The Flourishing Culture Podcast Series
“Five Culture Strategies for Building a Flourishing Workplace “
March 29, 2021
Intro: Are you ready to lead your team into the exciting times just ahead? Well, today’s show highlights a conversation with a leader that has had his ministry crushed by COVID. All of our ministries in Christian camping have faced the most-significant disruptions this past year. Yet, listen to the excitement in our guest’s voice today about this summer’s ministry. He highlights five culture strategies he and his leadership team have implemented to ensure the engagement and well-being of their staff, a staff that will serve 12,000 campers this summer, all of which we hope will make personal decisions for Christ.
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.
If you can share this podcast with others, and rate it, it would mean a lot to me. Thank you.
And now, let’s meet today’s special guest.
I’m pleased to have as my guest Mark Heffentrager, the director of Eagle Lake Camps, a ministry of the Navigators, and he works in, perhaps, one of the most beautiful places in the United States. Mark, welcome to the Flourishing Culture Podcast.
Mark Heffentrager: Well, thanks, Al. It’s great to be here.
Al: And tell me, why is it one of the most beautiful places in the United States?
Mark: Oh, my goodness. My friend, it is Colorado—
Mark: —and that’s God’s country, as we call it. Beautiful mountains, amazing seasons, and just a huge blessing to be able to do what we do here in Colorado.
Al: Yeah. Great.
And Mark, I know that you have a habit of being open and honest. And how do I know? Well, it’s because I’ve read your Employee Engagement Surveys, and your employees are telling me, “Yes. Around here, we’re open and honest.” So we’re going to be transparent today, and I know that’s okay with you.
Al: So here we are, coming through the worst pandemic in over a century. And it’s time for hundreds of young people to be swimming, biking, hiking, ziplining, all of those things through Eagle Lake Camp, and experiencing, most importantly, the life-saving message of Jesus Christ.
Mark: Well, Al, it’s definitely time for that. And we’ve just seen it in the school systems, as we engage with our parents, kids need summer camp this summer more than ever. And we’re so excited to have the opportunity again to open our doors. Last summer was challenging for us, but we’ve already seen not just an expectation of a big turnout, but camps that are already sold out. And we’re going to be across the country just trying to do all those things you talked about, just really trying to get kids out, and especially for them to hear the message of Jesus Christ.
Al: Camps have been in my prayers this last year. I mean, of any organization that’s been hurt by COVID in Christian ministry, it’s been camps—not having kids being able to be outdoors, be with others, and then to see the need for camps to really cut back on their staff and people. And it’s just been a tough year. So congratulations. I know God has sustained you. That’s the only way you can describe it, right?
Mark: Absolutely, absolutely, 100 percent.
Al: So, I love the great opening video on your website, eaglelakecamps.com—that’s eaglelakecamps.com if you want to check it—and I love the big headline in your home page, just three words: Adventure Awaits You. Now, who wouldn’t want to go to a place with a headline like that? So, what is it about these three words that gets you up in the morning?
Mark: Well, as we said, Al, we’re going to be transparent. And it’s really funny because myself, personally, I’m not that big of a camper. I’m a camp director who really doesn’t even like camping. But when we say Adventure Awaits, I think it’s that uniqueness, is that there are people, there are kids that just need to get up in the mountains, and they need to just have that experience. And then there’s also kids in some of the towns as we partner with churches in what we do, that just need that experience as well. And I think that’s what makes Eagle Lake so unique is the variety of different programing. And as you were talking about, that’s what makes Christian camping so unique, is that you have day camps; you have overnight camps; you have excursion camps, which are the kind of go out and do the backpacking, stuff like that.
But, you know, really a huge part of that Adventure Awaits You is that that adventure would be meeting kids right where they’re at. That’s what gets me up in the morning, is that we take so much time to train our staff that every kid is unique. It’s not a cookie cutter, one shoe fits all. It’s really meeting each of those kids and really showing them the love of Jesus the way that they need to see it. Some kids come from incredibly strong Christian backgrounds, some kids come from really poor backgrounds, and we want them to really feel the love of Jesus while they’re accomplishing new challenges. So maybe it’s just jumping off of the tower onto the blob, or it might just be getting up at 6:00 a.m. We’ve got some kids who struggle with that at times. But we really wanted to have a lot of different adventures so that they can really be successful.
You know, our goal at Eagle Lake Camp is to inspire Christ-centered love and commitment through counselor relationships in the midst of exciting outdoor experiences. As we say, sometimes those experiences are in a parking lot of a church, and sometimes they’re in the remotest part of Pike National Forest, which is in our beautiful state of Colorado.
Al: Wow. Well, I’m guessing the words Adventure Awaits You speaks to another kind of adventure that you and your leadership and staff have taken at Eagle Lake Camps. And I’m talking about the courageous adventure to value and respect your employees by asking them to give you their honest feedback about the workplace, even your leadership. And that’s exactly what you did, you know—you’ve actually been doing this now for probably close to ten years, and I remember those first early years where we were working together on it. So tell us a little bit about what was going on in your culture. We mentioned here, kind of middle of your journey, 2016 or so, but tell us a little bit about the background and maybe even your experience in those earlier years.
Mark: Yeah. You know, Al, as you and I have talked offline, we were really resistant at first to the idea of Best Christian Workplaces and doing some of what you’re talking about. And it did take us a real courageous step to want to hear, as we say, when you ask for opinions, people are going to give them. And I can remember in those first years, it was almost a shock. It’s like, wow, can people really feel this way? There was both a positive shock, realizing, wow, we’re doing some things a lot better than we thought we were doing them. But there was also some negative shock of, wow, we really thought we were doing much better in that than we were. But that’s helped to shape our culture.
And it was around about that same mid-time, as you were talking about, in 2016, and we really nailed down our core values. And that was really important. We actually—it was some of the feedback that we got from our staff, due to the surveying that we were doing, that we understood that we didn’t have a clear understanding of helping our staff understand the direction we were going.
And so we got these core values together. We worked with some professionals to really help people to understand, What do we want our culture to look like and feel like and be like? And defining that simplicity, Al, was one of the most important things for us, because now we could show our staff, this is what you can expect when you’re with Eagle Lake. And it really came from asking those questions very early on and finding out that some of our people just didn’t really understand what—yeah, sure it’s about kids and camp and stuff, but what about me, and where’s my place in this? Where’s my contribution? And so that’s been really, really important.
One of those core values is our favorite. We usually scream it. I’m not going to scream it on your podcast. But we say, “Enthusiasm is…” and then everybody screams, “Contagious.” And that’s what we found. We’re committed to being passionate, keeping our environment fun despite the hard work, especially this last year, it takes to put on camp for over 12,000 campers. And again, as I said, that came from our staff. They valued having that fun. They valued being passionate about what they were doing. Al, we found out sometimes that was even more important than money to them, which is just a huge thing as we all ask those questions. They cared more about, I want a place so when I get up in the morning, I’m pumped to go to work. And that’s what this helped us create.
Al: Yeah. That’s life-giving work. That’s work that we do and that people just want to come to work because of the impact that they’re having on kids’ lives. And 12,000 campers in a year, that’s phenomenal impact.
Well, you’re really putting your finger on the importance of checking in and surveying your employees, receiving that anonymous, confidential feedback. So what would you say was your biggest risk and maybe even your best opportunity for choosing to listen to your staff through an Engagement Survey?
Mark: Well, Al, I got to be honest. Nobody likes to hear that their employees don’t like their job. And that’s always the risk. There’s going to be parts of their job, no matter how great your community or your environment is, when you open this up, especially as you said, anonymously, it really allowed some staff—I mean, over the seasons, there have been some pretty difficult things to take as a leader. But it was a risk that was willing to take for us, because to hear that and to have that, we were able to address maybe some missed expectations, maybe to help them understand that this isn’t the direction. The direction that they keep thinking we’re going to go is not that direction, but really to align them with the way Eagle Lake was going to go. And we are about fun, growth, and safety at Eagle Lake, and we want to continue to bring our employees along in that.
But the thing that we discovered, Al, that was pretty amazing in this is when we ask, sometimes they had better ideas on how to do stuff. Sometimes they had—it was amazing how it just opened up a whole other part of our business, where it wasn’t solely the responsibility of the executive leaders to make all the changes. And I don’t know that we would have gotten to that place had we not taken the risk on surveying and really asking for their opinions.
So we’ve been able to really address certain issues, and we’ve been able to build what we believe is a really healthy workplace. And we’ve seen that as our scores continue to go up year after year. We continue to take seriously the low scores, and we continue to really understand the high scores of things we don’t want to get rid of in our culture.
Al: Yeah. To keep them, yeah.
Well, over the last 10 years, you’ve gone from kind of what we call a critical moment, just a little less than healthy, to now flourishing. So, yes, your culture has definitely improved. And congratulations. You’re probably in the top quartile of all Christian workplaces. In fact, by 2030, we want 1,000 just like you. So, listeners, let’s join the momentum to get 1,000 flourishing workplaces.
So, getting back to the Survey results that show that your culture has improved over time. And as I mentioned, it was 2010 or so. You were just on the edge of healthy. Certainly had room to improve, and you’ve improved dramatically. So over the last three years or so, what are some of the things that you’ve done, some of the best strategies you’ve implemented? Maybe a favorite story. Take us a little bit behind the curtain as you’ve worked to improve the culture.
Mark: When you start to ask, you will get a lot of those opinions, and then you can begin to work with your lead teams and even your employees to understand what are the most-important things. We found one big, big thing, Al, was having the right people in the right positions. So those Jim Collins fans out there know the right seat on the bus, whatever that is. And so many times, that’s a discovery, especially when you’re dealing with young 20-somethings, which we’re dealing with the average age of our staff is about 25, 26, so all those people out there that are working with new college graduates. Oftentimes they think they’re good at something, but they come to discover they may be good at something different. And so having the flexibility to get people into the right positions so that they’re fully—all their giftings were being used was one of our biggest strategies in this, to find out that people will be honest with you. I’m frustrated about this. I’m frustrated. We would have admin people who hated talking to people on the phone. So we’re like, well, we’ve got to fix that because that’s important. We want—. And so to be able to shift. And we found that they were, why they liked admin is they liked a lot of the behind the scenes, but they didn’t necessarily want to be that upfront person who was talking to our customer. And so figuring out those things was a big thing.
Obviously, incorporating, as we talked about, those core values, that just brought clarity to our workplace. We say core values are internal facing. They’re a culture that we create. They were so important to us. And so we now keep pointing back to them. It’s how we hire. It’s how we fire. All of those things are based through, we look through that lens of our core values. And that really gives a lot of stability to our staff is these are things I can count on. This is what Eagle Lake’s going to be about.
Our last core value is leaders everywhere, and it’s our desire that our staff would take initiative to make themselves better and our business better. And so that’s just, that’s our culture. So when people are bringing new ideas, they’re not dismissed very quickly or anything like that. We consider those ideas, and they’re very important to us because that’s part of the culture that we’ve built.
The last one, as you talked about, a story. And this was really—I got to be honest. I grew up in business. I’ve been at Eagle Lake almost 25 years now. And any camping is fun on its own. But we found that for our younger generation, allowing fun breaks and even encouraging the fun.
So one of the things we did was redesign an area of our office space. We put in a ping pong table. We put in some better coffee places and some places that they could sit around and engage with one another because community is so huge. And that’s really huge to anybody in a workplace, when you can build that kind of community. But we’ve also chosen to do some fun things off site. This last year, we did a food tour together as a team. And those kind of engagements, even outside of the work environment, have just brought more health into the work environment, which has just been really, really a huge blessing overall. Sometimes, you know, you need a ping pong brake, man. It’s tough. The work is long.
Al: You’re not the only ones that have that.
And I would imagine, Mark, and we’ll get back to these other things, but I would imagine as we move into a hybrid situation, some people will be working from home, at least in your case, part of the time. But having those community opportunities to get together, I think, are going to be core just to reinforce the culture, don’t you?
Mark: You know, Al, you bring up an interesting point. And I think as businesses now we have a decision. Are we going to go back to the old way? Are we going to learn? And I think at Eagle Lake we’ve always said, hey, the old way is not perfect, and the new ways usually aren’t perfect. So it’s a mesh of taking the good from both.
And you just hit on something. I think a lot of people found that they liked the remote-work environment. So what we’ve done is we realized that a complete remote-work environment was not going to work for us, because it didn’t build that culture that was really important to us. But understanding what are the rules in this? And again, it’s back to that communication. Hey, what days, what times can I, in an afternoon, can I bug out? And when they open coffee shops back up, can I sit in the coffee shop? And giving some of those freedoms, but then also clearly helping your team understand why some of the old ways also work as well has been incredibly valuable. And our folks have really come along and really agreed with those things. “Wow. I do really miss a lot of stuff when I’m not in the office. But I also like the freedoms of being able to have a remote workspace.” So it’s really balancing those two things. And I think that that’s what we’ve learned.
We looked back at 2001. Many of your listeners will remember 9/11 and how that changed, I mean, it changed our world, but it also changed the work environment as different things happened. And so as we’ve had some of these things come, the economic crash, all sorts of stuff, we just want to learn from it. And that’s been a hallmark of Eagle Lake is learning from each of these seasons and trying to make us better for the long term.
And then the final thing I would say on that is that generationally we desire different things. I’m a guy in my late 40s. What I desire and what’s important to me, I’m learning, is not always the same as my young 20-somethings. And so I want to listen to them and want to help them understand things that are important to me. But I also want to value some of the things that are important to them so they really feel like this is their workplace and not this is Mark’s workplace that I just work in. So really creating that community workplace is important.
Al: Let me ask you then, Mark, so working with younger generations, what have you found that’s important to them that might not be as important to you or to me?
Mark: The first thing I would say, Al, and I say this tongue in cheek, but they’re not going to ruin our world. I think that they’ve gotten a bad rap. I love our young leaders. They’re full of zeal. They ask hard questions. Don’t be afraid to engage with them.
One of the biggest misconceptions that I think we’ve learned is they’re so used to their opinions being heard and so people feel like, “Oh, well, if I have my young millennials or have my 20-somethings here and I don’t do everything they say, they’re not going to like their work environment.” That is one of the biggest falsehoods we found in our business. They just want to be heard. What you do need to do is you’ve got to help them understand why you’ve made a decision or why you haven’t made a decision. But I’ve just found that I just love working with them. They keep the energy high. They’re go-getters. They’re fiery. And especially, I mean, we’re in the camping industry, so that’s super important to us to stay relevant with a younger generation that really kind of has their finger right on the pulse of what’s going on in culture.
Al: Yeah. Right, right.
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, you’re talking a lot about doing the very wise, intentional work that comes with listening, carefully listening, collaborating, following through on what people are saying to you. So give us a key or maybe even a memorable tipping point that began to turn the tide to help make your workplace culture healthier and make your leaders and their teams even more effective than they were.
Mark: I’ve got one word for you, Al: communication.
Mark: And that seems very easy, and everybody thinks that they understand, but it’s also, again, to the Survey, it’s the number one thing that gets complained about every year. And so one of the big things we did, back when we were working on our core values, we had enlisted professional business coach to help us. And this is my small plug of, don’t feel like—even the smallest businesses—don’t feel like you have to be all things to all people. There are people out there that can help you to create some rhythms.
So we got our core values together, and that was big, but one of the big thing was daily, weekly, and monthly rhythms of meetings. So every morning at Eagle Lake Camp, every employee is in one to two, what we call, daily huddles. That just helps that communication. It gets everybody aligned on the same thing. It’s able to cut through some of the confusion and make sure that people have all the things that they need to move forward. We got weekly meetings. Usually, those are departmental. And so then they’ve got a chance to dive into some issues deeper. And then monthly is usually our entire team. And that gives that chance for community, for professional development, and growth.
Again, you have to be willing to invest in your employees. If you’re just going to take, take, take, they will go somewhere else and find a place where their contribution is valid, but they’re also poured into. And that’s so important. That was one of the other things we learned from our surveying is that our folks wanted to learn. They wanted to get better. And you know what? Stop trying to hold on to all your employees. Some of your employees are going to get good, and they’re going to go on to bigger and better things. And that’s great. Create a system that’s going to allow you to pull the next man up, next woman up, and really be ready for that. I think companies that just hope they’re never going to lose anybody, that’s not this generation. This generation likes to move around. They like to move and shake. They’re not exactly sure even if the state or the city is where they want to live. So I’ve lost employees that love their job. They just simply wanted to go to a different place. And so just creating those things. But that communication, 100 percent, the most important thing to us.
Al: That’s great advice, Mark. It seems like a leader’s work is never done at the end of the day, right?
Al: You’ve got to be the first one there, the last one home. But every tomorrow also brings its own challenges. It’s never going to be the same. You’ve mentioned already working through 9/11, working through the financial crisis. You worked through a fire. I mean, you had a fire. What—how many years ago was that? Three or four years ago?
Mark: That was 2012. Yeah. We almost lost…
Al: Yeah. So, you’ve been through a fire, now COVID. Gosh.
So, what’s one big culture challenge that you’d like to see resolved or at least improved on even this year?
Mark: It’s interesting that you ask that, Al, because this has been a new discovery for us. Again, through our surveying process, we have to be committed to helping our staff find better balance in their work and personal lives. And maybe you’d say, managers out there, “Wait, wait, wait. Their personal lives are not my business.” That’s not how this younger generation looks at it. And what is happening is it’s pouring over into the older generation as well. I’ve got three kids, the whole workaholic, keep your head down, move into the corner office, that’s not the way of the world right now. Not at all. And so there’s got to be better balance. Better balance makes happier employees. Where my generation, we bragged about how much vacation we didn’t take in a year; this generation, you can’t give them enough. They will use every moment. And really you want that. You want them to be balanced. You want them to enjoy those moments away from your work so that when they’re at their desk, when they’re in your environment, they’re ready to give their all. So they’ve got that really good balance going back and forth. And that’s something we’re still trying to work on. We’re not pros at it, but really just kicking people out of the office sometimes in a really positive and fun way. And like we said earlier, creating some fun things to do.
Then, also, caring about them. Hey, how’s your kids? How’s your wife? How’s your girlfriend? How’s your boyfriend? Just showing that care and being willing to say, ask permission. When we talk about personal things, we always want to be leaders who ask permission. Can we speak into something? But not being afraid to do that and say, man, you know, I may not be, but here’s some resources our business has, or here’s some things. Did you realize that? Helping them understand all of the things that are available to them. It’s just not what I started with, but I’m sure glad we’re doing a better job of it now.
Al: Yeah. And people are looking forward to a—and this is, you know, we’ve talked a lot about employee engagement being key to culture, that culture drives engagement, but well-being, moving to the thought that we need to provide an environment where our employees can experience well-being is more of the future. There’s no question, especially with the younger generation coming on, and there’s a lot of people writing about that. So you’re right on.
You know, Mark, I love this sentence: the goal of Eagle Lake Camps is to inspire Christ-centered love and commitment through counselor relationships and in the midst of exciting outdoor experiences. So tell us a favorite story about a Christ-centered love and commitment that’s been infectious in your workplace.
Mark: That’s been our goal for years. But as you know, Al, sometimes just saying things is a lot harder to live it out. And just recently, this has been one of the most difficult for so many of us. This has been the most difficult year that we’ve ever had in our business career. Many businesses haven’t made it. Everybody suffered across the board. I don’t care if you were super successful, it still was just a strain as we walked through this.
So one of the things that happened just recently is we were talking again to our staff and really listening to the feedback of our folks is one of our staff said, “Look, I don’t feel like I’m prepared for this upcoming summer.” We always say that you can’t pour out of an empty cup. They said, “After this year, I’m feeling very discouraged and just zapped of any energy.” Every quarter we create our quarterly priorities, and we get them ready. And so we said, “Okay. You know what? With that in mind and knowing that this is our goal statement that we need to inspire Christ centeredness, one of our company priorities is that our full-time staff would be spiritually charged and resilient, going into the 2021 summer.” Well, that was going to take some work on our part. So how are we going to do that?
So we just found some fun ways to encourage one another. We’re challenging our staff to memorize 12 verses, that was one verse per week, and spend at least 15 minutes alone with the Lord every day, and pray for our incoming staff and our campers. And those three disciplines were the very first thing we said is, “Hey, we’re not going to hold this over your heads. This is for your benefit. But we’re going to encourage you along in this. And if you miss a day, you miss a day. Get up the next day and get back in there.” And taking those practical steps and people can say, “Oh, my gosh. They’re adults, Mark. They should be handling their own spiritual lives,” well, we all need encouragement in that.
And as leaders if we want to see those things that we are promising our customer and we’re promising our employees, then those need to be the things that we show that are important enough to put on our dashboard, put on our scoreboard. And so it’s just been fun. We kind of have some fun things that we’re doing with the verses. We actually invested money to give them an opportunity to get some—they could get an app. They could get some TMS cards. They could get all sorts of really cool things just to show we were committed to this.
And then just to encourage each other, hey, what are you learning? Did you spend some time with the Lord? What’d you learn? And just to encourage that so that we created this environment that will be ready when our staff get here that we can pour over and we can inspire that Christ-centered love and commitment.
Al: Mark, this is really interesting to me because in our conversations with leaders in Christian organizations, the spiritual leadership is something that I don’t hear a lot about. And so, you know, first of all, thanks for sharing that, and I encourage you to continue to do that. I love your three steps. And, of course, scripture memorization, that would be a Navigator thing, wouldn’t it.
Mark: Work for Navigators, we got to be in the Word. We got to memorize scripture. But that’s valuable for everybody. And I think in these times, to have those verses in the back of our minds when we’re going through the rough, that’s so important to us in this season.
Al: So, memorize scripture; have a daily quiet time; to pray for new staff, people who are coming in. Those three things, you’re encouraging them to do that. And I’d encourage our listeners. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the activities or the business of the ministry that we’re not encouraging our staff to be really at the top of the game, to be prayed up, to be spiritually vibrant and alive. So that’s fantastic.
Hey, how about, Mark, if you had to put your finger on one vitally important lesson from the pandemic that you can carry forward in your leadership, what would that lesson be?
Mark: You know, we’ve talked about communication. I think that was even more important during the pandemic. But the big thing that we learned was a phrase we now call closing the loop. And this is really important to people. When you’re dealing with—all of us remember how quickly things were changing in the midst of the pandemic, and so we would get new information every single day. And so it wasn’t just about communicating, but it was about closing loops on stuff and making sure that people understood, what do we do with your feedback, or what do we do? Did you get that information? Or when you gave that idea to us. So as leaders, we talked about closing the loop, and it’s simply just to say to our staff, “Hey, you’re valuable. Your contribution is valuable. We want you to be informed because you’re a valuable member of our team.” And so that was a really important thing that I think really became just monumental to us in this season of just constant information change and new ideas.
And so it’s something, as we’ve talked about, one of the things we say at Eagle Lake is let’s not make short-term fixes; let’s make long-term solutions. We want the things that we can carry on long after the pandemic is a distant memory. And so this was one of those things that we said, “No, this is a change for us. We want to be people who really go back.” So sometimes it’s as simple as just, “Hey, you remember that idea you gave me yesterday? Well, you know, it was great. And here’s what we did to change it,” or “Hey, we didn’t use it. But here’s why,” and simply that, it just encouraged our staff to realize that their voices were heard and that we were all going to get through this together because we were all bringing our unique contributions. It wasn’t just all of them looking to leadership, saying, “Tell us what to do.” And if that’s what your environment is, then you’re not getting the full extent of the value of your workplace.
And that’s the whole idea of Best Christian Workplaces, is you’re asking for that. So we wanted to continue to step in that even farther and show the value to our younger team members. Oftentimes, it is your younger team members who feel a little bit apprehensive to share their opinions.
Al: Yeah. That’s fantastic.
So, Mark, let me ask this question. Last fall, probably October, your staff engaged again. You surveyed the staff with the Engagement Survey in the middle of COVID. Was that helpful?
Mark: It was. And here’s why, Al. There are always going to be things that come.
Mark: We now laugh because when we say get back to “normal,” I look back at my 25 years and I go, when was it normal? I mean, we just talked about it. It’s always up and down. There’s always something new that’s going to come down. There’s going to be situations like pandemics and attacks, whatever those things are. But there’s also simple things in your own communities, how minimum wage affects each of us and how legislation affects each of us. There’s always going to be something new.
So it was incredibly valuable. And I think it’s been great to show our staff it’s incredibly valuable to always do this consistently around the same time of year. It’s never the same, but it’s the same time of year. So your staff are feeling the same way. For us in the camping industry, it’s our downtime. It’s more planning. They can take a deep breath. But you’re also dealing with the fact that they’re highly exhausted in October. And so you run the risk. And that’s why we stay consistent, because then that gives us that line year over year, gives us something consistently that we can go back to. And then if we see a big tick in that line, we go, ooh, now that’s a problem. Why would that be? because this was the same circumstance. And it enables us to really address true problems instead of just created problems.
Al: That’s been a conversation piece around here. And we found that leaders have been less interested in getting feedback during COVID. And we’ve actually found that it’s very helpful, and as you said, to be consistent, but also, again, to get the feedback.
I was just talking with Doug Mazza, who surveyed with us for 16 years in a row as the president of Joni and Friends. And he said, gosh, I’d even want to know even more now because of COVID and because of people being more remote and so on, that that would give us good feedback. Thanks for that insight.
You know, Mark, I’ve really enjoyed all we’ve learned in our conversation. My gosh, you know, I look back and you start off with when you started to get your Survey results, you really began to focus on nailing down your core values, and that you were able to learn and understand what the expectations were of your team, and some of them, you learn new things about. And then the idea of having the right people in the right positions. Again, your core values helped create the culture that you want to have. And I love a couple of the core values that you mentioned about fun. And, you know, everybody’s a leader or leaders everywhere, and having fun breaks and how fun breaks really help to build community. And that’s something as we kind of come back out of COVID that all of us need to remember, that we want to be building community. We want to have a community that attracts others to us because then we’re attracting others to Christ.
And then also, as you pointed out, this new generation is just, they’re great young leaders, love to be around them. They’ve got a lot of energy. They want to be heard. I think that’s a particularly good insight. And communication, communication, communication. We’ve been learning a lot about structures. You mentioned a daily, weekly, monthly, probably there’s a quarterly in their structure. Patrick Lencioni talks a lot about that kind of rhythm. We’re seeing organizations, even Christian ministries, look at the book Traction. There’s an entrepreneurial operating system. So, yeah, having that rhythm and having really good communication. So that’s really been a great discussion.
The spiritual leadership. I can’t leave that out, because if we’re going to be Christian workplaces, people have to be vibrant in their Christian faith. And this is not a pray on your own time kind of a situation, to encourage people to memorize a scripture verse, to have quiet times, to pray for new staff, as you’ve done. And then close the loop. Yeah, let’s not leave loose ends out there. Let’s close the loop on things.
Well, this has really been a great conversation. You might have something to add that we haven’t talked about.
Mark: You know, the last thing, you just hit on it, Al. We’re Christian leaders, and that puts us in a different category with a different expectation. And we have found in our environment the value of humble leadership is second to none. Our staff need to see our leaders as approachable and willing to admit when they mess up. That creates an environment where your folks are willing to take chances. Obviously, as a leader, you want to make sure that you’re caring for the chances that they’re able to take. But this is a generation that cares a great deal about being competent and to show them that it’s okay to risk and to try and to come up short. Well, that takes a humble leader that can walk alongside and isn’t going to pull the stick out and whack them over the head because they—that’s something that we’ve really tried to do. And I hope that that’s reflected. I believe it’s reflected in our Survey results, that our leadership is approachable. And it’s always a challenge. We’re as human as anybody. But I think it’s that modeling that creates a safe and successful environment. And as you said, as Christian leaders, this is just following the leadership model that that our Savior gave us. And so we want to be those. And these guys are quick to see phonies, and that’s something that’s really important. When we’re not that and we try to fake the humble leadership, they see right through it. And so it really has to be something that you’re committed to, that you want their feedback. But it makes it makes a huge difference to our teams.
Al: And I do notice on your Survey results, you’re 38 points above the average on humble leadership. So, you know, you walk the talk.
How about one final thought, Mark. Is there one final thought or encouragement you’d like to leave with our listeners?
Mark: Well, you said it. It all comes back to communication. Work on that. As you said, there’s so many great resources out there. Ask for help if you feel like you’re failing. And be a constant learner because communication constantly is changing, even the way we think about just technology. Back when I started, I didn’t have a cell phone. Nobody did. For those of you that are old like me, you remember the pagers. I mean, we just—so technology has changed. So what’s appropriate?
One of the things that I’ve found is some of the most appropriate communication tools for my donors, which is really interesting, is text message now. They get back to me so much easier. And then internally, we’ve got, like, chat boards and things like that, and those are very effective. And so if you’re going to win with communication, you got to be willing to make the adjustments. And then, as you said, Al, close the loop on those communication conversations.
Al: Yeah. Right.
Mark Heffentrager, the director of Eagle Lake Camps, a ministry of the Navigators, thanks so much for being so open, honest, transparent in all the things that we’ve talked about. I respect your integrity as your staff does, and the true commitment to all of your people to fulfill the mission of Eagle Lake Camps. And most of all, I appreciate your devotion, your service, your leadership, and your love for our God. So thanks for taking time out of your day and speaking into the lives of so many listeners.
Mark: Thank you, Al, for having me.
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.