The Flourishing Culture Podcast Series
“How Listening and Trust Can Take Your Culture to the Next Level“
February 8, 2021
Intro: In today’s Flourishing Culture Podcast, you’ll hear how our guest connects the dots of how listening, conviction, trust, and compensation have helped to build his multi-site church’s healthy culture.
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.
One of my favorite guests is with us right now, and his name is Scott Wiggins, the director of staff at Pinelake Church, a multi-site church, in Mississippi. At Pinelake, he focuses on the professional and spiritual development of staff members, he leads their human resource team, and works closely with Pinelake’s personnel team and elders.
Welcome back, Scott. Thanks for joining us again on the Flourishing Culture Podcast.
Scott Wiggins: Well, Al, thank you for having me back. It’s always great talking with you and any member of your team. It’s like a gift, and I get the gift today, so I appreciate it.
Al: Thanks so much.
Let me ask, just on a personal side. We had a moment where we couldn’t schedule this because you were suffering with COVID. So tell us a little bit about that, and how do you feel now?
Scott: Yeah. Feel great. Bounced back well. I probably had pretty much the routine symptoms of flu for a few days and lost that taste and smell. But I’ve recovered quickly, eating. So we’re back in the game, for sure.
Well, Scott, we all know a picture is worth a thousand words. So to start us off, I’d love for you to kind of give us a snapshot, maybe a picture, of where God is moving at Pinelake Church. Tell us a little bit about that.
Scott: If I was going to pick a singular word to kind of paint a picture that I think is God’s canvas that He calls Pinelake, I guess for an analogy, I think I’d use the word opportunity. Clearly, we’ve talked for months and even a year now about the unforeseen, the unpredictable, and what are we going to do? Yet in the midst of all of those things, we have great opportunity. And the opportunity is to modify plans; the opportunity is to change plans, develop new strategies along the way. But the beauty of that is God’s been way out in front of us, preparing the path, and now all we have to do is be obedient and listen to Him. And so I don’t think of our glass as half empty; I think of it as half full and opportunity’s right before us.
Al: Yeah, right. Yeah. God is walking before us. I love that analogy. And all we have to do is see where He’s walking and follow Him. Yeah.
So, Scott, what’s one big way that Pinelake’s healthy staff culture or workplace culture helps to contribute in this, the great ministry outcomes, the change in the work you’ve just described.
Scott: The cultural aspect, I would say, is trust, Al, and the way that this aspect contributes to great ministry outcomes is fostering confidence in the vision that God’s given us. You’ve probably heard that saying vision leaks, and we’ve just tried to figure out a way that we can either plug the leaks or get a new bucket at times and fill those gaps with trust. Yet it’s not trust in a person or position. I think you and I both have seen at times where when we put our trust in a position or a person, that can be confusing. But where we place our trust is the work that God’s doing in and through people, and then watching that wake of ministry, so to speak, I think allows us to move properly to where God has us headed along the way. So it’s trust, and then the action step with trust is in trust in the right thing.
Well, let’s go back a few years. You’ve been on this podcast. We’ve worked together. When did Pinelake’s leadership really begin to value and work on improving your workplace culture? Tell us a story about that.
Scott: Yeah, just as you described, Al. It’s always a journey, but I think there was a pivotal moment that really helped us understand how to take a next step. And it happened in 2015 at our Reservoir campus, which is our original campus, which also happens to be our largest campus, also. There were just kind of some unexplainable plateaus. For lack of a better term, we just seemed stuck in some areas. And so we gathered our Reservoir staff together. We gave everybody in the room three index cards, and we asked them to write down these three questions. And then after they wrote down the questions, to spend a week praying, write down answers, and bring them back to us. And those three questions were this: Do you feel stuck? Do you feel stuck personally and professionally? And then what other information is that you would want to add about being stuck? The second question was, what would you change about your role? Your job at Pinelake, whatever that’s an administrator or a communicator or a pastor, whatever it would be, what would you change? And then, we kind of use this term around our staff is put on your elder hat. Don’t think of yourself just in a specific silo. But in your elder hat, what would you change about Pinelake?
And the responses gave people, they just gave them a freedom to discuss whatever they wanted to talk about and a confidence that they could engage the senior leaders about anything. And what emerged from this was new strategies, some new organizational alignment, even some job shifts along the way. Those were the practical things. But the benefit that just continued beyond that, Al, was just a healthy conversation and a holistic view of what health looks like in our staff and a freedom to discuss anything and everything so that we can move this mission along.
Al: We call that listening, where you go out, you ask questions like that. That’s fantastic. I love that story. Do you feel stuck? How would you change your role? How would you change Pinelake? But as you’ve said, creating an environment, a healthy environment, where people feel free to give you the honest answers is really the key to that. We really encourage our listeners to do that kind of listening. You learn so much.
In fact, Scott, it’s interesting. We found that during COVID, organizations have kind of taken decision making into the leadership-team structure and not really been listening to the front line. And that’s okay for a short period of time when you need to make some quick decisions. But that’s not a good long-term strategy, as you’ve just described. Yeah.
Scott: And Al, you know it’s funny. We’ll often compare notes with different leaders, say, “What are you reading these days?” And oftentimes the short answer is leadership books. I’ll tell you one of the best books I’ve read recently, Warren Berger’s book’s about asking questions, The Book of Beautiful Questions. I’m going to learn a whole lot more from asking you questions than I am trying to develop some kind of leadership strategy that I’m going to implement to other people. So I think you’re spot on with that idea of just engaging and creating an environment where people are safe and feel comfortable inquiring.
Al: Yeah. And I also think in a church setting particularly, or in a Christian organization like we work with, our staff are filled with the Holy Spirit, with God’s spirit. And so we should have the respect to ask them, how is God speaking to you? and to take that information and to incorporate it into the development of the strategy for the body. Yeah,
Well, let’s fast forward to today. What’s your grounded conviction, and even commitment, to maintain and improve the health of your workplace culture, Scott?
Scott: Well, certainly, I’d say my conviction is unrelenting, but candidly, a desire and a conviction is a little bit powerless if I don’t have a plan or a strategy behind it. So I’d say the strategy is multi-dimensional. Part of that strategy is certainly continuing the relationship with BCWI. I mean, BCWI has done a great job of helping us affirm some things, to discover some new things, but also bring clarity to what can be confusing at times, and then that ongoing coach and mentoring relationship. This helps me overcome the blind spots that I have personally, but also we have organizationally.
In addition to that, I’ll continue to contend for exactly what you just said, Al, an atmosphere that protects a person’s opportunity to ask questions and ensure you feel safe, because through those questions, it’s going to help us just set a really good thermostat to have a really positive environment where we are.
I think another thing that I need to do is make sure that if we change anything, we change everything together. Since we have five campuses and a central team, there are lots of voices in any particular room. And all of those voices need to be honored, and we need to leave room for those individual expressions. But when we leave the room, we’ve got to have one message. So that idea of having unity with honor is incredibly important. And I think that will further a flourishing culture.
I’d say lastly, it’s okay not to be okay. We’re on a journey professionally, personally, spiritually. And there are just times where we’re going to challenge, but we’ve got to love each other enough not to leave somebody there, not to leave you there professionally, personally, or spiritually.
Back in the day, there was this great theologian named Mary Chapin Carpenter, and she wrote a song that said sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes you’re the bug. And if you’re the bug, I want to make sure I don’t leave you there, and I help you out along the way.
Al: Yeah, uh-huh. That worship group called The Carpenters.
Scott: That’s right.
Well, Scott, you know, as we look at your results historically, the trust between your leadership and staff is just off the charts, astronomical. Where have you been seeing greater levels of trust and action, especially with this pandemic? What’s the secret sauce? What are you stirring up these days to continue to build this high level of trust?
Scott: It’s a great compliment. Any time you receive a compliment like that, it just really goes to every portion of the organization. You know, with five campuses, like I mentioned before, and a central team, and not only that, but just the geographical separation of hundreds of miles between our campuses, communication and clarity can be at a premium. Add the challenge of remote meetings, like you said, with a COVID environment, and there’s potential for relatively significant ambiguity.
We address the ambiguity in a couple of ways. First, everyone cannot be in every meeting. It’s just simply impossible. So we employ our team leaders and just ask them to really, really overly communicate and overly relay information to their staffs. Next, it’s keeping the messaging simple. Rather than saying 10 things, let’s say two things. Be very clear about those, accomplish those, and then move on. And finally, I would say maybe the overarching concept of this is this idea of assume the best and give grace. I may not be in every meeting. I may not understand everything that’s said. I may not necessarily even agree with everything that’s said. But in the end, I’m going to assume the best, and I’m going to give grace when I can’t necessarily understand the totality of what we’re discussing.
Al: Boy, that’s great.
Another area that your staff recognizes Pinelake for, Scott, is about your philosophy and your work and compensation, pay satisfaction, the retirement plan. And your strength area is your top ten, as we call them. So where does this start? Is that your executive leadership? the elder board? I know our listeners would like to know, how has this been achieved? We run into this quite a bit. So what’s the strategic step or approach that has made the most sense and has worked for you at Pinelake?
Scott: Yeah. I’ll kind of start at the top and kind of work my way down. But with our polity being staff led with elder oversight, compensation would certainly start with myself and members of our executive team developing a plan and a process. Yet even with that, I don’t know that we do things very much different than a lot of other churches along the way. We have a salary scale that defines roles and positions and ranges of experience. I’ve used resources like Metro and Vanderbloemen to help me verify the data. Then, I review the data historically, with each staff member individually as well as our executive team.
I think one of the things that’s probably critical, Al, is that you just can’t play “I’ve got a secret” when it comes to somebody’s personal compensation. And so I have meetings with every person on our staff to let them know where they are today, where they could be tomorrow, and what the future looks like in the current role that they have. And their roles can change, and job descriptions can expand, and we expand those along the way. But ultimately, I want to make sure that they have all the information so that they’ve got to go lead their family financially that I provide for them appropriately.
At the end of the day, a lot of that’s the engine. But really the fuel is the generosity of the people that call Pinelake home as far as their church hallmark. It’s one of our values, and our body really does live that idea of generosity out to the fullest.
Al: Yeah. So you got over 100 people on your staff, as I recall, Scott, and you meet with each one of them individually, and you share with them this compensation data, the salary survey reports, and so on, just so that they understand how it is that you’ve determined their pay. Did I catch that right?
Scott: That’s right. And I’ll certainly do that with our director of human resources, Sherry Overby, but you’re right. I mean, even as a candidate, we sit down and explain to you, this is how we determine salaries. And I mentioned this in our last conversation, that idea of there’s a face and then there’s a space, and helping them understand how they’re going to navigate that in the future. But it’s just really important. I’ve encountered some organizations, local churches and beyond, where it just seems like no one necessarily understands what’s going on back there. And I just think it’s more healthy to explain to people, well, this is what’s going on back there, and this is how we’re trying to honor you appropriately.
Al: Yeah. And you’ve used the word honor several times, and I think that’s a very healthy perspective.
I trust you’re enjoying our podcast today. We’ll be right back after an important word for leaders.
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Al: And now, back to today’s special guest.
So, let’s now think about improvement. You’ve certainly talked a lot about a healthy culture, and we find that healthy cultures lead to innovation and the willingness to experiment and improve. So when you talk about innovation experimentation, what new approaches have you seen that has maybe helped you with a challenge that you’ve been facing at Pinelake? What’s your word to fellow leaders about innovation?
Scott: Well, I do think that’s an area where we can improve and certainly move the needle. First, I need to do a better job just personally, Al, in developing, training, fostering conversations amongst our team. We have a young tenured staff at our campuses. So at our campuses, the staff average tenure is about four years. But our central team, the average tenure is almost 12 years. Well, what that gap can do is create an assumption that the central team has all the answers and they don’t really need to be told, and so the campuses can sometimes take a posture of not feeling empowered to innovate. So I think it’s our job as leaders to make sure, no, we’re asking you to participate with us and together develop plans as we go forward.
I think another thing that we need to do is just continuing to define how we develop leadership skills beyond just the theoretical but the practical. An example of that. So my boss, Tim Smith, our senior executive pastor, I think Tim wakes up every day with about 57 new ideas. He is completely unafraid to fail. And so I think that’s an aspect that when it comes to innovation, if people feel that if they fail, that it will be fatal in some way, I think they’re going to be very anxious. But when you’ve got a leader like Tim giving us that example to the rest of us saying, “No, I want you to take a chance because that’s where innovation is going to occur,” I think if I can impart that, that that doesn’t just exist at our executive team, it exists for every member of our team, that’ll move the needle.
Al: Back in the ’90s, I did a lot of work with best companies to work for here in the Seattle area. And so everybody knows Seattle is kind of a technology center, and so I was working with various organizations. And one organization in the software-development area, they’d say they wanted people to write down the mistakes that these computer-software coders were making. They wanted them to write down the mistake and put it on their cubicle doorway every day. And then, leaders would go around, and if they didn’t see any yellow stickies on the doorway or not enough, they would chastise them, “You’re not making enough mistakes, because it’s through mistakes that we actually learn and innovate.” So exactly as you’re saying, let’s develop the skills, which is being able to have an environment where mistakes are okay because that’s how you learn. That’s what I always told my daughters as I was teaching them to ski. If you don’t have snow on your jeans at the end of the day, you haven’t fallen, and you haven’t learned how to ski any better. But a great example. Thanks, Scott.
Scott, a key strength at Pinelake is people being able to be responsible and held accountable for what they’ll do. And I’m sure that you’ve got more than one favorite story about how accountability pays off for the employee and the culture at large. How does that work?
Scott: Yeah. I do, like you, Al, love stories. I love a good story, and it does help move the idea along. We’ve got an outstanding young pastor on our staff named Grace Munro. And she has joy. She has energy. She has work ethic. Vibrant, everything that you want in a teammate. After Grace’s first year, though, she kind of had one area where maybe she had an opportunity to improve, and that was being on time. I think Grace kind of approached time as a suggestion rather than a requirement. And so we had some conversations with her about that. But really what changed for Grace was when her teammates came around her and began to help her understand that—you mentioned this word earlier—that being on time was really about honoring your teammates. It was about honoring everybody in the room rather than just about punctuality. It was way more than hands on a clock, for those of us old that remember clocks that had hands. It was more about, hey, I care about you and what we’re doing enough to be on time. And she’s, like I said, flourishing like nobody’s business. But it was just a fun story where a team leader or a boss didn’t have to come down and say, do this. It was accountability amongst everybody, saying, this is who we are. This is our culture. This is what we’re going to do together.
Al: That’s a word for leaders who just spent a lot of time dealing with these kinds of issues. And, gosh, isn’t it better when the culture and teammates feel like they can say, if this is going to help you, it’s certainly going to help us, but this is going to help you be better. And to have it come from peers instead of from a supervisor is so much more effective. And again, that’s an environment that you’ve created.
You’ve mentioned the term honor already. But also, Scott, you’ve mentioned a little bit about how you measure and how that also leads to accountability. So give us a couple of ideas just on key ways that you measure your performance individually and as a church overall.
Scott: Yeah. I mean, certainly outcomes and results are a critical part of that. I mean, numbers are a part of that. Yet numbers in the absence of stories are minorly irrelevant and aren’t going to move the needle. Even last night at our college ministry in Starkville, we got so many students coming that we’ve got to have multiple service because of spacing, and each service started with a baptism. I mean, you could say in outcomes and results that’s three, but that’s not three, Al. That’s stories of life change in the lives of those young men and that young lady. And so to me, that’s a critical part of how we evaluate ministry, certainly strategy, the timing of the leader. You could have a great leader that’s very seasoned, but if he’s got or she’s got a very young team, all of those things have to come into account when you’re evaluating ministry. Or maybe you’ve got a really experienced ministry, a mature ministry, but a brand-new leader, again, similarly, you have to take those things into account. And then values. I mean, I mentioned the value of generosity. If you’re going to value something like that, then you have to elevate that value in such a way that you evaluate it appropriately.
Al: I’m curious how you focus on retention, because that’s another thing that people at Pinelake say, your staff employees say. We retain highly qualified staff at Pinelake. This is such a crucial area for churches, not necessarily at this moment, because people are staying in their jobs because of COVID. They’re hesitant to move to a new position at this point. But as we kind of roll out of this current environment, I think we’re going to see retention, and turnover is a bigger issue. So how do you respond to kind of keep up with this challenge of retaining your best talent?
Scott: I’m certainly a learner in this area, and I will tell you folks that might be listening today, Kristen Miller and Emily Hoover on your podcast, Al, from Traders Point, talking about a compelling mission, that is gold there. So, I mean, when you want to talk about retaining talent, those folks had great words to say.
We’ve discussed this a little bit previously, but that idea that Henry Blackaby talked about, kind of watch where God’s working and get in the stream with Him, I believe that’s a component that’s critical to retention. And here’s what I mean by that. When you’ve got a staff member that’s been faithful in what you’ve asked them to do, but also fruitful in shepherding the stories into multiplication, I think you need to watch and listen and observe what the Holy Spirit is doing in them and around their ministry. And so they’re in the stream. And so I think part of retention is honoring that stream and giving them some freedom. Maybe the freedom is changing their job description. Maybe it’s giving them the opportunity to explore new ministry, to create momentum. I firmly believe that people empowered to use their gifts is the absolute best retention tool you can have.
Al: Yeah. That’s right. Faithful and fruitful. Some of us have worked historically in large organizations. You see performance and potential matrices. But I love—I’m just picturing now two scales, four boxes, faithful, fruitful, the most faithful and fruitful in a box. And you’ve described how when you find people that are both of those and over time contributing faithfully and truthfully that they deserve some flexibility, in fact, going to them and asking how they can be even more fruitful is a great thing. I love your story. Yeah.
Scott: Well, and another thing it does, Al, just think about the entire organization. When you see people rewarded because of both those things, it just does so much to invigorate everyone as opposed to rewarding people for tenure or rewarding them only for a number but there’s no story or heart line. When you see both, it does a great shot in the arm for the team.
Al: Yeah, it does. Yeah. Parable of the talents, right there.
So, Scott, what would you like to say to your fellow pastors or leaders who would like to stabilize and improve their work force culture in the midst of the pandemic that we’re currently, hopefully, moving out of here soon, but still, we’re right in the throes of it?
Scott: Well, I guess it starts with the man or the woman in the mirror. It really starts with a—so, Al, I’ll give you another story or analogy if you could bear with me. Before I came to Pinelake, I flew airplanes in the military and commercially. And when you encounter turbulence, as I was teaching young pilots, a young pilot’s tendency is to overcontrol the airplane. They’re going to take the yoke, or the stick, and you get an updraft or a downdraft, and it’s kind of violent. You’ve probably felt that as a passenger on an airplane. And what a young pilot wants to do is be very aggressive and move the stick, or the yoke, forward or back. But actually, what you need to do is take a very, very light grip on the yoke, or stick, and make very, very small changes and almost ride out the turbulence. And I think that’s part of what we need to do as leaders right now. Not try to overreact to the change or what’s blowing or what’s just commercially appropriate right now. I think it’s we’re here for a long haul, right? We’re here for a vision, a mission that is about eternity, not just for the moment. So we need to be the steady hand on the yoke. It doesn’t mean we need to have all the answers. It just means I need to set the right temperature so that the answers can come up from the people that I’m surrounded by along the way. Look, when I think about Jesus, He was most calm in the biggest storms, and I think that’s what we want to model along the way.
Al: Well, Scott, I’ve really enjoyed everything that we’ve learned today. I’m just looking at my notes. I think that when we started off, you talked about listening, how you really kind of started your culture journey, and listening, asking questions, and then taking the responses of that and actually then as the church redefined its strategy. So, you know, then we’ve got a number of fours. You said there’s four convictions around your culture, and one is listening and surveying and receiving coaching and mentoring about your culture and creating an atmosphere to ask questions, to build unity, to honor all people that you’ve got on your staff and to say it’s okay not to be okay, to really love one another in that process. What a great analogy. And four steps to build trust—communication with clarity, really work through the team leader. And that’s such a critical role. Absolutely. You just put the hammer right on the nail. Having simple messages.
I have a tendency as a leader to kind of pile on. I remember working with somebody in Oklahoma and giving them the consultant’s answer to a question of what time is it? And I kind of described how you make the watch instead of just answer the question. The guy said, I only asked for one bale off the back, kind of like one bale of hay, Al, the back of the pickup, off the load. Yeah.
So, but simplicity, not really going into great detail, but really being focused.
And then a strong four steps to compensation—planning and process, salary levels and scales, reviewing and communicating with each person what your philosophy is and how it is that their compensation is determined. And just, again, having this philosophy of being competitive because your staff provide for their families with that compensation, and being generous, which is one of your philosophies. Well, just lots of things that we talked about. And that’s just been a great conversation.
What would you like to add, Scott?
Scott: Well, you know, sometimes we’ll talk about, you know, we’re just beggars telling other beggars where the bread is. I would just love to tell some folks where we found some bread. We’re learning a lot in this season, just about spiritual and emotional health. And it is obviously a very timely discussion. But I hope we as church leaders model and display the importance of talking about a subject like this. Sometimes it’s been in the shadows, and I think bringing it into the mainstream of ministry is critical. We as a staff have used Churches that Heal curriculum that Dr. Henry Cloud has. And it has been incredibly important. As we did it, we really told our staff, this isn’t for you to learn to go teach. This is for you. And in the overflow of that is going to be health in those around you. And I think it really has moved our discussion to really appropriate places for people to find not only spiritual growth but emotional healing as well.
Al: Yeah. Yeah. All we can bring to leadership and our roles is us, a positive health leaks and unhealth leaks in our leadership. Yeah.
Well, to conclude our interview, Scott, I’ll bet there’s one final thought or encouragement you’d like to leave with our listeners.
Scott: You know, before you and I got on the air, Al, we were kind of trading notes about friends that we know in ministry. And it was fun because here’s what I would want everybody to know. You’re not alone doing this. There are resources available to you. So whether it’s a great organization like you, Al, or just a friend like me at Pinelake, we get to do this together. So don’t feel like you’re alone. Whether you want to call me just unsolicited at Pinelake or use an organization like BCWI, we’re in this together. Let’s have a great community.
Al: That’s great.
Scott Wiggins, the director of staff for Pinelake Church, a thriving multi-site church in Mississippi, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom, insights, and stories, and thank you for investing yourself in everyone who’s been listening and benefiting from all you’ve shared with us today. Thanks, Scott.
Scott: Thank you, Al. Appreciate it.
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.