In 2011, Craig Warner, Executive Director for The Gideons International, winced at a report confirming the organization’s culture was flat-out toxic. He’ll spare you the gory details in exchange for sharing an even better story.
Astute, aware and involved soon after settling in at the ministry’s international headquarters in Nashville, Warner admitted, “I knew our culture wasn’t right. Yet, all I had was my opinion. To be honest, when the results of the BCWI Employee Engagement Survey pinpointed the high degree of mistrust, miscommunication and fear among our staff of 130, I was excited, because now I knew the reality, the facts, the truth about our culture. We now had a starting place to begin to improve, and we had a choice: Either we could continue putting up with each other, hunkering down and satisfied with mediocrity or, we could work to change our culture consistent with the life and joy of Jesus, himself.
“Someone has said that one of the primary roles of a leader is to define reality. One of the many positive things the survey did was help me refocus on the reality that all of us had room to change and grow—beginning with me. Any culture will only be as successful as the executive director who champions it. Whatever I asked of our senior team and really all of our people, I chose to be ‘all in.’ Improving our culture wasn’t about me, but we.” Two examples:
- Belief: “If you don’t allow people to weigh in, you won’t allow them to buy in.”
Action: “We formed a ‘guiding coalition’ of employees who gave their respective departments a voice in our culture’s new direction and who, as ‘go to’ people throughout the organization, modeled Christ-like integrity and accountability.
- Conviction: “You either change the person, or you change the person.
Translation: Because we wanted to improve our culture (no way did we want to remain being toxic), each of us knew we had to change; it was either transform, or transition. Example: When a position opened up, we no longer automatically hired the person next in line with seniority. We advertised internally so that the best person could emerge.”
Today, the once-toxic culture at The Gideons International is now healthy. Staffers who once kept to themselves and refrained from asking questions for fear of how a supervisor might react now offer (and carefully listen to) new ideas and perspectives for improving their culture.
As new levels of mutual respect, trust and innovation have risen, the old self-imposed walls of silence have, been razed. Life-changing conversations are taking hold: At a recent monthly lunch-hour roundtable Warner hosts for staffers, a young, recently married wife of a pastor “coincidentally” found herself sitting between and being encouraged by two women, whose husbands were long-time pastors.
An innovator at heart, Warner is now giving new definition to the term “flourishing culture.”
“What really motivates me to grow a healthy, flourishing culture is the positive impact it can have on each of our people–a mom, a dad, a brother, a sister. At night, they come home equipped with good life skills they’ve learned and practiced in the workplace. The cascading effect of making right choices at work is now helping them become better spouses, better parents, better coaches on the ball field, better volunteers in their places of service, and better, more faithful servants of Jesus in their community, their world, their church.”
It’s the kind of testimony you would expect from a respected, worldwide ministry synonymous with spreading the good news.