to have a period of probation, to give the organization and the individual a chance to get to know each other, before a permanent agreement is made. It is good to have a stated time for evaluation, and even an agreement for an annual review as a condition of employment.
2. Race and Class Can Complicate Personnel Interactions And Affect Reputation.
- A. In cross cultural ministry we are often looking for folks from the neighborhood to be included on our staff or take leadership roles. We are looking to raise up disciples and leaders from the community. Usually this means they will be of a different ethnicity or class from the person hiring them.
- B. Sometimes in cross cultural ministry you might have leaders who have had some cross-cultural missionary service volunteer, be with you as an “advisor,” or even be on your staff (usually from the white majority). You need the bodies, the expertise, the man hours they supply, but you may not be aware of the racial and cultural bias they bring into the organization.
- C. Sometimes we hire people because they are representative of our being an inclusionary ministry. We want to help them, they need the job, and they make us look like we are accomplishing our mission.
- D. Sometimes the people we hire or take on in the organization are not qualified, not committed, and in fact become poison to the team and the ministry when they are confronted. These folks can wreak havoc by bad mouthing the ministry to supporters, or to the community.
- E. Middle class expectations of professional behavior may not be a social skill or value previously learned by an employee who is from an economically depressed community. Worse, spiritual maturity may not be present when someone becomes disgruntled. Professional expectations can be interpreted as “white” expectations and this is something that must be explained and trained, or else it will cause resentment and misunderstanding. [At the same time let me state that some folks in economically depressed communities have a deep wisdom about people and dynamics in ministry. If they are also godly they are a very valuable resource to the organization.]
- F. When people act sinfully in an organization, and you seek to discipline or hold them accountable, they might use those methods they have learned in their non-Christian life to get revenge. This may include slander with racial suggestions, gossip, backbiting, etc. Since this person is from the community, and may have some status or clout in the neighborhood, their negative words can be very destructive and disheartening.
- G. The reality of sin is always present, in every race, ethnicity, class, or gender. Envy, jealousy, pride, ambition, self-serving, resentment and bitterness come in human packages that sometimes smile in your face while they are stabbing you in the back. These sins can sometimes be given a racial justification. People show their anger in various ways, hidden and by stealth and sometimes by emotional explosion. People have learned skills at using negative emotions to manipulate and get their way. How will you seek to mature your staff, disciple your staff, warn your staff, and hold your staff accountable over negative emotional responses to hardship at work?
- H. Are your personnel policies known by everyone as to what will not be tolerated or excused? Can you put these in writing? Will you make sure that “counseling” statements are given to employees in writing so you have a paper trail of how you have dealt with folks, equitably and fairly?
- I. We are weighed by the community not by our intentions, but by our actions and reputations, fairly or unfairly. It is so hard to restore trust once someone has freely given their negative racial or class interpretation of your work. I have had this from both white middle class “advisors” who bad mouthed our work, (this from folks who said they had come to help us “get organized.”) And from black folks that were let go or disciplined by our organization, and insisted that the decisions were racial or personal.
- J. Be careful to do your own self-examination as to whether your own racial or class bias is affecting the decisions you make as to who you hire and how you treat them. Love is always the right decision and the right direction. Consistency and equity are the foundation of stability, clarity as to policy and decision making help provide transparency and trust.
- K. Not everyone is going to like you. If you keep bad people on staff because you don’t want them to dislike you then you are not leading with courage. The integrity of the church, mission, or non-profit is more important than our comfort level.