The Flourishing Culture Podcast Series
“Four Keys to Grow Greater Trust, Unity, and Commitment as a Team“
February 1, 2021
Robert Bortins Jr.
Intro: Today our show highlights an organization that has been on the road to flourishing. They have worked for several years now on their workplace culture and have moved to the level that we call flourishing. Yes, listen in as Robert Bortins Jr. gives practical tips on improving healthy communication, sustainable strategy, and lifelong learning, all while building trust, unity, and commitment among his team.
Al Lopus: Welcome to another episode of the Flourishing Culture Podcast, where our goal is to equip and inspire you to build a flourishing workplace. As we all face today’s leadership challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we believe having a healthy culture is more important now than ever before. We are here to help you eliminate toxicity, improve your employees’ engagement, speed up new innovation, and grow your organization’s impact.
And before we meet our guest today, I urge you to subscribe to this podcast. As a result, you’ll receive our action guide. It’s our gift to help you lead your organization’s culture to the next level. To subscribe, simply go to bcwinstitute.org/podcast. Hit the Subscribe button and receive our free action guide.
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And now, let’s meet today’s special guest.
I want to begin our show with a question that you might already be asking: How can our organization help ensure the trust, unity, and effectiveness of our people during these uncertain times? I know that we all have some thoughts about the answer to this question, but today we’re about to hear a powerful story about how one organization offers you a roadmap that turns the toughest challenges into success.
Today our guest—our returning guest—is Robert Bortins Jr., the CEO of Classical Conversations in Southern Pines, North Carolina. Robert, welcome back to the Flourishing Culture Podcast.
Robert Bortins Jr.: Thank you, Al. I know it’s been a challenging year for all of us, and we don’t seem to be out of the woods yet, but I can attest that the Lord is good all the time. And it’s definitely helped me, having a wonderful wife at home, especially during these trying times.
Al: Yep, yep. Having support at home is great.
You know, all of the leaders that we’ve had on this podcast, you’re one of the most popular. And the reason why is because of the things that you’ve done to build your workplace culture. And people have listened to these podcasts and responded, so thanks for that. You’ve developed some very grounded, practical ways to discover, well, what’s important, and then grow your people so that they and the entire organization can flourish.
Robert: Wow, that’s humbling, and that’s a lot of pressure on me now, Al, to perform yet again. But I think the answer is just in applying the Golden Rule, doing unto others. But unfortunately, as humans, that’s really not intuitive as we think it is, and so our actions must be defined for our organization. They must be refined and then reminded often. And so we found some tools that have really helped us do that with consistency, and we’ve been able to implement those this past year.
Al: Well, that’s great. I’m looking forward to hearing about those, but before we start getting into them, tell us a little bit about Classical Conversations, what you’re all about, and who do you serve, and what are the life-changing results that they experience?
Robert: Well, we’re the homeschool program that helps cultivate an inquisitive, intellectual child through an intentional, community-based approach. So learning together, families like yours can be equipped with the tools of learning to support a Christ-centered world view that’s rooted in the classical model. And our graduates report a strong walk with the Lord. They can [unclear] simply, defend their faith, and articulate their point of view. And they’re going to be entrepreneurs, become faith leaders, go to college, and they’re really enjoying life while walking with the Lord.
Al: That’s great.
Well, let’s start off. I want to let the genie out of the bottle, so to say, so that our listeners can see how your culture grew and what it can mean for them. Also, by conducting the Employee Engagement Survey of your employees, did you discover the specific things that were already going well and the things that needed to improve? And also, the second part is you’re also using a management approach called EOS, or the entrepreneurial operating system. And we’re hearing a lot about that these days, particularly amongst Christian-owned businesses. This is a set of tools that helps companies get better results by instilling greater focus, discipline, and accountability in how they run their businesses. And it’s an approach that’s well known by the book Traction, written by Gino Wickman, and it’s really a fascinating book—simple, practical, and sustainable. So give us an example of how EOS has improved communication in your workplace culture, Robert.
Robert: Well, I have become an EOS evangelist this past year, I’ve been a C12 Group evangelist, and I’ve been a recommendation of the BCWI Survey because we take that really seriously in improving our workplace culture. But it really, EOS has given us a standard approach to dealing with issues and opportunities in a timely manner and then really waterfalling those decisions to the team quickly. So it has helped us create clarity around organizational goals, has helped us tie every team members’ scorecard to our main quarterly goals, it’s created a rhythm that we can execute on, and because we all share that same rhythm, we know when questions will be addressed and when we can expect answers. So it really helps us set those priorities. And to me, it is much easier to communicate when we’re all singing from the same sheet of music, and that’s really what EOS has helped us do.
Al: So, I was talking with Giselle Jenkins, and she was saying, during your debrief you actually were using your EOS tools to help identify issues that came out of the Employee Engagement Survey, and it was really a very quick and efficient process to kind of put that into your organization’s operations. Tell me just a little bit about how that worked, if you don’t mind.
Robert: Yeah. So what the EOS process does is we have a weekly meeting, and we have a list of issues, and we rank them, the top three issues that we want to deal with. And once we get through those three, if there’s time left, we rank the next three and go through them. So as soon as we got our BCWI Survey back, we were able to look at those bottom 10 issues and take those and put them in, take some of those feedback statistics that we got in that Survey into those, and really just start discussing them and prioritizing them right away so that we could address them.
Al: Yeah. Just put them right into your operating system right away. That’s really interesting. Thanks for sharing that.
Healthy communication is one of the top eight essential drivers of engagement that build a flourishing culture. That’s not only true for Christian-led companies like yours, but also we find that’s true in parachurch mission organizations and churches, too. How did better workplace communication contribute to better customer outcomes with the families and students that you serve?
Robert: Yeah. In classical education, we call it grammar, but it would be what moderns call a shared pool of meaning, and we need to make sure that we’re all talking about the same thing. So much of unclear communication or conflict is really built around a foundational misunderstanding of what the two individuals are talking about. So when we have a clear understanding of the issue at hand, we ask the five whys to get to the root problem, we can solve our issues, and make for a flourishing work environment. This has led to much higher customer satisfaction, and we’ve seen our NPS score, net promoter scores that a lot of people use, dramatically increase this year due to that improvement in communication.
Al: So, Robert, the five whys. Give us a little more detail on that. I know of the five whys through the lean training that I’ve received in the past. But tell us about how you use the five whys.
Robert: Yeah. The five whys is just exactly like you thought. It’s from lean manufacturing. I’m an industrial engineer from my college education, and it’s just asking why five times, because so many times as managers, we don’t know what the root issue is, and instead of solving the problem, we solve the symptom. And then a new symptom pops up, and then we solve that symptom. And so we’re continually putting out fires because we’ve never stopped the source of where the fire is coming from. And so from the five whys is just asking why, why, why? Typically, five times will get you to the root cause. So if someone says, “Hey, x is broken,” you’re like, “Well, why is x broken?” And they say, “Oh, well, this isn’t working right.” “Well, why is that not working right?” until you get to what you believe is the root cause. And until you get to a root cause, you’ll never be able to solve your problems.
Al: Yeah. The five whys. Absolutely. That’s a good process, and typically, we don’t have the patience to actually ask those five-why questions. And a great tool.
You know, another big way that you grew your culture was through sustainable strategy. And sustainable strategy is the engagement driver that’s all about the plan you and your leadership develop to achieve your organization’s vision and then remedy the need of those that you serve. So give us a story about how you clarified your goals, met your goals, and even then became more effective as an organization.
Robert: So, one of the things that we do is we do quarterly planning meetings, and we’ve been doing them for years, but we changed how we did them this year, where what we call team one, our executive leadership, meets on the first day. And then the second day, after we’ve had these high-level goals for the next 90 days or so, we meet day two with our, call them team two. And so immediately there’s no lag time between setting our company goals and team two getting those goals and being able to see how what they’re doing impacts or telling us, you know, right away, “Hey, this isn’t going to work because we’re doing this over here, and it contradicts what we’re trying to do over here.” And then the day after that, just that morning, we all get together in a room, or, of course, it’s been Zoom mostly this year, and really looked at, “Hey, everyone say what are your goals for your department this quarter, and how are they aligned with the company goals?” So, in two and a half days, we’ve set course for the next 90, and that’s been super powerful.
But what we found that’s even more powerful than that is that first day when we are meeting as team one, we’ve actually created a team-two meeting. So these are really our lieutenants, the people who are in each department from accounting to warehouse to product development, all getting together and looking at one or two big projects or big issues that we have in the organization and discussing them and really coming up with a game plan to make sure that we hit our goals and stay on track, and then they report that back up to us. So that’s really increased our cross-team communication, and it has made life so much easier this year.
Al: Oh, wow. So two and a half days every quarter, team one, team two, then coming together. I love that idea.
I trust you’re enjoying our podcast today. We’ll be right back after an important word for leaders.
Female: As we come through the COVID-19 crisis, leaders everywhere are asking, how do we understand the tensions our employees are experiencing coming back to work? How do we keep our employees engaged, hold on to our best talent, and position ourselves to thrive as an organization going forward? If you’re looking for a way forward, the Best Christian Workplaces Institute can guide you onto the road to a flourishing workplace.
The first step to begin the journey is our well-known Employee Engagement Survey. This proven online tool pinpoints where your organization is already strong and where you can improve your employees’ workplace experience, resulting in more productive people. That’s right. You’ll have more engaged, productive, and fulfilled people. Time-consuming guesswork won’t get you there. Instead, let us help you with a fact-based, hope-inspiring action plan that only our Employee Engagement Survey and skillful coaching can provide. Sign up now to begin the journey to build a flourishing workplace culture and a thriving organization. Find out more at bcwinstitute.org.
Al: And now, back to today’s special guest.
You know, what we found in COVID, Robert, is that organizations have taken all their decision making into their top-leadership team, and because of not being in the same building or same location, they’ve stopped really integrating the ideas from the front line. And what you’re saying is through team one and team two, you’re actually going out and talking with at least your key lieutenants, and I’m sure they’re getting input from their front line, their employees, as to how to better serve in the organization, how to make things work more effectively. So you’re actually going reverse of what is happening in COVID by doing these team-one, team-two meetings and then coming back together and working on the plan for the next 90 days. So congratulations. I can see that’s a huge issue and a great way to improve the overall health of your organization, particularly through a sustainable strategy.
You know, another huge area that boosted the health of your culture is what we call uplifting growth and development. And this is all about improving the performance of individuals, groups, and even the organization overall as you meet the challenges of what’s changing in the world around us. And there’s a lot changing in the world around us, isn’t there? So every leader and organization wants this. You know, how have you done it?
Robert: Well, we’ve had scorecards, and we’ve struggled with how to tie them to the company’s success for a while. But through the EOS process, it really helped us tie them all together and really gave us that missing ingredient that we needed to make those quarterly conversations powerful conversations and uplifting conversations that benefited not only the manager, but also our team members as well. And really, it’s because we’re able to define our roles much more clearer and we’re able to define not just what we wanted to do, but what we wanted them to achieve, and so we’re able to give directives instead of specific direction. And so when we have team members that can now embrace their roles and we can hold them accountable, they are much happier. And if we hold them accountable and they don’t meet their goals or they can’t meet the role, well, it’s much easier for us to help them be successful somewhere else.
Al: Yeah. Exactly. Okay.
So, Robert, to pull this off during a pandemic is admirable. And how do you, as a CEO and as a follower of Christ, replenish your heart and mind and soul on a weekly, maybe even daily, basis as you bring your full self to work?
Robert: Well, we did a lot of prayer, both individual and corporate prayer this year. Luckily for our area, we weren’t hit that hard, and our church really took a few weeks off to help flatten the curve before we started kind of meeting via car in the parking lot and then eventually going inside. So our church has really trusted the parishioners to make healthy, safe decisions for themselves while maintaining intelligent safety precautions. And so I really didn’t have the biblical isolation, the biblical community isolation, that some of my fellow Christian leaders have had.
My C12 Group, which is a CEO roundtable group that I mentioned earlier, we started a Bible study on YouVersion that we’re all able to participate in, and so we do that on a daily basis. We’re able to read the same content and then have a conversation around that from our phones. So that’s been awesome for us. And really, some of those guys had to make different decisions for their family because of where they’ve lived and their situation, and they weren’t able to have that biblical in-person community. So it’s been a great way for us all to connect and keep each other accountable and just keep our love for the Lord, because it’s really easy to be in despair during these times, and you need a group of people to keep you up.
Al: Yeah. Boy, that’s great. Yeah. Good fellowship, and it doesn’t have to be face to face all the time. That’s a great story.
You know, these are really valuable life-giving practices that any individual can do. I don’t know how many hundreds of millions of people have downloaded the Bible app that you’re describing. Using the YouVersion Bible app is something that all of us could do. That’s a great idea.
So, what encouragement, challenge, or invitation would you give leaders to grow and develop greater trust, unity, and commitment as a team, the way you’ve done it?
Robert: Well, we’ve been real intentional to model being a lifelong learner, and if you can give that to your team, you are going to be very successful. So when I first was in leadership, I was reading all these great leadership books that they tell you to read, but it was very difficult to translate it to the team because no one else was reading it. And so, like I talked about earlier, we had different grammar. Now we have nearly one-third of the company reading the same leadership books every quarter. A lot of people don’t know that 80 percent of adults will never read a book again after they finish their formal education. What a blessing it is to be part of changing that, and what a powerful tool to give your team the same insights that you have for yourself. And we always finish these readings with a one-hour roundtable about the book for those who want it, and we encourage leadership to talk about it in their quarterly conversations. Creating a learning culture will put your team above the competition. It’ll also reduce your own personal frustrations. And to me, that is priceless.
Al: Yeah. Well, I love that idea. And how many employees now at Classical Conversations overall? So, you’ve got a third—
Robert: About 150 or so. Not quite a 150.
Al: So you’ve got almost 50 people reading the same book every quarter. That’s fantastic. Yeah, life-long learning. And we can’t be the same as we are today to be effective tomorrow. So that’s the only way is through learning. That’s a great story, Robert.
You know, we’ve touched on some of the most inspirational pieces of your story. And again, what a flourishing workplace you’ve got. I’m wondering if there’s one area in your culture that you’d still say is under construction. What advice would you say for any leader who’s wading through some sticky, maybe unfinished business, where you can see that there’s still a long way to go?
Robert: Well, I think it’s always to be open and honest with yourself and your team. If you’re improving as an athlete, if I’m not getting better, then I’m getting worse, because there’s other people trying to get better. And not only do I have to get better myself, I have to get better at a rate exponentially faster than the competition. And we don’t have all the same advantages or situations. But if we’re willing to go after the root cause and not just some of the symptoms, and do the hard work of asking those five whys and making sure that we are correct, that we can improve wherever we are weak. And I think it helps to stay humble, because life’s going to make you humble if that’s your natural tendency. So ask a lot of questions, and expect IT projects to be 50 percent more expensive and take 50 percent longer than anticipated. So those are some of the areas. And I mean, I think we’ll always—we’ll never be good enough. Perfection, the seed of perfection, was filled 2,000 years ago, and we’re always going to aspire to be that and to always improve. And hopefully, one day I’ll have all the questions above average.
Al: There we go. Okay. There’s a challenge right there. Yep. A man of experience. IT projects that take 50 percent longer and cost 50 percent more, there we go.
Well, Robert, I’ve really enjoyed everything we’ve learned, and it’s been a great story. So let me ask, is there anything that you’d like to add that we haven’t talked about that may be appropriate for our listeners?
Robert: Yeah. I’d just like to encourage everyone. You know, the Bible tells us to do everything for the Lord, and so that includes running your business or your own department and even your own household. So being a Christian, I believe, is about to become a lot harder in our country, but when we live out our biblical principles in the workplace, we can overcome whatever this world throws at us. And also, just again, plug EOS and Traction again and just know that it works, and I suggest you go out and buy it today if you don’t own it already.
Al: There you go. There’s an evangelist for you. So, well, to conclude our interview, Robert, as our listeners are tuned in, I’ll bet you’ve got one final thought or encouragement that you’d like to leave with every one of our listeners today.
Robert: Jesus is king. And I just encourage everyone to think, when you die and you face the Creator of the universe and He asks you what you did with your talents that were given to you, what will you say? Did you return them ten fold, five fold, or did you hide them under a rock? because that’s a question you’ll be asked.
Al: Well, that gives us all something to think about. Thanks.
So, Robert, thank you for being so open and genuine about all these things. I can even sense your integrity, your true commitment, even the way you communicate with your colleagues. So most of all, I appreciate your devotion and service to our loving God. So thanks for taking the time out today and speaking into the lives of so many listeners.
Robert Bortins Jr., CEO of Classical Conversations, I’m so grateful to have you here on the Flourishing Culture Podcast. Thanks.
Robert: Thank you, Al. God bless and have a great day.
Al: Thank you.
Outro: Thank you for joining us on the Flourishing Culture Podcast and for investing this time in your workplace culture. If there’s a specific insight, story, or action step you’ve enjoyed, please share it with others so they can benefit, too. Please share this podcast with friends on social media, and show your support by rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen.
This program is copyrighted by the Best Christian Workplaces Institute. All rights reserved. Our writer is Mark Cutshall. Our social-media and marketing manager is Solape Osoba.
Remember, a healthy workplace culture drives greater impact and growth for your organization. We’ll see you again soon on the Flourishing Culture Podcast.