I want to give you one of the clearest, proven links between a flourishing culture and an effective, successful organization: developing outstanding talent. It comes your way today, courtesy of one of the most knowledgeable, respected leaders I know in the area of people management and development.
Tara arrived just after Willow Creek completed its first-ever BCWI Employee Engagement Survey, in which the church scored low in trust in leadership, communication and management skills. Tara’s assignment: raise the level of staff talent and create a thriving workplace through talent management systems, training and coaching.
As Tara recalls, “It was 2008. The Great Recession had just hit. The housing market had crashed, and several key leaders at Willow had transitioned. Our staff was in desperate need of some cohesive strategies to bring perspective and clarity to their roles.”
A key first step:
“We created more consistent calendar rhythms, like monthly staff meetings and quarterly manager training and development. This provided some clear expectations to begin achieving some of our goals.”
A fresh reality:
“Through the Survey, we started measuring our environment, and such measurement caused positive movement in looking at employee questions that dealt with management — questions like:
- Do I know what’s expected of me?
- Do I have someone on staff who’s encouraging my progress?
- Am I using my gifts within my job?”
An anchoring truth:
“Even in the midst of a challenging culture, we believed that everything rises and falls with our people. Every organization problem is really a people problem. If we hired fantastic people who were aligned to our goals — and we continued to build into their passion and skills — we knew we could create a flourishing culture.”
To this end, Tara and other leaders seeking God’s best for Willow Creek developed three foundational commitments:
- Hire the right staff.
“You have to hire the right person for the right role. For years, we had interviewed thousands of candidates who were aligned to Willow’s mission, values and Christ-centered attitudes, yet they weren’t actually equipped to do the job, and this caused a lot of frustration. When we mixed character, culture and competency into the interview, we were able to hire the right staff.”
- Focus on executive and management development.
“We learned that if we could focus on developing our executive team and management, the ripple effect was ten-fold. So we invested greatly in our executive and management teams, and they were able to train and deliver a lot of the good information they learned down to their staff.”
- Engage all staff with personalized development.
“Developing quality talent occurs when you have a motivated individual with a need. It’s all about giving every staff member his or her own distinctive development path, then letting each person decide how he or she wants to move forward. By providing these systems and processes for people to develop, they really thrived.”
Today, Willow Creek continues to enjoy a sustainable, flourishing culture. As Tara makes clear, in the process of developing quality talent, Willow Creek has:
- Created a valuable new language around competency. “By learning to use words about strategy, communication and effectiveness, we have diffused a lot of needless interpersonal tension. We intentionally avoid talking about a person’s character or the quality of their idea by instead talking about the outcome.”
- Improved the skills of managers to clearly communicate and evaluate job expectations and the use of one’s gifts. “Our people know their manager cares about them, and in my book, this is a huge win.”
- Motivated and equipped managers to keep giving back to their teams and volunteers. “Two years ago, managers bemoaned that I asked them to come to two-hour development training once a quarter. Now they ask, ‘Can I bring an emerging leader on staff with me?’ They want to know how to keep using the information they learn for the rest of their lives.”
Says Tara, “Developing quality talent—along with the required communication and trust—takes time. Changing your culture through training and development is like turning a cargo ship. It takes effort, perseverance and patience. But the results for Christ and His people are definitely worth it.
Changing your culture is like turning a cargo ship. It takes perseverance, but the results are worth it.
“Discover the true measurable health of your culture. With facts as your friends, perseverance, patience, and a commitment to developing outstanding talent, you’ll be on the path to a flourishing culture in which your organization will thrive.”