Keys to a Healthy Organization - A client's perspective

November 5, 2018 - We believe in the importance of seeing our work in action. In 2018, HighGround made a commitment to invite clients to speak at our weekly staff meetings, which provide staff with insight and inspiration to remain servant hearted each and every day.

In September, our client, South Texas School of Christian Studies' President Tony Celelli and CFO Chris Stapper, visited us to share how they have built a healthier organization by focusing on their people. The school, which serves non-traditional working students who feel called to serve God, is currently in the process of changing its name to Stark College and Seminary in honor of two donors. The Stark family truly believed in the school’s mission to train God’s leaders in the church and established several accounts with HighGround Advisors to benefit the school.

The transition to the Stark College and Seminary is a journey that began more than seven years ago for Celelli when he realized that the school really needed to transform into a healthier organization. By focusing on its most important component – its people – the school has minimalized politics and created better communication. Clarity has emerged, and the turnover has dropped significantly.

The main point, Stapper said, is that as an organization, the school became smarter.

“Encouraging health (in the organization) will help you get smarter,” Stapper said. “Not the other way around.”

Stapper, who has been with the school for five years, noted that the majority of his budget is dedicated to people. With a small staff of only 25 individuals, every single person matters and has a significant impact on the organization. All faculty also fulfill administrative responsibilities and assist with the hiring process, which has evolved in the last several years.

By ensuring all hiring prospects possess three key attributes, Celelli and Stapper have achieved success. They seek candidates that are hungry, humble and smart.


The key ingredient in hungry candidates, according to Celelli and Stapper, is that they are ready for the next challenge. One way this is explored during the interview process is through pop quizzes. It’s not the traditional question and answer type of quiz, though.

The tests are designed to see how well potential employees can think on their feet and what they can produce when reaching outside of their comfort zone. For example, Stapper might ask a candidate to do data entry or design a flyer for an upcoming event. The requirement of faculty to also perform administrative duties, means that employees have to be flexible and jump in where help is needed.


Are you humble enough to honestly admit to your worst day on the job? The South Texas School of Christian Studies makes sure its employees are. During interviews, potential employees tour the office and talk to current employees. The current employees are always asked about their worst day at work at the school. And they are encouraged to answer with complete honesty.

“We want employees to know what they are walking into,” Stapper said.

They also want to ensure that candidates that are willing to promote the success of a team over their own success. This is covered during the team-based interview with three to four current employees. Those individuals are also responsible for looking at resources and making phone calls related to the potential candidate.

Just in case those processes don’t garner enough intel, the interview team also devises a small humility test.

“We leave a little piece of trash near the chair in the interview room,” Stapper said.

The school wants to know if a future employee is humble enough to pick up the trash and throw it away. Stapper said they haven’t had anyone successfully complete this mission yet, but he knows it will happen eventually.


Boasting an impressive resume alone, which is reviewed by multiple employees, isn’t going to be enough to land a gig at the South Texas School of Christian Studies. You’re also going to have to prove you’re intelligent on both intellectual and emotional levels. Cited as being one of the toughest interviews of their career by several candidates, the process of acquiring a job at the school can be challenging. Ultimately, though, Stapper said it’s all about the success of the school as a whole.

“Our success means (the students’) success and ultimately the success of the local church,” Stapper said.