Culture and strategy are inextricably intertwined. The two must work together in harmony for us to fulfill our organizations’ God-given missions.
No one knows this better than Doug Mazza, President and Chief Operating Officer of Joni and Friends, whose sustainable organizational strategy catapulted the international ministry from $6 million to $30 million in annual revenue. Even more remarkable is their priceless ministry impact, which as Doug tells us today, is due to a strategy with four primary pillars that have more to do with people than programs.
When Doug joined Joni and Friends in 1999, he came to work that first day with two remarkable assets. The first was 25 years of executive experience in helping to lead Suzuki and then Hyundai into the U.S. market. With disarming transparency, Doug readily admits his second asset was even more significant:
“God gave my family the gift of a young son, Ryan, with complex disabilities who was not expected to live long. While Ryan has as endured thirteen brain and skull surgeries, is now blind, developmentally disabled and has never spoken a word, God redeemed this chapter of our family’s life. I asked God to save my son, and He saved me. I asked Him to show me what purpose his life had, and God showed me the purpose for mine. I owe Ryan so very much; he is my senior partner in ministry.”
Thus, Doug’s unabashed delight was the opportunity to execute the vision of Joni Eareckson Tada, whose ministry passion to bring Jesus’ life-saving sacrifice and compassion to the world’s physically disabled is captured in Luke when Jesus instructed,
“Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. . . Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled (Luke 14: 21-13).”
Fulfilling this vision was not fully defined as Doug arrived. Departmental silos and territorial attitudes had sprung up. Dwindling operational resources and potential staff cuts — in the face of planned, across-the-board raises — loomed. A sustainable strategy — an organization’s deliberate, effective approach by which they serve their constituents — was needed.
Based on Joni’s vision and in collaboration with CFO Billy Burnet, Doug received broad input from across the organization and leaned on his corporate experience to build their first 5-year plan. Believing along with Joni and Billy that the plan was pleasing to God and would succeed, Doug faithfully went ahead with the planned salary increases before the resource development plan had kicked in. Just in time, newfound resources came in. Programs solidified, and they have never looked back.
Doug describes three key elements in their strategic planning process: “We look out ten years, build a 5-year plan and then budget annually.” Now, nearing his 20th year, the organization is into its fourth intentional 5-year plan.
Doug outlined the Four Pillars of their strategy, which guide and govern everything Joni and Friends does to fulfill their vision and mission. These pillars are significant contributors to their flourishing culture:
1. Lead like Jesus
Every employee benefits from this foundational training that emphasizes Jesus is the one in control of our ministry. As an organization, Lead Like Jesus gives us a uniform standard and like-mindedness for what, collectively, we’re trying to accomplish.
Our inter-organizational communication strategically puts all of our people on the same page, keeping everyone informed, excited, and motivated to work together. Many projects purposefully overlap departments, creating the need to work together and resulting in mutually-attained goals. Even our open-space offices emphasizes the necessity and value we place on integrating all departments—and thus all of our people—to carry out a common vision.
3. Competence in one’s area of expertise
We respect and value each employee to the point that we will make an extraordinary investment in a person toward his or her success. In business, competence is #1 in importance. At Joni and Friends, your competence is valued and honed through the One who unites those whom He has uniquely called and equipped to fulfill His specific Kingdom purposes on earth. But competence is number 3 on our list, not number 1 or 2. Those positions are reserved for cultural expertise.
4. Best Christian Workplaces Institute
The first three pillars, above, can make a nice speech for a president. This fourth pillar speaks to the reality that you can manage only what you can measure.
Under Doug’s leadership — complemented by the work of Billy Burnett and constant presence and vision of Joni herself — the organization’s effectiveness has exploded in its national and worldwide service to people affected by disability.
Recently, through the BCWI Employee Engagement Survey, Joni and Friends has scored in the top 10% of ministry organizations in the Sustainable Strategy dimension.
Mindful of the importance of culture to Joni and Friends that’s worked to bring and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame to fill Christ’s house, the Church, Doug says:
- “I’ve never walked into an organization that had a bad mission or vision statement. I’ve walked into some organizations that were failing because they had a bad culture.”
- “Certainly, a ministry organization needs to execute a healthy strategy, but it’s never going to reach fulfillment until you get the culture right. To use an analogy: Workplace culture is a bucket of pure water, and if it gets polluted, dropping in a clear strategy is not going to clean it.”
- “Great strategies won’t clean the water. Great strategies flourish in clean water. Get your culture right. Point to it constantly, and new strategies will evolve.”
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves!