The next time you feel your culture is broken and hurting, think of Jim Reese. In 2009, as the new President and CEO of the Atlanta Mission, Jim had to face the hard truth that their culture was severely toxic. Last year, thanks to the loyalty, trust, communication, unity, shared-focus and excellence that now drive a thriving new service model, the Atlanta Mission provided 237,000 nights of shelter for homeless men, women and children in Atlanta.
This amazing culture turnaround stems from three action steps, that could mean a new beginning and a new day for your organization!
The Great Recession of 2008, did a number on the Atlanta Mission’s finances. Painful right-sizing of staff followed. As Jim told me, “We had to stabilize our people and find a much more consistent way to treat, coach and develop our staff.”
How did they do it?
In my interview with him, Jim cut to chase about the three things he had to do square himself with a culture that didn’t feel all that healthy.
1. Confess the importance of employee engagement and culture
“God had called me out of the business world to the Mission. I knew the power of employee engagement and the strength of how to use it to better an organizational culture.
2. Assess our culture’s health
“I needed to get a set of objective measures of where we really were as a culture. I felt I owed my board an honest assessment from someone other than me that could measure the true health of our culture, both for our current team and our future leaders, when it became their time.
“While the BCWI Employee Engagement Survey revealed that a few strengths were already present in the Atlanta Mission’s culture, there was much room for improvement.
3. Address the trust gap
“As a leader, I needed to send a message to the org that they could trust me and that, through their honest, anonymous survey responses, I had heard them loud and clear.
“The survey revealed low trust of leadership among our people who told us that, in the past, leaders’ actions seemed unfair and lacked integrity. There had been lots of broken promises.
“I was heartbroken, yet at the same time excited: I couldn’t fix the past, but I had to own the future. If we could really hear our people out and understand the issues, we could own them, together. It wasn’t going to be easy, but we had no option.
“Through group meetings, I met with everyone in the organization. I shared with them the real, brutal facts of our toxic culture. I made a commitment that I would do whatever it took to engage them in the process—but that I couldn’t do it by myself. Turning our culture around would take all of us, working together.”
Our service model is only as effective as the people–the people are only as effective as the culture.”
The Atlanta Mission’s culture makeover has totally transcended the ego-driven posture of me and demonstrated the power of we. People see this, today, through:
- Better, cross-department communication. “A new 15-minute Monday conference call is giving our people the chance to celebrate our stories of what God is doing in the lives of our clients and in our lives. It’s really brought us together and caused us to celebrate much more.
- Greater integrity. “If we don’t represent the truth and honesty of how we treat each other inside our culture with the people we serve, we’re not being truthful. If our people are doing this and are totally engaged, then they’ll deliver better services.”
- Life-changing love. “Through our new ‘Choose Help’ service model and a much healthier culture built around building better relationships, we’re seeing great improvement in the number of men and women coming out of our shelters to choose help. This shows the tremendous steps our clients will take when they know and feel how loved and cared for they are.”
Says Jim, “If we had done nothing to improve our culture, we wouldn’t have been honoring God, our clients, staff, donors, and the greater community. God was giving us an incredible opportunity to be a great light to the world; if we didn’t follow through, I believe we would have compromised the gospel.”
It’s Your Turn!
Jim Reese’s honesty challenges me to look in the mirror and ask myself (and you), “What essentials of my culture are too valuable, too important, for you to ever compromise? What will I do to protect, grow and preserve what God has given me and my leadership to fulfill the distinctive mission of your organization?
“The Challenge of a Senior Pastor’s Succession”
Chris Dolan, Director of Information Services, Redeemer Church, New York City
The Employee Engagement Survey
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