Imagine This: People Are An Organization’s Best Resource

Once a month, our panel of mentors answer your practical business questions. Send us your questions!

Dear BAM Mentor,

I work in Human Resources in a BAM initiative in Nepal. We’re working on developing a discipleship program and ways to develop our staff as people. We’re exploring ideas for one-on-one mentorship and weekly values teachings, maybe going through a book together? Does anyone have any recommendations and/or resources they’ve used? Also ways they’ve made this kind of staff development work for employees who are illiterate?  

~ Needing Advice in Nepal

Dear Needing Advice,

People are the most important part of any organization. This is the case for both the employees of the organization, as well as the clients which the organization is seeking to serve. Effectively valuing people is always a challenge in practice. This is even more so the case when the organization employs the very people it seeks to serve – people who are worthy of dignity and respect, and yet who may not yet have the hard and soft skills needed to succeed.

One way to deal with this gap in where they are now, versus where they need to be to succeed, is to have a dual-structured company in which the employees who are ready to face customers work on the front line, whereas employees who are still early in their healing process work in a more private space – where greater emphases can be placed on their personal development though discipleship, mentoring, etc. and where greater grace can be offered as they learn the soft-skills such as showing up to work on time, work ethic, etc. This can help at a practical level to help the business succeed without having to sacrifice employees who aren’t yet optimal, as well as not making the business suffer because of its commitment to patiently helping employees mature. And yet, in doing so, it is important not to make certain employees feel like they are second-class citizens, but rather to communicate that all employees are valued members of the team no matter where they are in their personal and professional development process. Thankfully, modern human resource development theory supports the value of developing employees – all employees, not just those who are also “clients.”

If it is true that people are the organization’s best resource, then we must allow ourselves to imagine: “What would our organization look like if we really did believe that people are the organization’s best resource?” As we challenge ourselves to imagine the answer to that question, we must examine our presuppositions about our employees. There are two historical theories about the nature of employees that affect our approaches to managing and developing them. The X Theory believes that employees are unmotivated and avoid responsibility, they do not like working, they need direction, and they need to be controlled and forced. Management and development from such a perspective then would be very authoritarian and problem-focused. But fortunately this is not the only way to view employees. The Y Theory believes that employees are happy to work, they have self motivation and accept responsibility, they need little direction, and they use creativity to meet goals. Management and development from such a perspective is therefore more staff-centered, helping them to realize their potential and empower them to reach it. And as the employees are empowered in their own personal development, they are able to make a greater contribution towards the company’s success.

But are all of the workers at their potential already? Of course not. All employees, whether clients or not, need to be developed. So how do we do so as employers? There are a number of tools available, but before using any tool we must understand that the goal of the tool is how to successfully motivate employees towards greater personal (and therefore professional) performance.

There are many theories of motivation that have been applied in the business context with limited success, including monetary motivators (e.g. payment for piece work). A better theory to follow would be one that recognizes the employee as a holistic person – body, mind, soul, and spirit – and seeks to address all of those needs. In fact, the Fortune 500 company Kellogg’s has successfully used Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as a framework for the development of employees, with the result that it has been listed as one of the 100 Best Companies to Work For according to the Sunday Times.

Maslow’s theory recognizes that all human beings have a set of needs that includes physiological, safety, social, esteem, and self-actualization. However, people cannot focus on the higher order needs until their most basic human needs have been met. Believe it or not, even a billion-dollar company like Kellogg’s understands the importance of recognizing and developing its employees’ basic needs for physical provision, safety, and belonging. Successful development of employees – both as healthy individuals and also as productive workers – requires employers to identify where employees are on Maslow’s hierarchy, and to help them advance to the next level. In smaller companies, assessment and responses can be quite individualized, but it can even be done in a setting of tens of thousands of employees like Kellogg’s.

To meet physiological needs, companies can offer competitive salaries and benefits such as childcare. This not only helps freedom businesses directly address their goal of economically bettering the lives of people from vulnerable communities, it also increases the employees’ self-esteem and expands their ability to hope and dream for the future. For the company itself, it also improves worker motivation and loyalty and therefore adds to productivity. For those working with employees from vulnerable communities, additional resources can be added that address the soft-skills of meeting physical needs, for example, budgeting, savings, debt reduction, proper nutrition, basic healthcare… the list goes on and on.

To meet safety needs, companies must first ensure that their business complies with (and exceeds where necessary) relevant health and safety laws and regulations. As well, workplaces should protect workers from harassment and abuse based on gender, religion, disability, and a number of other factors. But safety is not just the absence of injury. Employers should seek to make the workplace a safe place emotionally and spiritually as well. This can be done thorough small groups and mentorship, as well as through valuing and protecting privacy and dignity.

To meet social needs, companies can help create within the workplace a sense of belonging. Kellogg’s offers employees opportunities for open communication and team building through weekly group “huddles” to discuss work related topics, as well as non-work-related sports activities that further the company’s community involvement. This is even more important when it comes to freedom businesses. Many of the factors that make individual employees at-risk are not just individual vulnerabilities, but family and community concerns. Providing a job to an single at-risk person may help in part, but it will not solve the communal factors that can easily undermine individual success. Freedom businesses can seek to positively impact the community, both by providing practical assistance to address community problems, as well as by supporting initiatives to strengthen families and communities.

Once these basic survival needs are met, companies can begin to focus on higher-level needs of esteem and self-actualization. They can do this by helping employees feel like they are making a difference through listening to their ideas and recognizing and rewarding their achievements. As well, companies can support employees to take on greater levels of responsibility and leadership. For freedom businesses working with employees from disadvantaged communities, this may first involve looking beyond what they lack according to the world (e.g. education, literacy, wealth) and instead discovering the skills that have made them resilient (e.g. ingenuity, creativity, flexibility). Such skills rightly recognized and rewarded can go a long way towards developing both the individual and the company that she works for.

To summarize, a variety of tools and resources exist for developing employees. Different tools will have varying levels of relevance depending on the specific context – from a Fortune 500 company like Kellogg’s to a grassroots startup that employs people from illiterate and disadvantaged communities. However, regardless of the specific tools selected, every employee development program should start from the assumption that workers are capable and worthy of development – body, mind, soul, and spirit – and create a program that addresses all of those areas of need.

by Christa Crawford


More Responses on this topic:

From Annie:

When any new employee joins any of our businesses, they begin a 3 to 6 month training course. Integral to this is an introduction to faith and as part of this, each working day begins and ends in a devotional time. At recruitment, it is mentioned that we have this daily devotional time open to all. Those joining are then introduced to our faith from the beginning. Once a week this time is led by a local pastor and once a month a special service is held, on a Saturday, at this local church. Discipleship on a one-to-one mentorship basis is also available whenever asked for. The language that we use is contextualised, e.g. Hindu and Muslim words are quite different for prayer, thankfulness etc., and we use different versions of the Bible accordingly. Resources for these are readily available from the Bible Society or Gideons International.

For those that are illiterate – and this is the majority – then spoken word, actions and songs are so important. Good storytelling is vital. We have held workshops on storytelling and using actions and these have really helped and encouraged women to then go on and tell others in the safety of daily company devotions. This further encourages them to repeat the stories at home. […Read more]

From Philippa Nelson:

Firstly, I want to commend you on investing into your staff. So often groups focus solely on the their client group, as that is where the need they are trying to address lies, and neglect their staff’s growth and development. Investing in your staff will ultimately benefit your your clients through staff become more skilled, wise, engaged, appreciated and will lead to less staff turnover. As Richard Branson said, “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients”.

You asked the question about resources for staff development and discipleship and there are a number out there. There are Christian foundations courses like Christianity Explained, or the Alpha Course that can be beneficial for those very new in their faith. There are Christian ‘Bible Study’ Books either on books of the Bible or on topics or you can even just take a book of the Bible and read through it and discussing things together, such as one of the gospels. […Read more]

Christa Foster Crawford has worked to end human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Thailand and the Greater Mekong Subregion since 2001. In 2003 she started a social enterprise for freedom, pioneering small Food and Beverage/Hospitality businesses to offer sustainable alternatives to exploitation. She currently empowers the work of other organizations through the Trafficking Resource Connection, providing expert advice and referrals, resource development and sharing, and teaching and training. A passionate advocate, Christa speaks, writes and teaches internationally on issues of human trafficking, sexual abuse and exploitation, and children at risk. She is a graduate of Harvard Law School and Claremont McKenna College.

Christa serves as a regular mentor for the Ask a BAM Mentor column.