Spring 2015

Charles Zech

Welcome Remarks

Charles Zech
Director, Center for Church Management & Business Ethics

Welcome to the Spring 2015 edition of Villanova’s Center for Church Management and Business Ethics Newsletter. 

In this edition we cover three topics: generating an employee handbook; testing hypotheses before changing policies, and a survey of parish business managers as they view how important each of a laundry list of possible tasks are in their position and how well-prepared they are to perform them.

Mike Mayer, an adjunct professor in Villanova’s MS in Church Management program, writes about how important it is for an organization to have an employee manual. As Mike points out having a manual can spare not only lawsuits but also misunderstandings that can harm employee morale. As Mike states, “An employee handbook enables the managers of the organization to clearly and carefully outline the expectations of all employees.”  Mike then goes on to list the topics that should be addressed in the employee handbook (e.g., benefits, absences and leaves, performance management, grievance procedures, etc.). He further offers advice on the best practices in developing a handbook. These include maintaining employee input at various stages of the handbook’s development and having an attorney review the final draft before it becomes the organization’s policy. Every organization within the church needs to have an employee manual.

Kristina Lizardy-Hajbi steps out of the box by applying Michael Schrage’s work on innovation to churches found in his Harvard Business Review article “A testable Idea is Better than a Good Idea”. The point of the article is to avoid situations where an organization finds itself regularly muttering, “ It seemed like a good idea at the time.” Lizardy-Hajbi argues that before churches implement new ideas, they first develop testable hypotheses about the new idea and test these hypotheses by running experiments. A longer process than simply throwing ideas out there, but one that promises a higher likelihood of success.

Finally our regular look at data, “The Survey Says”, examines the role of parish business managers. Based on a survey conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) for the “Emerging Models in Parish Leadership “ project, the importance of a variety of tasks to business managers and their perceived level of preparedness are examined. Generally speaking parish business managers placed a higher level of importance and preparedness on parish financial issues and less importance and preparedness on human capital functions.

I would like to remind you of the educational opportunities available through the Center for Church Management and Business Ethics. There is still time to apply for this year’s class in our very successful on-line master’s degree in church management ( awarded through the nationally-ranked and fully accredited Villanova School of Business. You might be interested to know that US News & World Reports has ranked our MS in Church Management as the 6th best online program in the country among ALL graduate business programs.

We also, in partnership with Our Sunday Visitor and AmericanChurch, offer a series of webinars on church management topics. This series presents the opportunity for an individual to earn a certificate in church management through the Villanova School of Business. The series will begin its fifth year in September, but it is not too early to apply. Individuals interested in particular topics may participate in one or more of the specific webinars without pursuing the certificate. For more details, see here.

We hope that you find the information in this newsletter useful. We appreciate your previous feedback and are happy to hear your feedback about the topics covered in this issue as well as topics that you would like to see covered in future issues.

Mike Mayer

Employee Handbooks for Churches

Mike Mayer

Living in a litigious society that we have in the United States, I am often asked by clients and students, "Why should our organization have an employee handbook?" Quite often, my response is, "Why NOT?!"  While many organizations have operated extremely effectively without a well defined, published set of guidelines, a far larger number often find themselves mired in turmoil as a result of one or two people who can create chaos for the masses.

In most organizations, regardless of the size of the employee population, issues will arise from time to time.  Differences (disputes?) vary from church to church and company to company but the themes are usually around a few key themes:

  • Information: Employees and Leaders (Managers) are unsure or unaware of "the rules."
  • Communication: The rules are established, but have never been sufficiently distributed and explained to employees or managers.  If they have, they are not enforced consistently.
  • Flexibility: Employees and Managers operate in a loosely defined set of rules or processes that fit the needs of a specific department or function inside the larger organization.

Generally, these three operating situations are completely suitable until someone (employee or manager) breaks "the rules."

It's important to note that on a broad basis, most organizations operate smoothly and effectively.  The majority of the employees do not need someone else in the organization to make certain that they adhere to the organizations norms.  Key operating tenets such as start time, end time, lunch time, availability after hours, vacation and sick time are well articulated when someone starts employment.  Over the course of employment, norms prevail on how people are to comply with the organization's norms or rules when they become ill, need to take a vacation, will be absent from work, have a Doctor or other appointment etc.  

While I personally loathe policy and procedure manuals, I have found during my experience in both large and small organizations that issues arise most frequently among a small percentage of the people employed (less than 2 or 3 percent).  That said, the management time involved in addressing these issues sometimes consumes more than 80 percent of the total time managing vs. doing work.  Further, the "costs" associated with not addressing these issues can be substantial.  Outside of lost time in productivity by the employee directly involved, the lost time by others who are not engaged and focused on the task at hand can be tremendous.  Simply stated, these issues are a huge distraction, if not a large financial cost to the organization.

An employee handbook enables the managers of the organization to clearly and carefully outline the expectations of all employees.  Moreover, there are clear lines of responsibility for policies, and where managers, and employees need to go should they have an issue or need a waiver from a particular policy.  Too often, an employee's excuse for doing something outside the rules is, "I asked my manager, and he/she said it was okay!"  The problem is that oftentimes an individual manager lacks organizational breadth and knowledge; making a decision in a vacuum can create issues for other functions or departments.  For example,  on the surface, it may seem okay to let someone change his/her schedule to accommodate rush hour traffic.  Other managers may not be able to make this same accommodation based upon staffing needs (having phones covered, shift capacity, etc..,).  Initially, we would laud a manager by being flexible and  for helping an employee by addressing his needs.  This one act of kindness has the potential to unwittingly create a great commotion within the organization.

I once heard that the definition of a policy is: A crummy rule--consistently applied!  While this is frequently the mindset about policies, organizations generally  have experienced much more success in implementing an employee handbook than not.  When determining what should be included in a handbook, it's usually best to look to several key areas that most organizations encounter when addressing employee issues. Therefore, handbooks should address the following:

  • A mission statement for the organization.
  • The purpose of the handbook.
  • Legally required statements (Equal opportunity, sexual harassment, state mandated laws, background checks, smoking on premises, etc)
  • Compensation (how job descriptions are produced, changed, etc; salary ranges adjustments and increases; when payroll happens)
  • Benefits (who is eligible for what, etc)
  • Holidays and Vacations
  • Absences and Leave (including personal, sick, family, short and long-term disability, military, jury, bereavement, etc.)
  • Performance Management (including goal setting and performance appraisals, discipline procedure; termination and resignation
  • An appeal or grievance procedure/process
  • Miscellaneous (honoraria, solicitation, weather emergency, snow days, use of resources for personal time/gain, etc.)
  • Computer and Information Security/Internet Policy

Once you have identified the key areas that you want to include, time needs to be taken to review current policies and practices and determine which of these need to be changed and how.  Many times one individual will sit down and draft (re-draft) the entire document.  Here are a couple ideas that may help in the communication of the change to the organization, which ultimately may lead to a smoother implementation:

  • Use employee groups: by convening an ad hoc, cross functional, diverse group of employees that represent as many demographic and hierarchical layers in the organization, your people can help guide the direction of and participate in the revision of the various policies you are trying to change and/or implement.  It is critically important that the leader of the group has been provided a clear definition of the parameters of the project.  This would include (but is not limited to): the duration and purpose of the team, what the team is allowed/not permitted to address, some general rules about how often the group should meet and who the group should contact if they have questions or need resources outside the group.
  • Socialize the group's recommendation.  At some point, using focus groups or subsets of the employee population as a sounding board is a useful way to ensure success and avoid pitfalls.  When "pilot testing" the work of the committee, one needs to make certain that all segments of the organization are contacted and informally polled.  After this is done, the group should meet and discuss the inputs received prior to implementing a policy
  • Senior Leadership involvement.  It is always helpful to have members of the senior leadership team actively involved in this process.  This could take the form of sponsorship or mentorship of the team, serving on a review committee or multiple facets.  Utilizing senior leaders in the process has two key advantages--it allows employees to get to know senior leaders; it also allows senior leaders the opportunity to get to know people in the organization with whom they may not interact with on a frequent basis.

After your policies have been written and socialized with your employees via focus groups or individual discussions, it is always prudent to engage an attorney to review your policies to ensure that they are compliant with Federal, State and local laws.  An attorney who specializes in Labor and Employment Law is ideally suited for this review process.  Many organizations are able to find these resources on a reduced fee or pro bono basis.  Often attorneys in this area will be helpful by providing work samples which can help you develop your handbook quickly and efficiently.  

Following the approval of the legal review and Senior Leadership team of your handbook, it is very important to hold small group meetings and distribute a copy of the handbook to each employee.  Care should be taken to review the most impactful policies in the meeting and asking employees to review the document completely at their convenience.  You should ask employees to sign a receipt which indicates that they have received the document, and will follow the policies it contains, as well as follow up with a designated individual should they have any questions.  The handbook and receipt should be part of the new hire orientation process, and included in the discussion around benefits and job expectations when a new hire starts employment.

Of equal importance is keeping your employee handbook up to date.  It is recommended that you review the document on an annual basis such that any changes in the laws can be reflected in the revision process.  Many organizations seek inputs at a senior leadership staff meeting or from industry roundtables as a way to keep the document current.  Most organizations utilize an electronic version of subsequent updates to the handbook.  By placing a read only document on the public server, employees can read any updates that are communicated; at the same time, the organization is able to save money on costs associated with printing and storing copies of the handbook.  Of course you would want to provide a way to notify leaders and managers of subsequent changes as well as ensure that the new information is disseminated to all of the people in the organization.  

While writing and implementing an employee handbook can be extremely time consuming, most organizations that have never had a handbook report great satisfaction with devoting time and energy to this important activity in their organization.   Those who have utilized an outdated handbook which has not been updated to reflect current practices report an equal amount of satisfaction and clarity for their people.

Mike Mayer has over 30 years of experience in corporate Human Resources and consulting with firms ranging in size from Fortune 10 to start-up.  He is an adjunct instructor at Villanova University, and has taught the Human Resources class in the Villanova School of Business' MS in Church Management program for over 6 years.

Is A Testable Idea Better than A Good Idea?

Kristina Lizardy-Hajbi, CARD Director

The following article originally appeared in The United Church of Christ’s Center for Analytics, Research and Data Newsletter.  The original article can be found here.

When I read this article from the Harvard Business Review, I found myself saying, “Yes!” The blog articulates, in business terms, that a good hypothesis is one that is testable. Companies that simply have a wealth of good ideas are, in the end, not very successful.

Author Michael Schrage writes: Organizations that encouraged, talked up and celebrated good ideas were consistent—almost pathological—innovation underachievers. To be sure, there was serious discussion, debate and analysis around good ideas and how to make them better. But the actual outcomes typically underwhelmed and underperformed, as in “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” These firms, teams, and groups made improving good ideas central to their innovation effort. 

He continues: By contrast, the successful innovators I observed spent less time on identifying and developing good ideas and more time testing their hypotheses. In fact, these teams and groups made the testable hypothesis the center of their innovation effort.

Many of the good ideas were very, very good. They were definitely worth developing. But the experiments and their testable hypotheses were ready to go. They provoked a completely different kind of action-oriented discussion than the good ideas. Indeed, a couple of the experiments (as I recall) embodied some aspects of the good ideas. The difference? We could do something with them beyond talk! Testable hypotheses seemed a faster and, frankly, better gateway to innovative action and active innovation. Testable hypotheses encourage and facilitate active experimentation and learning in ways that good ideas simply cannot. Getting organizations to think and act around testable hypotheses instead of good ideas is how organizations have healthier conversation and collaboration around innovation.

Churches are no different than other organizations in this regard. Good ideas abound–ministers, congregants, denominational leaders, conference staff all possess very, very good ideas for enhancing and creating possibilities for ministry. But how many of these ideas are accompanied by hypotheses, as well as the plans (experiments) by which to see whether these hypotheses are confirmed?

For example, an idea to create a second worship service in order to attract younger generations may be a good idea; but a number of testable hypotheses should be created before jumping to direct implementation of this idea. A beginning process around this idea might include the following:

Main hypothesis—Young adults will attend a worship service that is geared toward their attitudes, tastes, and experiences.

Related hypotheses

  • Young adults possess a particular set of attitudes, tastes, and experiences that are different than those of the current congregation.
  • There are young adults in the area who would be open to attending a newly-created worship service at this church.
  • This congregation possesses the resources, time, and skills/talents necessary to develop a second worship service for young adults.

It seems that each of the related hypotheses requires a thoughtful, yet concrete plan of investigation before the main hypothesis can be confirmed or negated. Many times, committees have discussed these hypotheses and provided their own experiences and opinions on the items above; but rarely have groups actively investigated and pursued those hypotheses within their own communities.

Schrage says: If you want to quickly, cheaply and productively transform your organization’s innovation culture, forbid any and all discussion of good ideas and insist people start framing their innovation proposals in the form of a testable hypothesis. Try it.

What do you think? Should all ideas be testable?


Villanova University’s Center for Church Management and Business Ethics Partners with the Archdiocese of New York

VILLANOVA, Pa. – Villanova University’s Center for Church Management and Business Ethics (CCMBE) at the Villanova School of Business (VSB) has come to an agreement with the Archdiocese of New York (ADNY) to offer a unique program of the Master of Science in Church Management (MSCM) for parishes of the ADNY. The terms of the agreement stipulate that the ADNY will matriculate up to 50 parishioners into the MSCM program annually for the duration of two years.

The ADNY recently launched the “Making All Things New” initiative, a strategic parish-planning program that aims to improve parishes to better serve the faithful. As part of this initiative, parishes may consolidate, and the clergy will take on greater pastoral and administrative responsibilities. Some of these administrative responsibilities will need to be delegated to qualified parish business managers. To ensure the parishes will be managed by the most highly qualified business managers, the ADNY turned to Villanova’s MSCM degree to obtain church management education.

“During Making All Things New, our pastoral planning process, one thing we heard over and over from both priests and parishioners was the need to help support our pastors in managing our parishes by developing stronger business practices.  The Archdiocese of New York has long been a leader in supporting our pastors and parishes, which is why we are so happy to be able to partner with Villanova University to provide our parishes with the opportunity to participate in a nationally recognized master's program to train professional business managers.  Business management, like so many other roles in a parish, is truly a ministry and I know that our pastors join me in expressing immense gratitude to those who serve their parishes and schools in this manner.  In the next few years, I look forward to congratulating the first class of Archdiocese of New York and Villanova University trained business managers, whose service will strengthen our parishes, schools and the Church in New York,” says His Eminence, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York.

“We are delighted to welcome members of the Archdiocese of New York into our church management program,” says Charles Zech, PhD, faculty director for the CCMBE and director of the MSCM program. “We are dedicated to providing the best possible church management education and to help parishioners lead and serve the Church effectively. This partnership means not only that we will have a steady stream of students, but also that the Church will have a greater number of trained business professionals assisting their pastors.”


An introductory orientation will be held in NY during the spring of 2015, with the rest of the MSCM degree courses offered on-line, making it convenient for busy church workers wherever they reside to earn their degree. The ADNY participants will receive the same education and be taught by the same faculty members as the Villanova cohort of MSCM students. All courses have been specially developed to meet the needs of church managers.  Students will take two courses each semester and graduate in two years.

VSB was recognized among the top schools on the U.S. News & World Report’s annual “Best Online Degree Programs: Graduate Business” ranking, earning the #6 spot in the U.S. In addition to #6 overall, VSB also scored well in the “Student Services and Technology” category coming in at #4, and in the “Student Engagement” category at #8.

For more information on the MSCM program at Villanova, click here.

If you are from the ADNY, please click here.

And the Survey Says... The Impact of Social Media

The last few issues I’ve been sharing data collected for the Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership Project. This was a collaborative effort by five Catholic national ministry organizations interested in pursuing pastoral excellence through research and dialogue. It was funded by the Lilly Endowment Inc. Research supporting the project was provided by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA). The study included a number of components, including surveys of a single parish informant, parishioners, and parish leaders (staff, parish advisory council members, and other parish leaders, including parish business managers. This article relies on the data collected from a survey of 532 parish leaders. The margin of error is 4.2 percent.

Among the respondents to the survey were parish business managers. It was learned that they were middle aged (median age 48), heavily female (62 percent), a registered parishioner in the parish where they worked (61%), and had served in their current position for an average of nine years. The most interesting finding, though, was the contrast between how important they believed a laundry list of tasks to be and how well-prepared they thought they were for each. The findings for a number of typical tasks performed by business managers are displayed in the following table:

Spring 2015 Table 1

The parish business managers in this sample felt their most important task was financial reporting followed closely by administering a budget. They believed that they were most prepared for financial reporting, again followed closely by administering a budget. They were least prepared for understanding canon law (which they also rated as least important) and managing parish investments (which they ranked as the second least important task.

The discrepancy between the importance that business managers placed on a task and their feeling of preparedness was significantly different in more than half of the tasks listed. The largest variances were with conflict resolution (.45 difference) and facilities management (.31).

In an era with a shrinking population of priests combined with parishes becoming larger and more complex, it is critical that the church release their pastors from as many duties as possible. The obvious solution is to find and train capable parish managers who can take up the slack and take on many of the responsibilities in the parish that don’t require ordination.

In the past many parish business managers came to their position because they had a background in accounting or a similar financial field. But if a parish business manager is going to ease some of the administrative burdens from the pastor, s/he must have a broader background and be capable of wearing a number of hats in the parish’s administrative structure.

Data for this study came from the Lilly Endowment funded Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership project report titled, “The Role and Reality of Parish Business Managers and Parish Finance Council Members”.

For More Information

Center for Church Management
Villanova University
800 Lancaster Avenue
Villanova, PA 19085
Tel: (610) 519-6015
Fax: (610) 519-6054