How to Create a Workplace Employees Love

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Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor (Romans 12:10, NRSV).

Craig Warner, Executive Director of The Gideons International, carries the truth of these words to his Nashville office every working day. It’s a good ending to a story that didn’t have the happiest beginning.

Craig has the gift of not mincing words. “In 2010, the BCWI Employee Engagement Survey revealed our workplace culture was toxic. Our international headquarters staff of 190 in Nashville were not happy; they were fearful. There was no trust to speak of. They felt responsible for completing tasks rather than driving toward successful outcomes.”

The Challenge

Says Craig, “My background as a CPA taught me a way to think out loud with people: ‘I appreciate that you have an opinion, but what are the facts?’ The BCWI survey gave us the facts, the truth, that our culture was in trouble and needed to change.

“The success of our 275,000 worldwide volunteer members to distribute more than 98 million Scripture portions rested on the health and effectiveness of our staff culture in Nashville to come together to equip and empower these men and women serving on-the-ground in 200 countries, territories and possessions. Our ministry impact was directly tied the health of our culture.”

The Strategy

The Gideons had a lot of work to do. Craig summarizes it in three steps:

1. First, listen.

“We took what our employees said in the survey seriously: We had an outdated mindset of seniority and longevity, and as a result, we didn’t hold on to good people. Our compensation policy needed overhauling, so we did a separate compensation survey. We consolidated our changes and anchored them in the culture through a comprehensive employee handbook.

“We had to rely on trusted resources. John Kotter’s book Leading Change was key. Patrick Lencioni’s work was big, as well as, of course, the ongoing counsel of BCWI.”

2. Create a compelling work environment.

“The breakthrough, here, was naming four core organizational values:

  • Innovation and creative thinking
  • Mutual respect
  • Communication
  • Trust in the individual

“We integrated these values with prayer in every daily morning chapel attended by our entire staff. Over time, our values guided our behavior with each other.

“We chose to invest heavily and intentionally in our people, encouraging both professional, personal and more defined spiritual growth.

“One day, a leader said, ‘Craig, we seem to be spending a lot of money on our people. What happens if we spend all this money and they leave?’ I looked at him, smiled, and said, ‘What happens if we don’t invest in them and they stay?’”

3. Stewarding responsibility.

“We communicated the particulars and the expectations of the new compensation plan and hiring process to our people (available in The Five Attributes: Essentials of Hiring For Christian Organizations, by Chad Carter). We embraced the reality that when you’re in Christian ministry and you have limited resources, you can’t afford a bad hire. We had to steward our responsibility for the organization and the people God had brought our way.

“Also, the 360 Review process was crucial in stewarding the talent of our senior leadership. Today, I know myself far better: my strengths and vulnerabilities. I can see when I’m drawn to go down a particular road that’s not healthy, and I can stop before I actually go there!”

The Result

By 2014, four years after its first BCWI survey, The Gideons International culture moved from being toxic to healthy. The transformation is something you can see and almost taste:

  • “Deliberate, lasting change is creating deepening trust and communication, and a focus on life-changing outcomes (rather than tasks), ensuring the likelihood of decades-long transformation.
  • “New, continuing satisfaction in my role as CEO, now freed to focus more on important new, previously unimagined strategic opportunities to keep extending the Gospel reach of The Gideons International. A healthy culture includes a healthy leader. I could now stand on the captain’s bridge to scan the horizon for where we needed to go, even spot the iceberg to avoid, rather than getting lost down below trying to fuel the ship.”
  • And perhaps the greatest result of all? Says Craig, “To be honest, I underestimated the amount of effort and time it takes for an organization’s culture to change significantly for the better. While it certainly continues to take work, the reward is very real.”

“The result,” says Craig, “is something I share with our employees. It’s something I say to myself every morning: ‘I love coming to work.’”

True Story

“One December Sunday after church, I slipped into our headquarters to pick up a document, when I saw three, younger employees busy at work. And what they were doing stopped me in my tracks: They were gleefully decorating their boss’s office for Christmas. They were showing their growing appreciation and respect for this trusted, caring leader in creative, fun-filled ways. In that moment, I saw how good and Christ-honoring our culture had become.”

– Craig Warner

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