Lessons from Theranos, Part 1
I've been reading John Carreyrou's Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup lately. It is the story of Theranos, a company that was supposed to revolutionize the way we do blood testing. Reading the book has been like watching a low speed train wreck, and it is a master class in how not to lead an organization.
While the book is a corporate story, I think there are some incredible lessons to be learned by church leaders.. ones that will save us, and the churches we lead, from significant hurt and a failure to truly impact the the world around us with the power of the Gospel.
The first lesson is this: Beware the Body Count.
One of the most striking things that I noticed about Theranos was their seeming inability to keep key staff in place. The leadership of the organization seemed to be in constant flux as people came and went through resignations and firings. It had become so frequent that a morbid tradition began where the head of security would bring the name badge of the most recently departed employee to a gathering of employees and do a grand reveal. This type of gallows humor allowed the team to adapt and move on, but it took its toll on team morale, forced people to wonder if they were next, and caused others to ask questions about the overall health of the organization.
What was shocking to me is that senior leadership and the board of directors never recognized this as a problem or investigated the cause of this turnover.
Several years ago, while planting a church, I was introduced to another pastor from the area. As I got to know his church, I began to learn that this pastor had a body count. There was an unhealthy level of turnover, staff would leave in quick succession without having another job lined up, and many people walked away from ministry altogether after leaving this church's team.
When asked why someone would leave his team, the response would typically highlight some sort of deficiency of the person who left. "They weren't a team player," "they just couldn't do the job," or "they weren't willing to do the work" were common responses. They were written off, forgotten, and never heard from again.
There was no acknowledgement of the bad hiring process (at best) or toxic culture (at worst).
In our conversations with candidates, we advise them to "beware the body count" when applying to churches. As they interview churches, we recommend that they learn whether the church suffers from high turnover in its ministry staff team, and then have candid conversations about the cause of this turnover.
If you serve in leadership at a church who experiences high turnover (staff regularly leaving before they hit the five year mark), it is time to explore the reasons for this and begin to make the necessary changes. A great place to start is through conducting exit interviews with team members that are leaving. These need to be safe, honest, and fearless conversations about the health of the church and why people are leaving. We developed the Staff Transition Playbook to help you conduct these conversations well (learn more here).
P.S. Do you have questions about your hiring process? I'd love to help you think through how to strengthen it. Click here to schedule a free 30 Minute Consultation.