Discerning a Difficult Staff Transition

You do your best to hire well, but life is complicated, and it doesn’t always work out as you hoped. Right?

In many cases it becomes obvious when it’s time to make a change with a staff member, but what about the situations where it’s not evident and clear. You’re just not sure what to do.

How do you think through the issues? How do you separate out truth from emotion, reality from perception, and fact from opinions?

It’s always ideal to lean into grace and give the benefit of the doubt. However, one thing is for sure; if you allow things to remain unclear, unresolved, and unproductive for too long, morale will decline. What was a subtle question will become a blatant problem. We have to do everything we can to stay out in front.

The dangerous factor here is that even though there is nothing blatant, and in fact it’s difficult to get a handle on the real issue, it’s easy to allow one person to adversely impact the whole team.

In these situations, it’s imperative that the circumstance is not allowed to continue without the proactive attention that leads to corrective action.

12 good questions to help you discern the right decision about a staff member:

Big picture:

Are they aligned and passionate about the vision?
It all starts here. You can never assume that every staff member is fired up and committed to the vision. No single vision captures the heart of every person. Even if it once did, that doesn’t mean it will always remain that way.

Are they a good fit in terms of chemistry?
This is one of the great ironies of the local church. The church is relationally based, and its foundation is love, but that doesn’t mean that every staff member is a match for every church. This is a normal and natural part of life. You can’t force or legislate relationships. The best teams consist of people who naturally want to be around each other.

Are they in the right position?
People change, organizations change and so do ideal positions for some of your staff. Is your staff member flourishing in their current role? Do their gifts and temperament match the role? Are they happy doing what you’ve asked them to do? Anyone can do a job that is less than ideally suited for them for the short term, but long-term each person needs to be in the position that fits them best.


Do they connect well with others?
Connection begins with self-awareness and authenticity. Good coaching and honest conversations can usually help someone gain the necessary self-awareness and freedom to be real so they can connect well with others. Insecurity is another avenue to explore when trying to help a staff member succeed.

Do they handle conflict and pressure well?
You can have a smart, passionate and spiritually mature person on your team who struggles with conflict and pressure. Every staff member can hit a wall sometimes when it comes to conflict and pressure. The point is that it can’t be allowed to become a pattern or a place they get stuck. Breakthrough is required to remain a healthy and productive team member.

Are they experiencing any personal struggles?
Please don’t fail to consider the possibility of something personal at home or within a staff member’s personal life. When there is a sustained personal struggle, it’s nearly impossible to keep it from impacting their performance at work. You may have a strong and capable staff member who needs some help navigating a difficult situation at home.


Are there any attitude issues?
In general, shortcomings related to competence can be given a generous amount of time as long as progress is being made. But when it comes to a poor attitude, that needs to change quickly. Anyone can choose to change their attitude overnight by simply deciding to change.

Are they teachable?
The best staff members are open to new ideas, eager to learn and embrace change. Anyone who becomes inflexible, stuck in their thinking, or seems to have all the answers is not going to flourish over the long haul. It’s important that they seek out advice, coaching and receive it well.

Do they follow well?
The ability to play good team ball is essential. It’s OK to challenge those in charge when you have a different idea or want to understand, but that’s different than challenging their authority. Asking a question is different than questioning. It’s good to ask questions and challenge leadership if it’s done in the right way. But challenging with disrespect, disregard, and a willful disposition to not follow simply will not work. (Admittedly, this is crossing over from subtle to blatant.)


Are they improving?
If a staff member is learning they can grow, if they grow they will change and if they change they have a chance to truly improve. Improvement solves a multitude of issues. In contrast to attitude which needs a fast fix, progress is the key to a long and healthy ministry career.

Are they good at what they do?
A staff member’s ability to do their job is essential, but surprisingly, ability is rarely the real issue. Nonetheless, sometimes this ends up as the primary focus of the problem. If coaching over several months can’t get them there, the conversation needs to move toward a change.

Do they have capacity to carry more?
A staff member may be sharp and good at what they do, but at the same time lack the capacity to rise to the next level. Competence is the ability to do a job well in the present. Capacity is the ability to carry a larger load, increased pressure and greater responsibility.

These questions don’t provide you with the answer, but they can lead you to the wisdom and insights you need to reach the clear conclusions you need in those difficult to discern staffing situations.

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