The People Inventory – a Leadership Pipeline story

I’d been avoiding clearing out the old paperwork in my study for months. All those “shall I keep it or not?” decisions that I find paralysing – I’ve read numerous “how to declutter your life” books over the years, and I’m still hopeless.

One of the folders that dated back decades (and three house moves) was a random collection of things that couldn’t in their wildest dreams be described as useful but would fall into the category of nostalgic or vaguely interesting. The organised among you will be pleased to hear that most of the file ended up being recycled, but one item caught my attention.

The People Inventory was date stamped “28 March 1994”. The fact that it was ‘date stamped’ at all makes it ancient, irrespective of the date! I was a team leader with our High School Ministry, and the new UK National Director had decided to survey all the UK staff to find out their ministry career aspirations. Looking back, it was a genius idea. He’d sent out (remember when things were physically sent out? on paper…in the mail?) three sheets of paper listing off every ministry role in every location, including some aspirational roles that didn’t exist at the time. Everything from materials dispatcher to accounts team leader to pioneer student ministry staff.  He’d also included the National Director role itself. Our assignment was to list, in order, our top 3 preferences for roles that we would like to have in the ministry.

Things were about to change, but at the time, I was very happy doing the role I was doing, so I listed my then-current role as my first choice, a team leader of a new school’s ministry location as my second choice and team member of the same team as my third choice. I was a High School ministry guy. I was pretty sure that was never going to change.

Looking through the Inventory was rather entertaining – the roles that were reflective of the ministry thirty years ago. I had completely forgotten what I’d written in the ‘additional comments’ section at the bottom. This is what I’d said:

 “…If I had an option 4, it would probably be something in ‘Personnel’ – I’ve got no real experience, but it was a career I certainly considered when I was at college. You never know, eh?”

Seriously. Verbatim. I’d actually ended the sentence with, “You never know, eh?”. Six months later, my wife and I had lost all our team mates for various reasons, were alone and isolated and far from family, and had hit burnout. We knew something needed to change but were very blinkered in believing we were called to youth ministry and nothing could change that.

It did change, though. I’d entirely forgotten about the Inventory by this point, so it was rather out-of-the-blue from my perspective to receive a phone call from our National Director asking us to consider moving to Birmingham to take on the “Personnel” role (as it was known, back then). I’m very grateful to him for taking quite a chance on a young maverick youth worker, asking him to look after grown-ups. And I’m very grateful to my persuasive wife, who was more open to hearing the Lord’s voice than I was at that moment. I might have missed out on a big part of what the Lord had prepared for me and had been preparing me for.

The rest is history, with many more stories to tell of my HR roles, but the starting point of my 28 years in Personnel/HR/LDHR was one of my leaders asking, “What would you like to do?”  The process of developing a Leadership Pipeline can seem a bit daunting (we’re working on that – watch this space), but for now, maybe your starting point could be a People Inventory – asking your staff what they’d like to do. I think it’s probably an underused question. You never know, eh?

Paul Cheesman

Paul Cheesman is a Leadership Development and HR specialist for CCCI / Cru and is known as our Global HR guru. He’s based in the UK and works with LDHR leaders worldwide.

2 thoughts on “The People Inventory – a Leadership Pipeline story”


    We used to do an occasional “How are you doing?” kind of survey in Mexico to ask our staff about their satisfaction in their role and team and give them an opportunity to think about future options. I think this could be a game-changer for some ministries. Thanks for making your way through the old papers and sharing the ideas with us!


    You do never know, but I am chuffed to bits that option 4 was available, and here you are now. It’s great to work alongside you, mate!

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