Investing in Your Staff: Resources for Staff Development

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,

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. You can also just pick a topic and create something of your own. In one of my past roles I would each week use a passage or principle from the Bible and link it to a principle in business, organisational operations or relational wisdom and ask staff to discuss and come up with applications for their context.

You can also use Christian books like Crazy Love by Francis Chan or the Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren if they are printed in the language your team uses. It may be that intentional personal growth books would be better like Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend or Changes that Heal by Dr. Henry Cloud. There are ‘secular’ books like The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni or From Good to Great by Jim Collins that can be read through and discussed (again, connecting things your read to biblical principles), however, depending upon the level of your staff, this content might not work. There are stories from Christians lives that can be read and discussed together, especially by people who have taken on large social issues like Jackie Pullinger with Chasing the Dragon. I would suggest that any book of the Bible, course, or book could be used powerfully for discipleship in your organisation if you create space for people to engage the content and not just ‘read’ it.

Whatever you use, I highly recommend that you do so in a way that allows for people to reflect on what they have read, add their thoughts, ask questions they are wrestling with and generally, engage in constructive discussion of the ideas in it. There is no “best way” for this to happen. It depends upon your context of whether this is best done as an entire staff gathering or in smaller groups (The big question here is: will all your staff feel free to speak up and wrestle with things in the larger group? Will the women feel that they can speak up or are they intimidated by men (who they may think of as more educated) in the room? Or foreigners?). Usually it works best to have key leaders in small groups who can pose questions and open space for everyone to express thoughts and questions and facilitate the discussion so that one person doesn’t dominate the conversation. It is also really important that with whatever resource you use, you pose questions that are open and don’t just require people to say the ‘correct Christian answer’. You are much less likely to see real heart-change or engagement in the process unless you create a space for people to engage new ideas and ‘wrestle’ with them.

To do that, you need to think more about facilitating rather than teaching. Prepare open questions that can be posed for the discussion time. Introduce people to the idea that this is open discussion and everyone is encouraged to share even if they don’t think it is the “right” answer or feel that they are not smart enough. On this, let me just say that by doing this you wont necessarily see staff engage this immediately. It may take a long time of empty silences and only a few people speaking up before other staff engage. They need to come to a place of trusting that there is space for them to voice their thoughts and that they wont be embarrassed or feel like they are being criticised (even if that is no-one’s intention). Regularly remind people about rules in this space i.e. ‘we don’t interrupt one another’, ‘we want to hear from everyone’. It takes time for people to know that the organisation actually values them speaking up, especially if they have come from discouraging backgrounds.

Before choosing what resource to use, I would propose that you ask yourself, “What are the area(s) that staff need to grow in at this time?” “Where are people at in their understanding of their faith?” “What are their core needs?” If people are at different stages, perhaps you use different materials for different small groups.

If you have a number of illiterate staff you can always use materials in short ‘chunks’ (i.e. use only a small amount of the content so that what is heard can be retained) that allow time for the content to be read out or explained before you go into a time of discussion. I suggest having a key person facilitate or teach these times so they can prepare for it and also even source any visual content that might help those who are illiterate track with the content i.e. pictures, graphs.

The great thing about engaged discussion is that it doesn’t require writing (or even reading) skills, but is effective for everyone to engage concepts and principles, and figure out how to apply them to life. This is also much more likely to lead to heart change then just doing a more ‘academic’ style of study.

by Philippa Nelson


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 Christa Crawford:

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. […Read more]

Philippa Nelson is the Founder of the Social Action Resource Network, a consulting and resourcing entity set up to assist organizations seeking to respond and find solutions to social issues in their communities, including trafficking, gender-based violence, poverty, and refugee care. Philippa has worked in multiple roles in numerous development, education and charitable organisations, most notably working for 7 years in numerous roles in Starfish Project, including a year as Interim Executive Director. Her training includes post-bachelor degrees in International Development, Education and business. Philippa is on the Advisory Board for a Refugee assistance organization in China.

Philippa is serving as a guest mentor for the Ask a BAM Mentor column this month.