What do you do when circumstances beyond your control threaten the immediate work and ultimate future of your company, church or ministry organization?
A few days ago, I posed this question to Brad Eisenmann, president of Aspen Group, an architecture and construction company in the Midwest that specializes in designing and building innovative church spaces to create ministry impact. Brad’s revealing story is a lesson for every leader who thinks he or she can handle just about any adversity—until the day of reckoning hits.
A strategic separation from its parent company in 2005 and the Great Recession of 2008 delivered a surprising one-two punch to Aspen Group:
- First, while it served to provide much needed clarity and enabled stronger mission-focus, venturing out “on their own” greatly increased the need to address key staffing issues and to ramp up efforts related to the launch of two new regional offices. Brad recalls, “Though we worked hard to get the right people in the right seats, it felt like we were still building the plane while trying to keep it in the air.”
- Second, the recession proved nasty. In the space of 10 months, business revenue fell 50%—while the overall industry contracted almost 80% from its high in 2003. The resulting cost-cutting necessitated three rounds of layoffs, exacerbating the challenge to retain talent and keep employees satisfied.
Sobered by these bitter lemons, senior leadership knew they had to learn to make lemonade. Though these circumstances presented difficult — and in the case of the recession, even dire — challenges to the organization, ultimately they helped strengthen Aspen Group. They discovered they already had the key ingredients in their organizational pantry to turn a sour situation into sweet results.
Aspen Group survived and thrived by demonstrating the eight essentials of flourishing workplace culture. Two of these strengths proved vital.
1. Inspirational Leadership
“We’re a mission-driven company that seeks to improve the ministry of the churches we serve, and we do that by relying on five core biblical values,” says Brad.
- Love one another. Treat employees, partners and clients as we like to be treated.
- Find the win-win. Develop shared goals, and tirelessly seek the win for all involved.
- Do what’s right. Honor every commitment; live biblical values.
- Always learn. Seek innovative solutions, learn all we can, and grow from our mistakes.
- Extend grace. Demonstrate a spirit of mercy, grace and generosity in every relationship.
2. Healthy Communication
Brad and his team are creating a culture where staff feel free to voice opinions, leaders truly listen and innovation prospers and, thereby, client satisfaction is high. Among the highlights:
- Two annual all-company meetings strengthen unity and continuity of purpose and plan at all levels.
- Monthly updates by the president keep staff informed on both “the big stuff and the small stuff.”
- Every manager is encouraged to meet with his/her direct report at least every other week.
- Intriguing and worth noting: Aspen Group has replaced performance appraisals with “quarterly development discussions” that optimize each manager’s genuine interest in his/her direct reports to sharpen effectiveness and professional growth.
- A “Studio Design” open-office format fosters collaboration by putting project developers, estimators, designers and project managers within arm’s reach.
By strategically repurposing their own office space, Aspen Group rid themselves of a counter-productive silo mentality. By creating greater employee engagement (that leads to increased effectiveness and productivity), the new Studio Design format allows staff professionals to actually model the company’s brand promise of “Creating Space for Ministry Impact.”
Says Brad, “Our ongoing culture transformation allows us to identify more closely with the ministry needs and Gospel outcomes of our church clients. Their new life-changing ministry spaces are the humbling reminders of working to build a healthy culture that honors God and serves the church.”