The Flourishing Culture Podcast Series
“How to Attract Top Talent in a Tight Labor Market“
March 16, 2020
Stan Endicott and Monty Kelso
Intro: Will a key new hire catapult your organization forward like a slingshot? Have you wondered how to stop the carousel of continued employee turnover? Well, two top-notch experts give you their answers to these and other questions that you may be asking. It’s all coming up next.
Female: This is the Flourishing Culture Podcast. Here’s your host, president of the Best Christian Workplaces Institute, Al Lopus.
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. We are here to help you eliminate workplace distrust, improve your employees’ experience, and grow your organization’s impact. And before we meet our special 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.
Also, if you could share this podcast with others, and rate it, it would really mean a lot to me. Thank you.
And now, let’s meet today’s special guest.
My guests today are Stan Endicott, the chief culture officer and co-founder of the Slingshot Group, and Monty Kelso, the president and CEO of Slingshot Group. Stan, Monty, welcome to Flourishing Culture Podcast.
Stan Endicott: Thanks, Al, for inviting us.
Monty Kelso: Thank you. Yeah, we’re happy to do this. Thank you.
Al: Yeah. Well, great, guys.
For our listeners, many are already familiar with the Slingshot Group. And if you are, you’re primed for what’s coming up. And if the Slingshot Group is new to your vocabulary, then I’ve got the experts right here in front of me, who can speak to what your workplace is already facing. So Stan is the co-founder. And I’d love for you to kind of tell us a little bit about Slingshot Group’s founding story.
Stan: Well, I think if you do ministry or good work for a long time, you get a good network and people that are your friends and people that you have many conversations with through the years. And Slingshot came as a result of a friend of mine, who was at the time president of the Promise Keepers movement, named Randy Phillips. And Randy called me and said, “Will you help us find a worship pastor?” And that was my background at the time. And I said, “Well, I might be able to do that.” So I found them a worship pastor. And that’s exactly how Slingshot started. And so it came out of a very organic, relational kind of thing, and that search turned into another and into another. And my background was, many years ago, with Maranatha! Music at Promise Keepers. And that’s where the whole thing kind of began to take shape. And then my good buddy Monty Kelso called me, and I’ll let him talk about how it went from there.
Monty: Yeah. Stan, can you believe it’s been 13 years? Crazy. And we really did take a big risk, and when Stan shared with me what he was dreaming up and it just resonated with me, I realized that, oh, my gosh, this is the convergence of everything I’ve done in my life and every gift that I have, just how to flex that and leverage it towards something that I had a hunch just might be successful. And by God’s grace, 13 years later, we’ve served nearly 2,000 churches and staffed a lot of people, coached a lot of people, and I’d like to think we moved the needle in the right direction for the church and nonprofits because of Slingshot.
It’s amazing what can happen when people with similar vision are willing to take a risk. And we kind of went with a hunch. And like Stan said, we had pretty vast network, and we combined our networks and sent out an e-blast, and people responded. It makes it sound so easy. A lot of heavy lifting, no doubt.
Al: Yeah. Years of work, right?
Monty: It was the right time. Yeah. It was the right time.
Al: Yeah. That’s a great story.
And Stan, I know you’ve been very involved in Christian music for a long time, haven’t you.
Stan: I have been, yes. And that’s where I learned what I know how to do and how I got a good network. So, yeah, I’m grateful for those years.
Al: Yeah. Well, everybody wants to know, what’s behind the name Slingshot? How did Slingshot actually come about?
Stan: Well, surprisingly, it’s not the story of David and Goliath. I grew up in a little village, little town of 300 people in southern Illinois, and there was a railroad track right through the center of town. And me and my mischievous little buddies, when we were 10, 11, 12 years old, we used to make slingshots. And we would lay in the ditch, and when the trains would go by, we’d try to shoot out the windows of new cars. And we shot everything from squirrels and birds and rabbits and streetlights and everything. And we did get in a certain amount of trouble, which was worth it, I think. But the name came as slingshot was an iconic toy for me as a little boy, and I always loved the thought of it, and it seemed to stick. And Monty and I thought, well, that name should be a good thing for us to hold onto in the future. And it sure has proven to be the case. And we’ve really not ever looked all the possibilities of talking more and more about how it relates to David and Goliath. But catapulting things forward and slaying giants seems to be a good part of what that story could be about as well. But it was just a fun toy as a kid. That’s where the name came from.
Al: Monty, how about you? What comes to mind? Anything else on the name?
Monty: I just think metaphors are great. We’re big champions of metaphors. And we’ve yet, like Stan said, to really maximize the possibility with that from a teaching standpoint, but also from a marketing standpoint. But the way I like to describe it, when people ask, I don’t tell Stan’s story as much as I do, try to capitalize on the metaphor. And the whole idea when you’re working with people, there is this thing that happens. When you’re really good at a slingshot, you understand that the more tension when you’re pulling back, the more tension there is, the greater the momentum when you release it and the farther something is slung. I think the same thing’s true when we’re in the staffing side of what we do. There’s a lot of tension in trying to get it right. Doesn’t mean conflict, it just means tension, because change, obviously, creates a certain amount of tension in the process. So we try to champion that. So there’s some tension here with just getting us prepared for that release and all of a sudden the breakthrough that’s going to happen. And so I think it’s a real positive metaphor. I guess I should have played with a slingshot, but I wasn’t a vandal like Stan was.
Stan: Appreciate it.
Al: I can relate, Stan. When I was your age, I threw snowballs at windows until one of the cars that went by happened to be a police car.
Stan: Well, that’ll teach you.
Al: Yeah. I don’t think we’re going to change the name—
Stan: You have a record. That’s great.
Al: We’re not going to change the name of the Best Christian Workplaces Institute to Snowball, but… But I like the metaphor, as you said, and Monty, your point about initial tension and greater momentum, slaying giants, catapulting forward. Gosh, it just all is a very reflective.
Slingshot clearly has become one of the largest search firms for churches and Christian nonprofits. And as we’ve experienced, it really meets a tremendous need for staffing, coaching, and succession. Talk about why churches and nonprofits come to Slingshot to do what they can’t do for themselves.
Monty: Yeah. I think that was our big question when we started Slingshot. Will churches trust us enough to outsource one of the most important parts of who they are? And that’s their team, building their team. And you would think that the coming of technology would help create an easier access to great talent, and maybe it does open the doors, but it opens the floodgates, too. And what’s happened is because of technology, people are quickly overwhelmed when they begin to post their needs on any kind of social site or web platform, and that overwhelm turns into confusion, distraction. And what we believe is working and why churches and nonprofits now have an appetite for outsourcing staffing is we do all the heavy lifting. We can kind of call out the best talent that fits those organizations and then present them with a beautiful package, where they click on that link and it’s like Christmas, because right there is the candidate that is viable for them to consider. So what might be 500 if they’re trying to do the work themselves, might be only five.
The other thing is, as churches have become less siloed and denominationally tribal, there is more of an openness to cross-pollinating between different churches and organizations, which in some ways dilutes the network. So the coming of technology and the dilution of strong tribal networks has placed the church for understanding the value of outsourcing staffing and bringing in that third party who are practitioners like ourselves that cannot just function like a headhunter, but rather like a coach and a partner. And it’s all about building that trusted partnership with them.
Every partnership begins with a site visit, where we come in and spend time with the leaders. We observe. We talk. We pull the curtain back and talk about things that are somewhat confusing sometimes and maybe what’s a new strategy looking forward? We presume this, but is there a better way? What are you learning as you serve churches? So that’s a lot of it.
Stan: Yeah. I think that one of the things that we ask a church or a nonprofit about the experience and I might say, what is it that’s the most beneficial thing about this process for you guys as you hired us and we landed this person? And without question, it comes up, we would never have found this person had we not called on Slingshot to find this caliber of talent. We do have trust nationally for churches and nonprofits to trust us, to really to find great talent, finding great talent and identifying the talent and getting to know the talent. And as Monty says, it feels like Christmas when we show great talent to our clients.
The other thing that I was thinking about was the area of succession. As the boomers, for the past seven years, Monty and I have talked and paid a lot of attention to succession. And as the boomers retire and pastors retire or as they move into their next season, the opportunities for young leaders to step in and to those crucial leadership roles are opening up more and more every day. And succession is not just about senior pastors anymore; it’s about any staff member who is 50 years old is beginning to think about it.
And the other thing that we’ve noticed is succession used to be a 60-year-old conversation. And now that conversation is happening for leaders in their 50s. So people are beginning to think about it a whole lot earlier than before.
So all of those issues merged together on any church staff or any nonprofit staff about how to merge all those things together and how to maneuver through those kinds of relationships. We’re learning a lot about that, and we are investing a lot of time and energy into those things.
Al: Wow, there’s so much we could cover in this conversation. But let’s step back for a moment to get to the big picture of what’s going on workwise here in the United States at least. We’re experiencing the tightest labor market that we’ve seen in the last 50 years, where it’s hard—organizations are having a hard time finding really good top talent. How do you see this current reality that we’re experiencing? We’ve heard our clients describe the reality of tight labor market impacting churches and nonprofits. What do you see out there?
Monty: I think that is true. And back to Stan’s point about succession and the transference of leadership from one generation to the next, the reality is that with boomers being a huge percentage of the population, we’re so busy working that they didn’t have a lot of kids. And so there’s a huge drop off in population when you talk about Gen Xers. So when you’re looking for top talent in their 40s, they hardly exist. I mean, compared to where we are with the population of boomers, and then we also have the Millennial population, which is outrunning boomers. There’s almost this leak from a boomer transferring leadership and pastoral mastery to Millennials. So there’s a little bit of that, the vacuum, that’s there.
We’re not seeing much of a change, though, in terms of the turnover. And there’s a lot of turnover in churches for a lot of reasons, which is another conversation or another question. But with that massive turnover, there’s always an influx of candidates. So fortunately, because we’ve told our story well and we’ve served well, and I believe we have a good name out in the church and nonprofit space, candidates, top-level candidates, are coming to us and finding us. And so we wouldn’t behave like a headhunter who would go knocking on the door and disrupt a perfectly happy staff by tempting them with something better. We just don’t do that. That would be our demise. That’s a marketplace strategy. That’s why they’re called headhunters. But in our space, in the church space, it really is being there to serve people who knock on our door. And fortunately, they do.
Al: Great. How about you, Stan? What are your thoughts?
Stan: Well, when you talk about competition, competition is a two-way street. The people looking for a new opportunity, a new job, there’s a lot of competition for them to get that job. But there’s also the churches and organizations need to feel that they need to be competing to try to win this person’s great talent. And so I think that organizations, particularly the ones that have a high turnover, might want to look in the mirror as to are we really worthy of hiring some of this great talent. I think it’s a great question to ask.
And the other thing that we’re seeing—and I see it in the marketplace as well—is that there’s so much data and organizations are looking for top professional people who have real great left-brain skills. However, we’re seeing a big turn—and I see this in the marketplace—of organizations are willing to hire people with high soft skills outside of a working environment, like emotional intelligence, how to work with people, how to be a culture junky. And two of the words that are often associated with—if a church wants to hire a good person, they have to have a great culture. And two of the important words connected to culture are care and training. People want to be cared for. Simon Sinek says that’s the reason that people stay somewhere is that they’re cared for. They also want to be trained and developed. They don’t want to be managed. They want to be developed and led and cared for and trained. So for a church or organization to be competitive, to want to be in a position to hire the best talent, they really have to make sure that they are worthy of those great hires.
Al: Oh, that’s a great challenge, Stan. Yeah, exactly.
What real-life situations and challenges within organizations and churches come to mind as you’re talking about these issues around care, training, culture, those kinds of ideas that you’ve brought forward?
Monty: I think a real big one is when it comes to functioning in a healthy culture—if anybody understands that, it’s you, because your organization helps create that—it’s the tension that exists between the generations and some of the stigma and assumptions that people make about Millennials. And some of the areas we coach in the hardest is helping an older leader begin to embrace change and begin to shift their thinking about how things operate best in a progressive world that we live in. And the older leaders who refuse to change and learn, oftentimes, become the lid to growth and not just engaging, but retaining the best people.
Millennials have no problem looking over the fence and seeing other opportunities because they know how to do it with technology. If they get frustrated, in other words, if they aren’t valued—and one of their primary concerns for well-being is advancement, career advancement. They care so much about that—and if we’re not knocking the fence down and letting them explore and bring ideas to the table and take risks, they will get frustrated and they will leave. So their sense of loyalty is certainly by no means what it was 20, 30 years ago. By the time they’re 30, they may have experienced two or three careers.
So one of things we have to translate when we’re submitting Millennials to our clients is helping them understand, just because they’ve had a sketchy work history doesn’t mean that they’re not great, great people, because that’s the world we live in. That’s one thing that comes to my mind. So coaching older leaders how to appeal to and attract Millennials is a big one. And that’s back to the succession issue, too.
Al: Yeah. It’s funny, Monty. We’ll oftentimes run into a situation where Millennials in a church environment, in a nonprofit environment, are less engaged than other groups. And people will ask us, especially boomers will ask, “Well, that’s normal, isn’t it?” And actually, our data doesn’t show that it’s normal. So you’re doing a good job coaching some of these older leaders in other organizations that we experience because on average, Millennials are as engaged as other generations. And oftentimes you do see this thought that you just described.
Monty: Well, especially if they find meaning in their work. If the work is meaningful to them and they have a voice in it, they are quite loyal. They will stay. But oftentimes we don’t allow them to step into that space and even if it means it’s a risky situation. We’re taking, we call them experiments within our own organization, where we’re experimenting with Millennials and some new roles that aren’t a part of our history. But it’s something we have to do to stay current as an organization and to continue to attract younger talent within our own organization.
Al: Yeah. And you mentioned career advancement as well as being valued. And gosh, don’t we all want to be valued for what we do? But yeah, oftentimes in churches, even larger churches, this concept of career advancement is one that can be solved. But it takes a little work, doesn’t it, to really address that.
Monty: Yeah. It’s back to what Stan said. We invest in training them well. They want to be trained. They’re eager learners. And if we just recruit them because the shiniest person that we can find but they’re not really equipped, then we set them up for failure. And one of the things that they ask most is, how do I measure success? How do I determine if I’m being successful? So they really want to be led well and trained well and set up to succeed.
Stan: The question about what comes to mind at this point in the conversation, I’m reading a book now called Range by David Epstein. Talks about how experience can be our friend, but it also can be a tremendous roadblock for us. So a person that’s been experiencing the same experience over and over for 25 years and you look at their resume, 20 years or 10 years, and they go, I’ve been at this position for 10 years. And most people, when they look at that go, wow, that’s very positive. Could be. But on the other hand, it may absolutely have stymied your growth by the extended experience.
And the other thing that a specific example that I see, a real practical thing, is performance reviews. Susan Peters, who’s the head of human resources at GE—don’t know if she still is—but this is the quote that came from her is the world isn’t really on an annual cycle anymore for anything. A lot of research is about performance reviews, actually it’s not good feedback. And churches of that, parachurch organizations often adapt those things and adopt those things, but I would challenge that, that people really need better communication on a regular basis. And a lot of these researchers are saying that rather than motivating employees to improve, they found that the opposite is an effect, that many employees tend to misconstrue even the most positive feedback. That’s an example of something that appeared to work for a long time, but no longer may have the advantages or the payoff that we would think it has.
Al: Yeah. Much more than an annual conversation, isn’t it, Stan? You know, we’re seeing—just one of the practices we see is even weekly, if not every other week, one on ones, for 30 to 60 minutes, just to have those conversations not once a year, not twice a year, but weekly or every other week. That’s 26 to 52 times a year. That also reflects what you were saying, Monty, about people feeling cared for and helping, recognizing a contribution somebody’s making.
This has really been interesting conversation so far. And what would you guys say? What about churches and nonprofits? What can they not afford to miss when it comes to this? As a placement firm, what has surprised you about the current labor market that can’t be ignored or left unsaid? Do you have any thoughts on that?
Monty: Yeah, I’ll start. One, I believe, it’s overcoming the propensity sometimes, especially with older leaders, to avoid any marketing terminology or branding. I think cultural identity is so important today that to ignore it is a miss. I think that’s huge. That’s one of our fastest-growing, newest, and we think has the most potential in our staffing and coaching is helping churches navigate that conversation.
What does that look like? It’s way more than a graphic artist. It’s really a strategic thinker who can help align the churches in their vision, mission, strategy, and culture so that it all lines up and tells us the same story, and it’s an inspiring story.
And the other thing is within that context is the idea of storytelling. And everybody is talking about story, and has been for a while. But churches are, though, I think the worst at actually telling the stories of transformation, and that is the apologetic of today is tell me your story and how God has changed your life. And we need to do that better.
The other thing on the staffing side we’re learning is that because people are moving cross country, almost cross cultural sometimes, it’s important that we pay attention to the spouse and that we don’t miss the spouse in the process of interviewing and fit so that when the hiring is made, they flourish, and if they flourish, they stay. So paying attention of that is something we’re really working on.
The other thing is that staffing, there’s an art and science to it. And so much of the art is the gut, the intuition, the sense of where’s God in this house, the Holy Spirit leading us. But the science is more measurable and more objective. And so we’re constantly learning how to strike that balance between art and science. And science, for example, would be inventories and assessments and things like that. So those are things that I think churches need to pay attention to. That’s probably four or five, but there’s 50 right here.
Stan, what comes to your mind?
Stan: Those are great, Monty, and it reminds me of a couple of others. When you’re looking to hire a person, if we want to say a Millennial, that’s great, you look at what is it that they want to be a part of. And what they want to be a part of is they want to be part of a collaboration. They want to be in the room and thinking things through. They want to have a voice and a seat at the table. And they also, it’s important that organizations realize that management and compliance, if it hasn’t already, it’s leaving the building. To hire some brilliant young person and bring them into your organization, you’d better make sure that they have, early on in their working and in their new job, they have an opportunity to be a part of what the organization is thinking and planning and executing. They don’t want to just be compliant with everything that’s always been that way. They don’t want to be tightly managed, but they want to have a seat at the table and a voice.
Monty: And that comes down to leadership, too. I think we often think that sounds careless to not manage or be in compliance. But if they’re led well, then things still get done. And perhaps—gosh, you should be addressing this, Al. This is what you do. Can I turn the table and ask you a question?
Al: Yeah, sure.
Monty: So how would you address or respond to that statement that management and compliance is leaving the building? Is that irresponsible for us to say that? Can you elaborate on that?
Al: Yeah, well, I’ll say I was actually, you were making me think about some of the research we’ve just finished doing, and that is we’ve got our eight drivers of an engaged workforce. And one of the eight drivers, we look at the weight of each of these eight drivers in churches and parachurch, mission organizations over time, and strategy has really increased in its weight. And it’s important as we look at it on an annual basis. That’s exactly what you’re saying, is that not only the storytelling, the vision, the mission, the culture, the branding, those are all things that people are very interested in because they want to have life-giving work. They want to feel like the job is important, and it gives them life. And when you think of management and compliance, as you’ve outlined, Stan, it’s left the building, is leaving the building, it doesn’t give you a whole lot of life. And so we’re seeing that it’s necessary, but it can’t be overplayed, for sure.
Monty: So in some way, we’re reframing order. It’s redefining it in what order looks like. Because there has to be a certain order in strategy. But it’s got to be inspiring, too.
Al: Absolutely. Yeah.
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Al: All right. Now, let’s hear more from today’s guest.
Monty, you were identifying this branding and vision mission strategy. How does that come down to the kinds of jobs that you’re seeing are opening up in churches and nonprofits?
Monty: Well, everybody wants a leader. Everybody wants a leader who can develop people. Everybody wants a leader that has, like Stan said, the soft skills, where they’re relationally competent to be kind and be honoring and be positive. All those things play a part in that. Is that what you’re asking?
Al: Also, I’ve seen just an increase in the high-level communications director kinds of roles.
Monty: Oh, absolutely. I think the multi-site churches are the first to adopt that because they do have—they try to respect the unique differences of their multi sites, but they still want the general essence of who they are as a church to cross track between all the campuses. And the way you do that is having someone who understands, how do you communicate who we are in this multiplicity of options that we’re providing? There’s so much at stake because if we’re sending inconsistent messages, we’re diluting our impact and certainly make it harder for people to know what to expect and where to go. And if the website, which is the modern-day narthex lobby, if the website is not that first experience and it’s not a good one, then we’re already losing track of moving forward. But even more so, if people experience one thing on the website and then they go to experience the gathering and it’s a completely different experience, they’re likely not going to come back. So it’s kind of a bait-and-switch thing. So we’ve got to really pay attention to how we communicate who we are and is that “user experience” the same from the very first impression all the way through their three weeks of checking out a church. I would say do not make an assumption who a church is on the first visit. It’s going to take three weeks. And then you really have a comprehensive view who they are.
Al: Earlier we had talked about the fact that there is turnover, and perhaps some would say too much turnover, in a number of churches and Christian nonprofits. What are you seeing out there? How can organizations stop the disruptive carousel of staff turnover? From your perspective, what are some of the harmful costs of high, even continued, turnover to a ministry?
Monty: I’ve read one statistic. It was a marketplace statistic that for every time there’s a turnover of a senior leader, C-suite or executive, senior leader type of role, the cost is somewhere around $60,000. There’s several factors that go into that, but it’s the disruption, the distraction. You’ve got all this tailwind when things are working right, and then all of a sudden, someone is removed, and you’ve got a headwind at that point, and that’s costly. So we like to say that our primary job is to help organizations hire the right people that will stay. Success to us is not displacing someone, but seeing them thrive, flourish, and impact that organization for years to come. That’s our biggest job, is to help facilitate the kind of fit where people will last.
Stan: The practical side of that that happens is that when somebody leaves, it really attacks the very morale of the entire staff of the church. It leaves volunteers in a lurch, and it is disruptive to the processes and activity of the entire staff. And I read a thing from Harvard Business Review about here are factors that must exist in order to stop the staff exit. And just real quick, it’s challenge and responsibility; it’s flexibility, both when to work and where to work; a stable work environment; money; professional development; peer recognition; leaders who have a servant’s heart; exciting job content; and organizational culture. There was a lot of factors that it’s really a checklist. If you’re not checking these off, you’re not paying attention, why people want to leave. And those are very important lessons to learn.
Al: Yeah. That’s really true. And I don’t see the groups that we work with paying much attention to the cost of turnover as much as I’ve seen in other places. I think about my previous experience working with a large human-resource consulting firm, and when we’d see a manager, a person in charge of a specific geography, if they turned over, you’d see a quarter-million-dollar difference in that bottom line over that time of searching for somebody and finding somebody and all of that. So it’s at least 60k, Monty, to use your number, and if not more, for sure.
Here’s a question I thought you guys could really address for us, because sometimes we’ll be working with a church, and we’ll see that there’s really good engagement except one area. And this is inconsistent, but it happens sometimes, and that’s the area where creatives work, where the worship team, the graphic-arts group, the marketing group, it’s where the creatives live. And sometimes they have the lowest engagement of all the other teams. So both you guys, having managed and worked with so many creatives, what advice do you have for leaders on how to lead the more creative types in a Christian setting?
Monty: Well, first thing that comes to my mind is, again, what we’ve been alluding to and talking about, is management. And creatives don’t like to be managed. They like to be inspired. They like liberty. They like flexibility. They like an environment where you can take risks and push the envelope. So a creative who is reporting to a left brain, narrowminded six on the Enneagram, is probably not going to flourish. And so leading creatives can be messy, but if you lead them well and love them well, the messes are minimized and not that hard to clean up. So many times creatives are led by more are left-brain, organized, compliance-oriented people, and I think that’s where it oftentimes falls apart. A rigid culture is just not where they flourish.
Stan: Exactly. I think on the church staff, everybody wants the same thing, basically, to help the community see Christ and everybody shakes hands on that one. And I think there’s an opportunity for supervisors or for managers to be taught more about how to communicate the things they want and how to ask for the things that they want. And so if you deliver the communication you want to to a creative type, just an abrupt email or anything without any emotion in it, they won’t respond as well to it.
There’s two quotes that I remember that are in contrast, actually. One is from David Letterman’s producer years ago, said that management must serve creativity; it doesn’t work the other way around. Now, great quotes have deep meanings, and that one certainly does. However, Quincy Jones, the great record producer, says, “The last thing you want to do is to give me plenty of time and plenty of money on any project.” So all creativity needs framework. So the framework must be for supervisors, spend more time describing the expectation to that creative person. That’s what I’ve learned.
Monty: That’s a great point, Stan. I remember when I was leading a lot of creatives in my church, I learned very quickly that to be specific with what I wanted them to create, just sucked the life out of them, but rather learned to communicate what you want and what the context is and then let them create it. It doesn’t mean you can’t collaborate and banter, but you don’t tell a creative, “This is what I want you to create.”
Stan: And, Monty, that’s a good point because I’m not hearing this problem as much, but for a long time the communications department or division of an organization, particularly a church, they had in the past become more like Kinko. And this is what we need. And so a creative person signs up to be communication director of a church, and then all of a sudden, they’re making folders or just the weekend bulletin—
Monty: Yeah, they become like little minions. Yeah.
Stan: —and they’re so uninspired by that. And so, yes, we want to have the very best quality of communication, but for the supervisors to understand how to challenge them and really be interested in their opinion is extremely important.
Monty: I think where creativity breaks down in the church is the timeframe that we’re talking. And again, it’s a leadership issue, where the leaders aren’t thinking far enough out, because creativity does take time to implement. And so we become replicators of the same thing over and over rather than originators of something new because we don’t have the time to do it. So the best thing a senior pastor can do for his team to foster creativity is plan way out, far enough out that the creatives have a realistic environment where they can come up with an idea and then have the time to implement it.
Al: Yeah. That’s great advice.
Monty, as we’ve talked in the past, and this has been a fascinating conversation about creatives, but it’s—also, I’ve really been struck with the similarities between Slingshot and the Best Christian Workplaces Institute and the groups that we serve and what we run into. And so from your perspective, how does workplace culture impact an organization’s ability to attract and retain their staff? Any thoughts on that?
Monty: Yeah. I think of Peter Drucker’s quote, that culture eats strategy for lunch. More than not, the high-level candidates that we work with, sadly, have been wounded and bruised and in some cases abused in the church space. And therefore, what they care about most is, what is the culture? Is this a culture where people are honored? And, obviously, all the things of theology and philosophy and strategy and all those things do matter. But at the end of the day, it’s like, who are the leaders of this church? Can I trust them? Will they foster a culture of honor? Will they foster genuine care and concern? Do they care about me as a treasure rather than talent? Are they really treasured? Not just them, but their family. So culture is everything, and size doesn’t matter. Some of the top talent will go to small churches if the culture’s good.
Stan: We like to look at what organizations we can learn from. I learn a lot from emails that I get daily from Fast Company magazine. Chick-Fil-A is an example, Southwest Airlines. But one of the things I’ve noticed about Chick-Fil-A—and we have a guy that used to be on our staff at Slingshot now has two Chick-Fil-A stores—and as I looked at Chick-Fil-A, they base their—and these companies seem to base their core values on what the research is from their customers rather than this isn’t a company we want to develop, and we want to convince people that this is the right thing.
So let me give an example. Chick-Fil-A bases their hospitality on Matthew 5:41. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. And so the four values that every employee with Chick-Fil-A is that they agreed to and if they internalize these things are the most basic things. And here they are. Create eye contact, share a smile, speak enthusiastically, and stay connected. And so they are absolutely paying attention about their customer. And I think those things are important for a church to put in place as they want to attract the best talent. I learned a lot from those organizations. And we talked about that at Slingshot a lot.
Al: Yeah. Create eye contact, share a smile, speak enthusiastically, stay connected, and say “It’s my pleasure,” instead of something else.
Stan: Instead of “You’re welcome.”
Al: Yeah, yeah. Or what’s the other common saying that we oftentimes hear? “No problem.”
Monty: Yeah. Wouldn’t it be great if—and I believe in a lot of cases it is this way, where we look to the church for setting the standards, setting the bar, of how we treat people. And sadly, I don’t think it’s the first place people think of when they think of what is the gold standard for loving and treating people well. I was going to say this. This hasn’t come up, but I think it’s relevant to our conversation, is that so many churches are behind the eight ball when it comes to hiring aggressively. And as a result, the staff is oftentimes overworked beyond their scope, even capacity, and they end up in a skimming kind of posture where they’re just skimming and moving so fast that it undermines a healthy culture of care and concern and going above and beyond, going the extra mile. So my challenge to leaders listening is don’t underestimate the importance of hiring on the front end rather than the back end. Not waiting until you just absolutely need it, but anticipate the need, begin pursuing, and hire sooner than later, for the sake of your own well-being, let alone the culture of your church. Sounds like a plug for Slingshot, doesn’t it?
Al: There you go.
Monty: I believe it. I really believe it.
Stan: Al, I was thinking about your question here of what our central idea is and approach is to interview. Wouldn’t it be interesting, because if an executive pastor, H.R. director of a church or parachurch are interviewing somebody, and the candidate asked them, “Tell me about your staff and about the health of your staff,” and wouldn’t it be awesome if all of a sudden that that person were put on a speaker, that all the staff in the church could hear what this person is saying about them? Because so often what they say to a potential candidate is not reality. And it’s important that those things line up.
Monty: What’s good, yeah.
Al: Stan, I know a little later this year you’re coming out with a book called Improv Leadership, and given your rich history publishing music with Maranatha! Music and others, tell us about Improv Leadership: How to Lead Well in Every Moment, is what you’re calling it. What’s behind it?
Stan: Coaching is a big part of what we do at Slingshot. And I was at an improv comedy club, hearing this awesome comedian. And in that moment, it hit me that this person is improvising, but he’s really not. He’s just recalling things that he studied and memorized, and he’s tried these jokes in front of a mirror a jillion times and with his friends. And so there’s a misconception about improvisation in that a lot of people think that it’s making things up in the moment, and it actually is not. It’s about recalling things that we’ve learned in the past and bringing them into the current situation. So the Improv Leadership book is all about how to lead in a moment, in any moment, and it’s all about working with people, doing life together.
So from our staff, David Miller, who heads up our coaching division and he’s the V.P. of our coaching division, and he is just a wonderful young guy. And so he and I teamed up to put these five competencies together to help leaders lead. And the five competencies are: story mining, which is telling the story. Precision praise, how to praise people. That is not flattery. How to use metaphors in metaphor cementing. How a lob forward on people, which is suggesting a creative challenge in an indirect manner. I might say—or in fact this morning, I was with a young guy, and I said to him, “If you keep thinking like this, you might start your own publishing company someday.” And that’s what lobbying forward is. It’s putting out those ideas. And the last one is going north, which is how to use indirect influence. And you can Google indirect influence. Basically, it’s initiating a change of direction in the conversation in an unexpected way in order to reach a successful conclusion. There are those leaders in our lives that if you go directly to them about something, it’s going to irritate them and you will not benefit from that conversation. But there are ways to go around him, and I say go north on them and to come in a different way in order to make your point. So Improv Leadership is all about that. We have Improv Leadership online training now, and the book is published by Zondervan, and it comes out I think June 9 is the official launch. So that’s how it came to be, because of the way musicians and comedians and great pastors who are great Bible teachers, one would think they’re improvising, but what they’re doing is recalling from the past and bringing it forward because the most-spontaneous people are the most prepared.
Al: I love that. Great.
Well, Stan, Monty, we’ve really enjoyed all we’ve learned today. And I’m wondering is there anything you’d like to add that we’ve talked about that to put a point on our conversation.
Monty: I’d like to add, just expounding on what Stan said about improv leadership. There’s nothing more important in my mind, and this is what fuels me every day to do what I do with Slingshot and why Slingshot’s so important, is for us to do everything we can, and that includes your wonderful organization as well, to help leaders lead well and to equip them to lead well, challenge them to lead well, because their leadership is everything to the health of that church, and the health of that church is everything to the community it serves. I mean, God has set up a brilliant ecosystem for humanity, and leadership is at the core of a flourishing congregation, community, family. How do we continue to just lean in hard? And the improv-leadership tool was really designed just to help our own organization be healthy. But we began to realize quickly that this applies to any leader in any context, not just a local church, but the marketplace as well. So we decided, hey, let’s take all the boundaries off of this and make much of it. And it’s catching on. People are loving it, and we believe it will change the culture of the organization if leaders will learn these five core competencies and the tools that are provided to foster those five core competencies. We believe it’s a game changer, especially for the church, because that’s where our hearts at, first and foremost.
Stan: And, Al, thank you for asking about that. One of the practical things about improv is that we go into a church organization and typically a room of 40 or 50 people, and it’s a six-hour training on how to incorporate and how to bring those five competencies into your culture.
But one thing you said, one final thought, and here’s mine, is to know the people that you hire. Hire them because of what they might bring, beyond what you are asking of them. Build a culture that has soul, that is inspiring, that’s enticing; a culture that allows people to think, to try new things, to take risks; and a culture that they are cared for. The mantra that we have at Slingshot is love your work. And Stephen King says you can only become truly accomplished at something that you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead, pursue the things you love doing, and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you. Love your work. And that’s what we’re all about.
Al: Monty, how about you? One final thought?
Monty: I think my final thought is don’t take any shortcuts in getting it right. Do the hard work, do the heavy lifting, whether it’s recruiting your team, putting your plan together, preparing for a weekend service, whatever you’re doing, work hard and give your all and stay in your lane. Know what you do and what you don’t do. And build a team around you to complement. And that’s one of the most—that’s why I love my work and why I can honestly say I live out work joy every day because of the remarkable team that we’ve been able to build at Slingshot. They’re amazing people. But hard work. There’s no shortcut.
Al: No substitution, right. Great.
Well, Monty Kelso, president and CEO, and Stan Endicott, the chief culture officer and co-founder of the Slingshot Group, thanks, guys, for sharing your wisdom, insights, and stories, and thanks for investing yourself in everyone who’s been listening and certainly benefiting from all you’ve shared with us today. So thanks for being with us.
Stan: Thank you, Al. We’re honored to be in this conversation with you. Thank you very much.
Monty: Yeah. It’s really great. Thanks for all you do, too. We’re happy to partner with you in anything.
Al: Thanks, guys.
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.