Discover the three zero-cost keys this President and CEO used to radically improve the organization’s culture, and you’ll wonder, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
After years of steady growth, the Willow Creek Association had survived the Great Recession (2008-12). By 2013, the WCA—known for helping Christians grow their leadership to maximize Kingdom impact through the popular annual Global Leadership Summit—was suffering from a less than desirable workplace culture. The BCWI rating called it toxic.
Uncertainty about the future direction of the ministry, financial challenges and lack of trust were the tip of the chilly iceberg that met the Association’s new President and CEO, Gary Schwammlein.
Two years into the Association’s successful workplace turnaround, Gary asked the 51-member staff what brought about increases in conference attendance and financial growth.
- Articulating a very exciting vision, clear approach, and highly challenging goals
- Making some astute staff changes
- An objective system of measuring success
- Involving people in all decision making
- Increased reliance on prayer
Yet Gary gladly admits the three priceless keys that unlocked a whole new trust, teamwork and productivity didn’t cost a dime:
1. Open your door.
This gregarious leader did a simple, brave thing: He kept his office door open, then invited staff to take him at his word by coming in with a thought, suggestion, question or complaint. Tentative knocks from curious staff gave way to good conversation, a fresh exchange of ideas, and new possibilities. A new atmosphere was born at zero expense.
2. Be on time.
Gary’s German-bred punctuality paid off big time: “I announced the meeting would start at one o’ clock, and it wouldn’t hurt to be a few minutes early, because when one o’ clock came, I locked the door and the meeting started. For the few who were late, that only happened once. By being punctual, people learned to honor each other’s time—and we got more done together.”
3. Set (and reach) mutual goals.
Gary ushered in joint accountability. Each person’s or department’s measurable goals are tied to that of their counterparts, who agree on the common goal to which they’re mutually accountable. “Culture-wise, it was change without a clutch. Through the bumps, a strong spirit of collaboration and achievement emerged.”
Through the bumps of culture change, a strong spirit of collaboration and achievement emerged.
In 2013, the Global Leadership Summit attracted 160,000 participants globally. Today, the GLS is on target to draw 405,000 in 125 countries. At the current annual growth rate of 48,000, the event—streamed live to North American church audiences and rebroadcast via DVD to audiences around the world—will surpass Gary’s initial goal of 500,000 participants by a fair margin.
“When our board heard the words, ‘half-a-million attendees by 2020,’ there was utter disbelief in the room,” says Gary. Not today, as the Willow Creek Association’s now-flourishing culture is working just fine to create greater ministry impact.