How to Set the Standard for Excellence as a Christian Workplace
Excellence in your organization is not a destination but a journey. As you lead your organization in the journey of continuous improvement, the road to flourishing includes the steps of discover, build, and grow.
Flourishing organizations that are known for excellence feature two characteristics—they have high-quality people and processes. A commitment to ongoing improvement means that evaluation is built into both people and process management, giving regular opportunities to raise the bar and improve performance. As a Christian workplace, valuing the people on your team reflects God’s love for people and their gifts. These habits of excellence are attainable for every organization!
- An accurate assessment of where your organization stands is a first step on your journey toward excellence.
- Valuing people is the foundation of embodying Christian values in your organization.
- Organizational excellence is built through both people and processes.
- Evaluation of people and processes is key to ongoing improvement and excellence over time.
Know Where To Start
When Craig Springer started as the new Executive Director of Alpha USA, he decided to assess the health of the staff team. He engaged the Best Christian Workplaces Institute (BCWI) to do a Pulse Survey on employee engagement. He had a report available when he started his leadership tenure.
Since then, Alpha USA has participated in an annual improvement process. They participate in the discovery phase of learning, work on processes for improvement in their workplace culture, and reanalyze their strengths and opportunities for growth. This commitment to excellence extends from senior leadership to the team level. Each team takes what is learned in the discovery phase and creates action steps for their team. This posture of learning and growth leads to an excellent, flourishing organization.
A commitment to discover more information about the culture of your organization and what your employees think means you take a humble posture as a leader. You don’t know everything there is to know about your organization, and the research you undertake as a leadership team will result in discovery.
Every day BCWI helps leaders discover more about their organizations through employee engagement surveys, focus groups, and 360 leadership reviews. Being willing to listen and learn is a great step in the journey toward excellence.
Once you discover an accurate assessment of where your organization stands on the drivers of flourishing, then you can commit to build a response to areas that need improvement. Careful consideration of how to implement best practices in areas that are weak will move your organization toward excellence.
The next step in the process toward excellence is to implement the practices you have identified, so you can grow toward the goal of improved employee engagement and flourishing.
Even this process, with one iteration of the Discover – Build – Grow cycle, will not guarantee excellence. Organizations that flourish consistently over time repeat the cycle. They are committed to continuous improvement. Excellent leaders will continue to listen and learn, discovering new areas for improvement, building on past successes, and growing toward improved health.
Changing Circumstances on the Journey to Excellence
Another reason that excellence is based on a continuous process rather than a destination, is that teams change over time. Every time a new staff person joins your organization, you have the opportunity to re-form your team. As you incorporate new people, you can learn together the best way to work toward excellence. So once again, you enter the process to discover, build, and grow.
Even a team with tremendous stability has to continue to respond to a changing environment outside of their organization, so the need to discover, build, and grow never goes away. Normalizing this cycle and repeating it in your organization means you will continue to improve in quality and move toward excellence.
Key Components: People and Processes
In your pursuit of excellence, consider the importance of both people and processes. Over time, an investment in growing people and developing robust processes will improve the quality of your work. Organizations that struggle with low morale or a lack of quality in projects experience breakdowns in either people or processes or both.
Excellence in People
Before considering how to achieve excellence in people management, start with the foundation of why you want to place a high value on the people in your organization. As a distinctly Christian workplace, the values of an organization should reflect the way God values people. God created humans in his image. Within all creation, he uniquely values people as both image-bearers and ambassadors of the Good News of redemption through Jesus. While people are broken and in need of a Savior, they are also recipients of God’s love through Jesus. So, we value people because God values people. This is why we want people to grow and flourish. Certainly, an organization that does not espouse Christian values can treat employees well and benefit from excellence in people, but having a Christian foundation means that a high value on people is imperative.
Look Inward First
Developing excellence in your people starts with your own pursuit of excellence. You cannot lead people into a life that you are not living. On your journey toward excellence, be sure to include honest self-reflection. Are you living out the values that you want your employees to live out? Are you committed to continuous learning and growth in your own life? Perhaps a close accountability partner could help you see your own life honestly and help identify areas for improvement.
Ray Kroc (McDonald’s) is attributed with this thought: “The quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves.”
As we explore developing excellence in your organization, the quality of your employees is a factor in excellence. But excellence starts with the tone you set in your own attitudes and actions. That’s why inspirational leadership is one of the components BCWI has identified in a flourishing workplace.
What do the people in your organization need to flourish? How do you identify, reward, and cultivate top performers?
In building toward excellence in people, outstanding talent is obviously an important attribute to cultivate. Outstanding talent is one of the eight drivers of a flourishing organization, but all eight drivers of engagement contribute to excellence through an engaged workforce. The components of flourishing underline the importance of people and the pursuit of excellence through the people in your organization. The BCWI employee engagement model statistically defines the dimensions of a flourishing workplace, using the acronym FLOURISH to describe each of the eight characteristics:
- Fantastic Teams
- Life-Giving Work
- Outstanding Talent
- Uplifting Growth
- Rewarding Compensation
- Inspirational Leadership
- Sustainable Strategy
- Healthy Communication
Each of these dimensions contributes to excellence and highlights the importance of people management through the whole cycle of an employee’s experience with your organization. Investing in people starts with the recruitment and onboarding process and continues throughout the tenure of an individual. Components of excellence include a talent review process that identifies people’s gifts, develops employees to their fullest potential, and rewards employees who are high performers.
A robust performance management system is important to effectively cultivate excellence in your employees. An annual review cycle is a part of such a system, but excellent people managers engage their employees in growth conversations on a more frequent basis. One-on-one meetings offer regular opportunities for mutual listening, understanding, affirmation, challenge, and action. Cultivating quality employees doesn’t happen by accident; it is based on systematic processes. BCWI consultants help organizations grow in these areas of excellence in people management.
When is the last time you told your top-performing employees that you appreciate their work? It may seem forced to include appreciation and recognition on a schedule, but unless you have the habit of regularly showing appreciation to employees, such recognition can be infrequent. Sometimes recognition is given more often to the up-front roles in an organization. Can you show recognition for someone behind the scenes who is regularly helping other people succeed? Affirm all the people who contribute to quality work—the obvious ones and those that support the process. This affirmation reflects the biblical principle of the importance of all parts of the body of Christ. Communicating encouragement to people is one attribute of healthy communication in a flourishing organization. Affirmation can reinforce the qualities you want to see more of in the workplace and remind your employees that you value them as people.
Currently, the U.S. labor market is in the early stages of a large cycle of employee turnover. Nearly half of all employees are actively seeking a new employment opportunity, according to Gallup research! Your journey to organizational excellence is dependent on engaging and retaining high-quality employees. In addition, investing in training and development for your staff will move your organization toward excellence. Even a small organization can define and implement career paths for employees, to continue growth and retain quality people. Use all the tools possible to invest in engaged, flourishing employees so they don’t look elsewhere for better opportunities.
Excellence in Processes
What can we learn from manufacturing? While it may seem like a stretch to make a connection between manufacturing a product to serving in a ministry, we can learn a lot about excellence from manufacturing processes. No, you aren’t creating a car, but in a church setting, you are creating a worship experience for people every week, and a small group experience every quarter, and periodic events to welcome people into your community. In a Christian school, you are setting calendars and budgets for each year, recruiting and admitting students, equipping teachers—all on a regular cycle.
As you think about the work of your organization, what rhythms can you define? Take the time to map out all the activities or projects that occur on a weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annual basis. You can’t take steps to improve processes until you can accurately understand the standard work processes you already have—even if they are informal.
What is the standard of excellence for these repeated projects? Do you have goals based on timeliness, accuracy, feedback from constituents, or some other measure?
Once you clearly understand your current processes, you can identify areas for improvement. Over time, you can improve many of your processes. But as you start on the journey toward excellence, which processes should you prioritize in your improvement plans?
Processes that are the top candidates for improvement:
- are core to the mission of your organization,
- regularly create pain points for staff,
- and create high risks when they fail.
Refining your processes will increase the quality of your work and reassure employees that they are working for a well-managed organization. It is exhausting to approach every activity or project in an ad hoc fashion. Processes that don’t work or are ill-defined can lead to tension and damaged relationships in an organization.
Lack of disciplined processes also means that when you experience turnover, there can be large knowledge gaps. If a person holds all the organizational memory of a project, then it is not easily replicated by anyone else.
Here is a starting place for excellent processes:
- Write down the steps.
- Consider who has responsibility for each step.
- Define dependencies in the process.
- Define the timing for the steps.
- Clarify the milestones and approval points.
- Include an evaluation loop.
As noted at the outset, improvement toward excellence is a journey, not a destination. Just as excellent people management includes regular evaluation, so does excellence in process management. Building an evaluation cycle into your processes is a key factor in helping your organization continue on the path to excellence. Normalizing evaluation as part of your processes over time will result in reduced resistance to evaluation. People will see their lives improve with better workflow, so they will become fans of quality improvement and help your organization on the journey toward excellence.
Make sure it is clear that in process evaluation you are talking about a task, not a person. People resist evaluation that feels like blaming. It can be healthy to have conflict in evaluation if you are disagreeing about the how or the what—such conflict can improve your process.
As you evaluate, be clear about what worked well and where the team encountered pain points. When you consider the successes, make sure that part of the process is documented so it is repeatable. In reviewing the pain points, engage the whole team in a discussion about how the process can be improved to eliminate roadblocks.
Organizations that are growing toward excellence in processes are committed to regularly evaluating and improving their processes.
As you consider the pursuit of excellence in your own organization, where do you want to invest energy in the next few weeks and months?
Perhaps you want to do more research to understand the current status of your organization and discover some clarity in the next steps that will move you toward excellence. Move this goal toward reality by scheduling a specific action step to either explore or undertake the research you need.
As you reflect on your own leadership, are there one or two areas you can identify for growth in your personal commitment to excellence? Growing in excellence in your leadership is an essential part of calling forth growth in those who look to you for inspiration.
Now move the application from your own life to the people and processes that you oversee. Are there some practices described in this blog post that you want to implement? Choose a few specific actions and block off time on your calendar to consider how to incorporate them into the rhythms of your workflow. Moving past the idea stage to sustainable action will move your organization forward on the journey toward excellence.