An organization cannot grow without a strong team working together. And as leaders, we are the ones charged to build and maintain that winning workforce. However, the question we wrestle with is not IF we should hire an employee, rather it is WHEN we should hire an employee. On this two-part series, we sat down with the Lead Pastor of ITOWN Church, Dave Sumrall who shares his executive wisdom to help us answer the question, when do I hire a new team member?
Where there is competition, there are winners and there are losers. As leaders, we don’t just like to win, we need to win. And we know that the three keys to success are a clear strategy, determination, and having the right team of people. But the question with onboarding talent is not if we build our team, it’s when. On this two-part episode, the lead pastor of ITOWN Church, Dave Sumrall helps us tackle two really tough questions – when do we hire a new team member and when is it time to let a person go. Let’s get to the podcast…
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Welcome to another episode of the ROI Podcast presented by the Indiana University Kelley School of Business, I’m your host Matt Martella alongside Associate Dean, Phil Powell – where we work hard to help organizations make better business decisions. We’re so honored you’re spending time with us today because we know an organization is only as good as its leadership. If you’re new to the show, welcome to the Kelley Family. We put out a weekly podcast that offers 3 to 5 practical tips you can apply to your leadership right away. And to our loyal listeners, thank you so much for your support. We would love to hear from you. Send us an email to ROI - pod, that’s firstname.lastname@example.org so we can answer any questions you may have about business.
A big question many of us leaders ask is when do I pull the trigger to hire a new team member or when is it time to let that person go? On this two-part episode, we’re going to give you the tools to make that decision for yourself – with confidence. We sat down with the lead pastor of ITOWN Church, Dave Sumrall who leads a non-profit organization with 32 staff members, over 1,000 volunteers, and 8 locations all over the state of Indiana, including 4 correctional facility campuses. As non-profit organizations put less focus on monetary gain than for profit entities, it can be tough to know when you can afford a new employee or if your organization can survive without an individual if you were to let them go.
Dave Sumrall: I would say the biggest challenge that we face as a non-profit is we don't pay everybody to do everything. We're an organization that operates every weekend with nearly a thousand team members that we don't pay. Our workforce is unpaid, which in some respects, is a huge disadvantage because you can't just pay people to go get a bunch of stuff done. But we like to see it as an advantage because people don't have to be there - they're there by choice. So the difference in all of that is at the end of the day, it's vision - it's casting the vision and helping people understand their sense of being a part of something greater than themselves, and the fact that we genuinely care about them as a person as well. Then another thing that's extremely unique compared to a for-profit company is that from a financial standpoint, we only do business "two days out of the week", because we have services on Saturday and Sunday. In essence, everything happens on Saturday and Sunday that drives the financial model of our church. All of our financial model is based on people just giving out of the generosity of their heart, seeing the difference that we're making as a church, and believing in that difference, and trusting us with their finances. All of what we do financially, spiritually, culturally, relationally, it all is fueled out of those two days - you'd be hard-pressed to have a retail-store open for a day and a half out of the week to drive all of the sales of the company and be successful.
Non-profit organizations also possess a greater challenge than for profit companies because, as Dave said, they must have a strong volunteer force bought into the organization’s culture.
Dave Sumrall: That's probably been the greatest challenge as the church grows is continuing to make sure everybody understands what we rally around, why we rally around it, why it matters, and keep that culture and focus incredibly pure. At the same time, people are our most valuable asset as well because people buying into the vision and having their lives changed is what fuels the continued growth, because in a church setting, found people find people. Culture isn't something that we shoot for, it's something that we are.
And so, before we decide when to hire or when to let a team member go, we have to clearly define our company’s culture. If you want to know how to reinvent your culture, check out last week’s episode with Lee Cockerell, the former Executive Vice President of Operations for Walt Disney World Resorts.
Dave Sumrall: Culture isn't something so much that's spoken, it's something that's incredibly felt in a church environment. You can tell when cultures feel off, and we always are very diligent to drill down, "Why does it feel off" - it's always because an attitude or an opinion or a prospective is off. So we monitor it just by talking about it all the time, keeping it fresh and clear in front of the team, and then having constant conversations about why does this feel off, and why does this feel right? Let's drill down what that means and why that conversation and the motivation behind it was wrong. Maybe the outcome seems right, but at the end of the day, it's a little bit more legalistic, it doesn't feel like who we are. We boil it down to just the very simple values of loving God, loving people, having a spirit of excellence, and making sure that we do everything in an attitude of fun, that we actually get to enjoy it. When we think through that filter, then it makes it really easy to navigate church life.
Once we have our culture clearly established, now we can begin to decide when to hire or when to let go of a team member in our organization.
Dave Sumrall: One of the phrases that we have is, "culture has to be caught, it can't be taught". It can't just be a set of rules, it has to be something, like I said, you become. It takes time being in the right culture to be molded by it. In some cases, we have hired from the outside, and we'll give them a period of time when they're coming from a different system or a culture into our stream to adapt to it. Some people make that transition very nicely, and other people, they don't catch the culture, and because we understand the culture is the most important thing, we never sacrifice it for a person that has potential or ability. I would say with organizations that are fighting for that new culture within a new person, making sure that from the top-down, everybody underrates it and embraces it, those new employees will clearly stick out like a sore thumb when they don't embrace it - then they have to make a hard choice. It's not something that happens behind the scenes, it's something that's very obvious to everyone.
So let’s answer the first question, when do we hire a team member into our organization? The first thing we need to do is define our personal strengths, and recognize our weaknesses as a leader.
Dave Sumrall: As a pastor of the church, there are a few things that I'd do: I set culture, I set the vision, God speaks to me and I get to set the direction for the church or where we're launching our next campus or what sermons we're speaking on the weekends, those are my responsibility, and in so many cases, only I can do so many of those jobs. A number of people can do the accounting, there's someone else that God's called to lead students, and there's somebody else that's called to lead worship - I don't have any ability in that area. When it comes to all those others jobs - like we talked about before - as the organization grows, you have to identify where the greatest need is, organizationally, that would keep me from doing what God's called me to uniquely do. Every pastor, every C-level executive, every entrepreneur is different in what they want their focus to be, and where their strengths lie. I've always embraced the philosophy of just staffing my weaknesses - I'm not going to spend all my life trying to get good at the things I'm bad at, I'm going to let other people do those things, and I'll just do what God is uniquely gifted me to do, what my strengths are. I think that works in every single organization, and for every high-level leader, that's a different set of strengths - everybody has unique gifts.
(Talk about leaders trying to get better at what they’re not good at – instead strengthen your strengths)
The next way to answer when to hire a new staff member is create a budget floor and ceiling for salaries.
Dave Sumrall: We operate based on a budgetary process that says we won't exceed 35% of our income on salaries. We have that as a ceiling that we're always operating under, so that's our first guideline that we have to look at. Then we also understand that there's a number that could be too low, and I don't know what that percentage is, there were years that we've been in the low 20's percentage-wise, but the church was in some cases understaffed. When that's the case, you have too many people doing too many jobs, details are dropped, and people are overworked. Sometimes, even when we are fully staffed, if we're under that 35%, if we find something that is a great leader of leaders, we'll bring them on, because we know that they're a game changer in the organization. At every season of growth for an organization, there are different things that you need, like now that we're at the size we're at, we needed a motion graphics designer. Well, that's not something you need at a church of a couple hundred, you need to pay the pastor. When you get to 500, you need a worship leader. There are different benchmarks that you hit along the way on the size of the organization too that have unique positions. Depending on the industry, obviously there are unique things that you need as you continue to grow, and figuring out what those are, to take your company or your business to that next level, to differentiate. I know that we don't often talk about it because we're all on the same team when it comes to The Kingdom, but when it comes to market-share, you have to identify what's your market niche, what's going to differentiate you from the competition, and lean into those things - staff that team specifically to make sure that you're poised for growth.
(Budgets create safety and clarity)
Finally, once we have our budget, in order to answer the question when to hire a new team member into our organization, we must decide the attributes our future employees must possess to be successful.
Dave Sumrall: Well there's a few things on staff that we embrace - when it comes to people just having the right culture. Like I said, we want to be in love in God, we want to love people, we want to have excellence, and we want to have fun. But under that, there's this subset of values that we look for, like the top one would be humility. We have to have some confrontational conversations with people, because everybody makes mistakes, and everybody fails. We have to constantly correct and train - somebody having a humble approach towards it, and not really drawing people to themselves, but drawing people to the vision, that's very very important.Of course, teachability is incredibly important for us, and I love how Craig Groeschel defines teachability is "the ability to learn which you think you already know." I love our staff to always be learning, and in those teachable moments.I don't want them to be defensive, I don't want them to try and protect their decisions - I want them to be open-hearted, open-handed, and listen. Even for our staff, some of the best ideas that we've ever had come from people who serve on our teams - we can even be taught by the people around us. I want them to always be teachable, and then I want them to be honest: there's nothing more annoying than having to correct a problem only to dance around the subject for three days, because nobody will take responsibility for who is actually to blame, and the truth is kind of fuzzy of who said what, who did what, and whose fault it really was. I tell our team all the time I really don't care whose fault it was, I need to fix the problem. I just need you to be honest with me, did you make the mistake? Did you not make the phone call? Did you not have that conversation like I asked you to have?" It's okay if it didn't happen, we just need to know where we're at - we need clarity in what we're actually talking about. Then I have to have flexibility from our team - somebody that's incredibly rigid and inflexible, when they get very territorial and they want to silo the organization and have their little area that they're in charge of, that's really prohibitive. When I see somebody where, "Hey, if I need you to stay five minutes later, I need you to come ten minutes earlier", that lack of flexibility can really jam up the culture because we work as a team, and I think we have to be really flexible. Then, obviously, people have to be resilient - if you're not resilient in any organization, if you can't take correction and come back from it, if you can't have a failure and come back from it, then eventually, especially in ministry, it's a very difficult industry to be a part of, because you're dealing with people's lives, and everybody makes mistakes, we need them to be resilient. If we don't seize those attributes and qualities in people, we know it's just a matter of time before they're no longer with us. We value those at a very high level when we see them. We try to make sure that all of that flushes out before they ever come out on the team, and as they're doing all that, we can again see, do they have the heart for the house, do they embody the culture, do they understand the vision, is this something that they're making sacrifices to be a part of it? Those are all things that are necessary in order to really be successful.
(The importance of identifying specific traits)
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So let’s recap… organizational leaders may not struggle with if to hire a new team member, but more so when to bring them on board. As Dave said, the key starts with a clearly stated and defended culture within your organization because culture acts as your litmus test to when you should hire. Once you start answering that question, now comes the plan. The first step to knowing when to hire a new employee is to identify our personal strengths and recognize our weaknesses. Remember, we’re concentrating on building our talents rather than putting all our effort into improving all our shortcomings. Our weakness then becomes hiring criteria for future employees. Next, we need to set guidelines for our organization that protects us from spending too much or too little on the right help. That comes in the form of budgets. For ITOWN, they do not exceed 35% of their organizational income on salaries, yet they also understand they cannot operate if they only spend 20% either because details are missed, people carry too much responsibility and everyone is overworked. Finally, its vitally important that as organizational leaders, you define the characteristics of what makes a great team member in your company. This helps to specifically identify traits for your future team, which in turn protects the culture and keeps your organization operating at maximum efficiency.
Be sure to tune in next week as we continue this two-part podcast where Dave Sumrall helps us answer the next tough question, when do we let a team member go. This has been another episode of the ROI Podcast presented by the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. I’m your host Matt Martella alongside Associate Dean Phil Powell where we help organizations make better business decisions. We’ll see you next week.