Thriving vs Surviving: Building Skills and Support for BAMers

by Robert Andrews

Editors Note: When we asked veteran BAM leaders to identify some of the pressing issues that are facing the business as mission movement in the next decade, among the issues they identified were several areas that could broadly be categorized as ‘resource gaps for BAM companies’, including:

1. Adequate financial capital flow.

2. Adequate human capital flow – both in terms of a) recruiting the right kind of people to begin and sustain a BAM company, and b) succession planning and the successful transition of a BAM company from one generation of owners to another.

3. Adequate support for BAM practitioners, especially mentoring, accountability and care.

We have been posting articles covering each of these issues during the month of June, this week concluding with providing adequate support for BAMers.

Building Adequate Skills and Support for BAM Practitioners

There are many challenges facing the BAM community and it’s encouraging to see so much effort going to understanding and addressing these. One of the thornier issues is how best to support BAM practitioners in their work. These can be nationals trying to build the Kingdom in their home countries or foreigners who have committed to business in a cross-cultural setting. Both need support, but what support to give and how to give it is a current and urgent discussion.

Leading a BAM business requires a large set of skills, some of which one hopes the BAMer has at the outset, but many of which will have to be learned, hired, purchased, or borrowed from others. A beginning list of these skills could fall under the following headings:

  • General business:  finance, marketing, sales, HR, strategy, operations, business law; the stuff of an MBA
  • Industry specific:  how to make the product or deliver the service, the industry sales and pricing dynamics, and familiarity with the global market leaders
  • BAM general:  the theology of BAM and an understanding of how to make a spiritual impact while operating a business, plus access to a BAM network
  • Country/Region specific:  language, culture, worldview, local religion, local political, social or environmental issues, local business practices and law; plus the local spiritual dynamics, the status & challenges of the local church, and an awareness of what God is doing in the region
  • Personal/Family: emotional intelligence, strong personal spiritual life, character, care for family members, marital strength, physical health and habits

Establishing a Network of Support

Skill in these areas isn’t something that can be addressed by a seminar or a book. Much of it requires years of experience, especially the aspects relating to worldview and the spiritual dynamics of the region. I recommend setting up a network of support to ensure all these areas are addressed. 

The network should include those who can speak to personal issues of character, spiritual maturity and family/work life balance. This can be addressed through a mission organization, a local church with strong pastoral support, or through a small group of committed friends. The more formal the relationship, the more likely the support-givers are to address difficult issues, for example, a mission provided member care person is more likely to address difficult issues than is a local friend. Avoid the temptation to rely on friends who may be uncomfortable speaking hard truths to you.

Providing Care on Many Fronts

Too many mission organizations do a poor job of speaking to BAMers as they don’t understand the dynamics and pressures of running a business and often understate the responsibility a manager has for the care of employees, suppliers and customers. Good personal care will include hard questions about personal spiritual life, relationships in the family and the interpersonal pressures in the workplace.

The other, more business focused issues in the list above are best addressed by a well-structured advisory board that is committed to the business and shares the vision for its missional purpose. Board members need to be committed to the business and between them should be able to address the whole range of remaining issues the BAMer needs. The board should hold management accountable for setting and implementing strategies to ensure they meet the purposes of the business, addressing all four of the bottom lines for a BAM business: economic, spiritual, social, and environmental. These issues should work seamlessly through a good board meeting with stops for prayer mingled with hard analysis of market data or technical product development.

Together this sets up a two-track support system in which there is care for the manager as a whole person and care and oversight for the business. Both the personal care givers and the board want the business to succeed in fulfilling its core purpose and in making money so that it can continue to fulfil that purpose. Both want to see the manager in good health, with a strong family and a dynamic spiritual life.

Generally, the needs of the business and the manager coincide, but occasionally they diverge. There may come a day when the best thing for the manager is to step down for six months for deep counselling or to address family issues. Or it may be that the manager’s skills are getting stretched too thin and the business needs to move to a new person to be able to grow as it should. At these times of divergence, those caring for the manager and those caring for the business need to be able to speak in separate voices. If the care providers are conflicted then the good of the manager will be compromised with the needs of the business, or vice-versa. The manager may be inappropriately pressured not to seek the counselling she needs so as not to leave the business untended. Or the board may fail to recommend the management change based on their concern for the manager’s feelings or emotional wellbeing. Separating the care provision allows each to be given without conflict or confusion; the board can be confident the manager is being cared for and the personal care providers can be confident the board is available to handle the business needs.

Additional Expertize

There are other areas of support beyond the care of the manager and the work of a board which may require additional mentoring or expertize. One worth discussing is finance. A board will normally watch the numbers and ensure there is discipline in accounting and in monitoring cash flow. But that will not by itself address the need for additional funds as the business grows. Inadequate cash flow can destroy an otherwise profitable business.

A rapidly growing company will need investment capital that sales can’t support. Growing businesses need access to loans or additional capital investment and that will require good financial records and a well-reasoned and documented business growth plan. It is not easy for small BAM companies to access debt or equity finance, especially in less developed economies. Knowing how to prepare for the need and who to approach is an important part of care for a growing BAM business.

Scaling the BAM Support Ecosystem

One last observation is that much of the care required calls for professional input. To date the BAM community has been largely influenced by mission thinking, meaning that help, counsel, mentoring and board services are expected to be provided free of charge. While that’s good, in that small businesses can start and get the kind of help that many governments in advanced economies provide new businesses, it can also have damaging long term consequences. The BAM community needs to develop an economy (or ecosystem) in which it is possible to run a business providing these key services. A BAM consultant or board member should be able to survive without making sacrificial donations to the business.

The current environment is blessed generally with retired foreign businesspeople who have the funds to travel, the experience to share and the time to give to be mentors. Long term, BAM businesses need to be able to pay for plane tickets and hotels, to compensate for time and to enable locally based professional support people to develop and thrive.

This means that companies need to budget these services in their original plans and need to prepare business models with adequate margins to support all the help that they need. Strategically directed generosity is a great thing, but we need to wean ourselves of donated services. The new generation of BAMers is better prepared to establish profitable businesses. If we can, as a global community, work to develop a strong BAM economy we can together provide the sustainable, holistic support that BAM practitioners need.

This post is part of a series of blogs in June 2019 looking at resource gaps in the BAM ecosystem that we must address for the next decade of business as mission to be more fruitful.

The BAM 2.0 Series

In recent months we have been exploring each of the key issues highlighted in our introduction post on 10 pressing issues to address for BAM 2.0.

In March we continued with our introduction to the series, looking at how far we’ve come and some of our ‘big hairy audacious goals’ for the future.

In April we took a deep dive into our ‘Why’ – what are some of the pressing global issues that BAM can address, including poverty, unreached peoples, the refugee crisis and human trafficking.

In May we looked at some limiting issues such as the sacred-secular divide, our definition of success, our geographical depth and our connectedness; issues that we must overcome for future growth.

In June we’ll look at resource gaps to overcome, including human capital, financial capital, mentoring and support, prayer and continuity planning.

We hope you enjoy this series! Follow us by subscribing to The BAM Review email or on FacebookTwitter or Instagram.

Robert Andrews is a westerner who has lived in Turkey since the early 1990’s working in manufacturing, consulting and business training. Part of Robert’s consulting work is with TransformationalSME.org, managing training for mentors and others involved with the fund. Robert also serves as a leader at a Protestant church in Turkey where he often teaches on the theology of work and on discipleship in the workplace. Robert tells us he married a woman he doesn’t deserve and with her has raised a bunch of great kids who are now raising grandchildren for him!