Excellence, Not Perfection

Here is another brief excerpt from the first chapter of HR Matters that continues on with the theme of what it means to be “above reproach” as an employer:

Publication3To meet any goal, the goal itself needs to be clearly understood and defined. In light of this, what do we really mean when we use the expression “above reproach”? By definition, being above reproach means to be perfect and blameless. No one other that Jesus ever lived a life that was perfect and blameless, so certainly that can’t be the expectation for either our employees or ourselves! Instead, when considering 1 Timothy 3:1-13, I think what we are trying to say is that the expectation is for excellence of character—in both word and deed.

With this definition in mind, what does it mean to commit to excellence as an employer? As noted earlier, at a minimum, it must include a commitment to discovering and complying with the regulations and laws relevant to your organization (see Romans 13:1-7 for one example of our biblical mandate in this regard), but that is only the beginning. The dictionary defines excellence as “the quality of being outstanding or extremely good.”  Considering this definition, meeting the letter of the law does not even begin to demonstrate excellence since you are merely doing what is fundamentally required. Instead, for the Christian employer, I believe excellence is an inside job that begins when the leadership of an organization consciously regards all of its practices—not just the ones that are directly specific to your mission or finances—as being “unto the Lord.”

This would include:

  • Your hiring decisions
  • Your compensation practices
  • Your policies and procedures
  • The way you treat your staff
  • The way you practice what you preach
  • The openness and honesty of your communication
  • The way you consistently apply standards

Jesus doesn’t expect perfection from us as His followers, and He doesn’t expect it from us as employers. He understands our fallibility and weaknesses. He knows we’re not capable of perfection. But He does desire our best because that is what excellence looks like.

I believe that’s what your staff is looking for as well. They don’t expect perfection, but they do want to see a genuine effort demonstrated toward excellence. For most employees, this translates as consistency between your organization’s stated values and your actions—especially actions that affect their employment.

Again, no one does this perfectly. Most employees are capable of extending tons of grace if you display ownership, honesty, and humility when mistakes and inconsistencies inevitably occur. On the flip side, if you turn a blind eye toward the fact that inconsistencies are occurring (and believe me, they occur everywhere), your employees are not likely to be so gracious on an ongoing basis. While they may choose to continue forgiving even if things are never acknowledged or recognized, most won’t continue to subject themselves to an unhealthy environment indefinitely (nor should they!). When there is an ongoing failure to recognize and acknowledge where improvement is needed, it negatively impacts your staff and diminishes the overall witness and effectiveness of your organization. Even worse, it can keep your organization from fulfilling its highest potential.

The simple truth is that being above reproach as an employer—or even more accurately, demonstrating excellence—is an intentional choice. You will not wander into it by chance. You will never “find the time” to figure it out. You need to make the time and commit to investing in the process. It is not likely to happen unless you are willing to see and take ownership for the mixed messages some of your current practices may be sending to your staff and those in your sphere of influence. I believe this anonymous quote sums it up well:

Excellence is never accidental; it is the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction, skillful execution, and the wisdom to see obstacles as opportunities.

There are easier paths, but if you are committed to excellence before God in all areas—including your employment practices—then allow the challenges to become opportunities that compel you to press on for His highest. Press on, and keep pressing on, until you can say in your heart that you know that you know—you are above reproach as an employer!

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The whole first chapter of HR Matters is available to read online using the free “previewer” on Amazon. You can also purchase the whole book (either paperback or kindle) here.

Above Reproach?

This is a short excerpt from the first section of the first chapter of HR Matters. The whole chapter is available to read online using the free “previewer” on Amazon. You can also purchase the whole book (either paperback or kindle) here.

“It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, he must be above reproach.” – 1 Timothy 3:1-2a NASB

Publication3I’ve written a number of employee handbooks over the years and most of them include some sort of standards of conduct or code of ethics. When the handbook is for a church or ministry, the “standards” often contain some reference to the Scripture listed above. The context is usually that as representatives of the ministry, and even more broadly as representatives of Christ, employees are expected to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the calling. Accordingly, Eph. 4:1 (“I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”) is also a frequently quoted text. These are great Scriptures and there is absolutely nothing wrong with requiring a high standard of conduct and character among your employees—as long as the same standard is applied across the board.

The staff of churches and ministries are usually among the most dedicated on the planet. Many have an extremely high level of personal commitment and calling to the ministry they are serving and they deeply desire to perform their duties as unto the Lord. These staff should be highly desired and valued. They are the ones who will follow you to the moon and back for the sake of the cause—until they start to feel they are being taken advantage of or treated unfairly. One of the fastest ways to cause staff to feel they are being taken advantage of can be summed up in one word: inconsistency.

Consistency is a big deal. Despite the fact that it can sometimes seem like there are laws for everything, employers really do have lots of liberty in lots of areas. As long as the standards you establish for your staff don’t create a discriminatory impact or otherwise represent a violation of federal, state, or local laws, you have considerable leeway in determining them. But once you do set your standards, they need to be applied consistently.

I will specifically address the importance of consistent application of standards among staff in later chapters, but for now, I want to address something far more foundational that can have a huge negative impact on your employees’ overall morale and effectiveness: requiring a higher standard for your staff than you are consistently modeling yourself.

Before you balk at that statement and assume it doesn’t apply to you, please hear me out. The vast majority of ministry leaders would never intentionally set out to inconsistently model the values of their organization. In fact, for most, setting a godly example is of paramount importance! Yet this is one of those areas where not knowing what you don’t know can—and does—significantly damage your credibility.

When considering the example you set as a leader, the character you model isn’t solely determined by how you conduct your personal affairs, or even by how effective and fruitful you are in fulfilling the areas you consider to be your primary gifts and calling. It is also determined by how you manage the organization (or your area of the organization) as a whole. In light of this, it perplexes and saddens me when I see so many sincerely devoted men and women of God demonstrating what can only be described as nonchalance and negligence when it comes to fulfilling their basic responsibilities as an employer.

When you communicate to your staff that the goal is to be “above reproach” in character and behavior, the same standard of excellence should apply to all operations of the organization. When viewed through this lens, can an organization that remains in the dark regarding legal compliance issues, or one that fails to ensure the fair and equitable treatment of its employees, possibly be said to be above reproach?

The answer, of course, is no, and your staff is usually quite aware of this fact—even when you’re not.

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The Book I Never (Ever) Planned to Write

I’ve been a human resources professional for over 25 years. I’ve also been a writer (of one sort or another) since I was a kid, so let’s just say it’s been a whole lot longer than 25 years! However, what I never thought I would be is a writer writing about human resources!

3dGod is full of surprises. This was one of them in my life. In retrospect, I suppose it was a natural fit–tying my business brain to my ministry heart in a way I had never envisioned. For the last fifteen years I have been providing HR services to the nonprofit community exclusively. To say that HR in churches and ministries is a little tricky is a bit of an understatement. It seems there is always a tension between fulfilling the organization’s external mission and honoring the organization’s internal responsibilities as an employer.

Somewhere along the way I realized I was particularly good at navigating that tension. Unfortunately, I also discovered that a lot of pastors and nonprofit leaders aren’t so great at it–in fact a great many of them aren’t even aware the tension exists. As a result, they often all but ignore the employer side of their responsibilities. Ignoring these issues not only puts the organization at risk for all kinds of potential liability, it also fails to create a healthy collaborative environment where people thrive and do their best work.

As representatives of Christ, churches and ministries should be the best of the best as employers. Sadly, that is not how the employees of most ministries describe their work environment. In fact, if anything, it is usually quite the opposite–dysfunction and burnout actually seem be much higher in ministry environments.

I believe most ministry leaders want to create a healthy work environment, but with limited time and resources, they simply don’t know how. To make it even more complicated, there are few relevant resources that address these issues from both a business and spiritual perspective. There is obviously more to this story, but in a nutshell, this disconnect is the reason the book HR Matters exists.

I hope and pray this book becomes a valuable resource for pastors and nonprofit leaders who really do want to honor their staff and demonstrate excellence as employers. I not only want to help them see the things they don’t currently see (things that are most likely  already hurting their ministry whether they realize it or not)–I also want to provide them with practical tips tools that will make the whole process seem a lot more doable.

HR Matters really do matter!  Excellence matters. Honoring people matters. Most of all honoring God matters. Jesus is worthy of our very best in every area…including the way we conduct ourselves as employers!