Lessons from the Edge: Human Resources

Insights from a BAM Practitioner

‘Julia’ has been a business owner in Mongolia for 12 years.

Investing in people is challenging, but worth it
My husband likes to quote his habitat for humanity friend on this: “It is easy to build houses and so hard to build people”. Houses stay put where you build them and people are always changing – but the costly things are the precious ones. I have tried to be somewhat friendly with my employees and try to model respect, servant leadership, and creating a healthy work environment. I have also had to balance that by being firm in my approach and following up with consequences. Finding a healthy balance between respect and the friend who is the boss has been a key. Some of our oldest, most mature workers, have come back to me years later and thanked me for this model that they now understand but didn’t when they first worked for us.

Tread carefully with strongly held cultural-values
We’ve had lots of problems with staff not wanting to report to younger colleagues, or do certain jobs, because of their status in the culture. I used to think it was good to push them into this to learn humility. Now I think it is more respectful of the person to work with them in this up to a point. It is only the Lord who can work humility in people. I still have to consider the good of the business but as much as possible I try to work with my employees until they are ready for more. When I find someone willing and secure enough to take on cross-status challenges, I try to reward them and treasure their maturity with more responsibility and privilege.

It’s worth paying for good talent
We always paid minimum wage until the last two years when I found an over-qualified and competent worker. I just about broke the bank to get her a somewhat acceptable salary and she was worth her weight in gold! We never have to worry about our books going in the red with her around. I have learned that when you find a good worker it is well worth it to really do all you can to take care of them. I can’t afford not to, even if it is a stretch.

Friday Links: Posts and Resources on Faith at Work

Every Friday we connect you with some of our recent favourite links. This week:

Posts and resources from the marketplace ministries movement.
We hope you have a joyous Easter celebration!

What Christ’s Resurrection Means for How we Live and Work – Institute for Faith, Work and Economics

Does our earthly work matter to God? Yes it does, replies Darrell Cosden in his book The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work. Central to his argument is the bodily resurrection of Jesus, which the church celebrates this Easter. Cosden correctly asserts that Christ’s resurrection means three things for how we live and work in the world. 1. Christ’s Resurrection Affirms the Goodness of the Material World. God made us in his image, but we were made to be physical images as well. Our physicality isn’t a result of the Fall. We were created that way.

Read more

In the Shoes of a BAM Practitioner Part 2: More HR Challenges

Last week we unpacked the Top 3 biggest HR issues in business as mission – as related to us by 25 BAM Practitioners. We asked them:

What have been the most important HR issues in your BAM business experience?

Here are the rest of the Top 10 most frequently mentioned Human Resource challenges and some of the comments that business owners shared with us.

4. Lack of required skills in employees

The need for significant training and staff development when hiring locally, especially when targeting job creation for a specific group.

We employ adults with low literacy skills and chronically poor, with very complex lives  – this presents nested and multiple challenges – in a sense though this is why the business exists. – David, Asia

My biggest HR challenge is the critical thinking and problem solving skills within my Kenyan employees. They grew up in the rote educational system that didn’t develop it and they lack that capacity. There are few Kenyans that do have these skills, but they are typically already successfully running businesses and I can’t compensate them, or give them ownership stake in a way that will motivate them to join my company. – Brian, Kenya

Another challenge is building soft skills such as communication, creative thinking, team spirit, etc., among the staff. – Joseph, India

 A significant challenge is poor technical training. Usually it’s their first job. – Hans, Angola Read more

Steps for Working Through HR Issues in Your Company

Have you got any advice for me concerning HR issues that involve a clash of cultural or Biblical values? I want to pay my workers equally for doing the same job and in Nepal where I run my business, men and women don’t usually receive equal pay. It’s not so much an ethical dilemma for me, but a practical question about how I can approach this well. How do I best communicate and lead my Nepali team through this issue?

The first issue that needs to be discussed in regards to anything to do with money is how the local community views foreigners working among them. It has been our direct experience and that of other BAMers that we have talked to the mere fact that you are in the country – and can leave at will – indicates that you are filthy rich and can do whatever you want to do. Foreigners, therefore, are often viewed as walking dollar signs no matter who they are.

The Biblical point of view in Proverb 31 does give us the illustration of the industrious women in a Middle Eastern context going out and buying a field (which my wife did once when I was on a business trip, much to my surprise). The Proverbs 31 woman was not from a poor background as far as I can determine, so it’s applicability to this situation is uncertain. However, it is clear that women are encouraged to be industrious, be self-motivated and be allowed to manage staff if they are able and willing to do so in whatever culture they are in.

Since every situation is different there is no standard answer to making difficult decisions.

However, the following steps need to be followed in most decision-making situations: Read more

Friday Links: Posts and Resources on Social Enterprise

Every Friday we connect you with some of our recent favourite links. This week:

Posts and resources from the social enterprise movement

C is for Customers: Don’t neglect the frontline – Pioneer Post

When you’re steering a business from the top it is sometimes easy to assume things about your vital customers – what they want and how they will spend their money. Assume nothing and make sure you spend as much time on the frontline as possible. Liam Black explains hard hitting lessons he learnt when opening up a new social venture in the third extract from his new book The Social Entrepreneur’s A to Z.

Read more

In the Shoes of a BAM Practitioner Part 1: Unpacking the Top 3 HR Challenges

What have been the most important HR issues in your BAM business experience?

That is the question we put to 25 BAM Practitioners. These are the three most frequently mentioned Human Resource challenges and some of the comments that business owners shared with us.

1. Finding the complete package

The issue that kept coming up again and again was finding people with the right mix of business skills, character formation and mission-motivation. This was by far the most frequently mentioned challenge among the BAMers we asked.

The biggest issue is finding employees who are followers of Christ and have the skillset required for the job. I usually run into people who have one or the other of these two qualifications, but seldom have both. – Joseph, India

A challenge is finding management level people with the faith maturity and business skills. Another is locating skilled expats willing to live and work in a remote location to build local capacity. – David, Asia

Read more

Three BAM Owners Tell Us Their HR Stories

Three women BAM owners share their Human Resource stories from around the world – from Mongolia to Turkey to Puerto Rico! People issues can make or break a BAM company. Listen in to these real-life experiences.

hospitalityJulia in Mongolia – Hospitality Industry

Keeping staff steady has been a major challenge! We have had a 10 year saga of people leaving just when we have them trained or half trained. We have also had struggles with people who don’t show up for work, some legitimate, some not. Many have had pressure from family to get work elsewhere for a better salary. This is understandable as many of my workers, mostly young people aged 19-24, are the only providers for their families, parents, and siblings. But what I don’t understand is why they often quit before they find another job!

On the other hand, we have had a pretty good success rate building staff loyalty by setting up flexible schedules that were doable for mothers and students. We have tried to prioritize strong families and build staff schedules that are hand-tailored to their needs. They stay on because no other business takes these things into consideration. We have built very loyal workers from this. Read more

Gender Equality: Biblical and Pragmatic Wisdom for the Workplace

Have you got any advice for me concerning HR issues that involve a clash of cultural or Biblical values? I want to pay my workers equally for doing the same job and in Nepal where I run my business, men and women don’t usually receive equal pay. It’s not so much an ethical dilemma for me, but a practical question about how I can approach this well. How do I best communicate and lead my Nepali team through this issue?

I want to humbly submit that the issue here runs deeper than that of pay equality, I believe the root of this issue speaks to gender equality within the workplace and whether we as Christ followers believe it is a biblical value that we are charged to uphold. As a woman who has had a long career in the workplace, I have to say my experience has not always been positive, even with my male co-workers of faith. As people conducting business in a second culture, by all means we must be culturally sensitive, but we must recognize the mandates of our Lord have been corrupted by culture, and we know Jesus came to make all things new. To me, one of the most personal personifications of this ideal was in His encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. Jews did condescend to speak with Samaritans in public, and male Jews were rabbinically prohibited from speaking with women in public to eliminate opportunity for gossip. Yet this beautiful narrative provides a clear example of how He wants us to step outside the boundaries of culture to engage with our world in a restorative manner.

Our lives and how we operate our businesses should speak into the lives of our employees in ways they have never experienced; to lift them up, to value them for their contribution to the business, to recognize their inherent worth as uniquely created and specifically gifted individuals, and thus move them towards reconciliation to the Lord they do not yet know, but whom they can experience through you and your example. How else can we give an answer for the hope that is within us, if our lives and our businesses do not model the life of our redeemer?  We know that in Him we are all equal, thus in our business we must make every attempt to live out that principle. Read more

Friday Links: Posts and Resources from the Business World

Every Friday we connect you with some of our recent favourite links. This week with a focus on our current topic, Human Resources:

Posts and resources from mainstream business publications

12 Ways Successful People Handle Toxic People – Entrepreneur

Recent research from the Department of Biological and Clinical Psychology at Friedrich Schiller University in Germany found that exposure to stimuli that cause strong negative emotions—the same kind of exposure you get when dealing with toxic people—caused subjects’ brains to have a massive stress response… 90% of top performers are skilled at managing their emotions in times of stress in order to remain calm and in control. One of their greatest gifts is the ability to neutralize toxic people.

Read more

10 Critical Human Resource Challenges in Business as Mission

We asked 25 BAM Practitioners one simple question:

What have been the most important HR issues in your BAM business experience?

Here are the Top 10 issues that they mentioned the most:

 

1. Finding the complete package
Recruiting and hiring people with the right mix of business skills, character formation and mission-motivation.

 

2. Cultural differences
Dealing with different cultural norms between expat staff or business owners and national staff, that significantly impacts the business Read more