Need to Hire? First, Look Within

March 15, 2023

5 Critical Components to Successful Staff Transitions

Churches, like all organizations, depend upon a capable and dedicated staff to achieve their mission. 

Over time, one or more key staff members will inevitably retire or resign, leaving many church leaders scrambling to find a replacement. That is no easy task in today’s seeker-skewed job market. 

So how can you avoid the uncertainty of maintaining a fully staffed, high-performing team?

By developing future leaders from within. 

Now, there are plenty of good reasons to focus your attention on energies on an external hire.

For many organizations, an external hire can breathe new life into tired programming. 

Fresh recruits can also be ideal for organizations that need a strategy shift or a culture reset. 

Churches that lack an internal supply of talented candidates or need specific skills or perspectives that the internal team can’t offer may also find great success in hiring an external candidate.

But attracting, hiring, and onboarding external hires is costly. And keeping them can be an even greater challenge. HR industry studies show that the new-hire turnover rate is somewhere around 20% and the average stay for new employees is between 2 and 5 years. 

There is also ample data to suggest that an organization can lose precious ground in the time it takes to get an external hire up to speed. The productivity rate in the first 30 days of a new hire is just 25% and it takes an average of three months for them to reach 75% productivity. 

Churches that promote existing staff into positions of greater responsibility, rather than fill key vacancies with external hires, can reduce costs and lost productivity. Promoting internal candidates can also reduce the likelihood that an external hire will resign within the first year of their start date. 

Key to the success of internal hires is: 

  • Deep organizational knowledge
  • Minimized on-boarding time
  • Extensive relational equity
  • Uninterrupted momentum
  • Positive culture fit

Of course, the best hedge against the erosion of a talented staff is to continually work to build a remarkable team of leaders. Carefully assessing and developing staff members who can step up to a position of more responsibility will leave you prepared for any transition. As team members move on, there will be others who can effectively slip into their place. 

I originally shared the following 5 strategies in a piece I wrote in March 2022 for Forbes titled 5 Critical Components to a Successful Internal Succession Plan. While that piece broadly addressed leadership transitions across all industries, the five components below hold true for successful transitions of any key position in your church. 

1. Invest in Your Culture

Some organizations seem to sail through uncertainty relatively unscathed. Others fall apart as soon as threatening storm clouds build in the distance. The difference between the two is almost entirely dependent on culture.

When you invest in building and articulating a healthy culture, you help your people grow into leaders who can weather uncertainty and navigate change. These are precisely the types of people your church needs to thrive during future staff transitions.

You create a healthy culture by clarifying your values and infusing them into everything your organization does. Communicate your values consistently and clearly so everyone on your team can articulate them to others and put them into action.

2. Work on Succession Every Day

Leadership transitions are inevitable, so start planning for the future today.

Even if succession still looks far off in the distance, don’t put it off. Work on it daily. That doesn’t mean posting an ad on LinkedIn one day and uploading a job description on another platform the next. The real work begins much earlier than that. It involves continually investing in your team.

Devote time to developing your leaders every day. Be on the lookout for team members who show potential, then help them grow the skills and abilities they need to take on more challenges and responsibility. The goal? To build remarkable people who can one day take the reins of leadership.

3. Platform Your Leaders

As you identify potential leaders on your team, start platforming them early. Release them to experiment and discover their sweet spot in leadership. By letting your rising stars lead and take charge in key areas, you’ll stretch and challenge their abilities.

These growth moments are ideal opportunities to offer a healthy balance of constructive criticism and affirmation. Your critical feedback pushes them to improve, while encouragement instills confidence in the skills they’re developing. This balance pays off in well-equipped, talented leaders who are a natural fit in your organization’s culture.

4. Invest Like a Venture Capitalist

A venture capitalist expects a huge return on their investment. They might advise, but they don’t exercise authority where it’s not needed. They take an open-handed approach because they trust the internal team to do what it takes to produce better results. 

When developing your next leaders, give away trust like a venture capitalist. When combined with a strong culture, this high level of trust releases new leaders to take the right types of risks. 

It’s a bit of a gamble to loosen your grip to allow less-experienced team members to lead but part of developing people is letting them try new things—even if you think you can do it better and faster. Come to terms with a degree of failure so your up-and-coming leaders have the chance to excel.

5. Set Up Your Successor for Success

Cultivate a deep understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of those you will put in key positions so your team can provide the support they will need to be successful from day one. Position other key staff members to offer strategic support, and intentionally design systems and processes that support success. 

With all these elements in place, you’ll unleash greater potential in your team as you navigate them through successful internal job transitions.

Slingshot Group

We take the guesswork out of nonprofit and church staffing.

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