The Flourishing Culture Podcast Series
“Putting Christ at the Center of a Solidly Flourishing Culture“
March 1, 2021
Intro: Are you looking for a few partial tips on how to improve the health of your workplace culture? Well, today’s show is an interview with the president who has created one of the most flourishing culture we’ve seen in the past few years, all while seeing great ministry growth. Stay tuned to learn how.
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.
Every week, 126 new children in Georgia are removed from their homes and placed into the state’s foster-care system due to abuse, neglect, addictions, violence, and more. Enter FaithBridge Foster Care in Alpharetta, Georgia, just north of Atlanta. As you’re about to hear, this amazing ministry organization is transforming the lives of children who’ve suffered abuse and neglect. We’re so fortunate to have with us Bob Bruder-Mattson, the president and CEO of FaithBridge Foster Care. Bob, welcome to the Flourishing Culture Podcast.
Bob Bruder-Mattson: Thank you. It’s great to be with you, Al.
Al: So, Bob, when families and individuals go to FaithBridge and the website, they’re treated with words like this: one family can make all the difference. And Bob Bruder-Mattson is living proof. An amazing Christian family decided to adopt him as a baby from foster care, and he believes their decision really changed everything for him. So, Bob, I’m curious, what is it about your adoptive parents’ decision to love and even call you to their own that you will hold and cherish forever?
Bob: I remember from a very young age my mom and dad telling me that I was adopted and didn’t really understand what that meant, or it didn’t register. I just knew that they were my parents. And they would just talk about how they they’d prayed and asked God for a child and that He had given them me. And they said, “We chose you. Of all the children that we could have had, we chose you.” And I think that is something that, again, when you’re young, I don’t know that it really makes that much of an impression on you. But when you start to see what other families are like as you grew up, it’s something that I feel like it really stuck with me and it’s kind of shaped me into who I am and what I believe. And so as I think about that, even as an adult, and my parents will just remind me, we chose you, and you’re the greatest blessing that God has ever, ever given us. And I have a brother and sister they’d said the same thing about as well. So I think that’s the kind of love that, it feels to me, like that Christ has for us.
Well, I have to believe that the love you talk about and putting others first must run throughout your people, your workplace culture, even. Tell us about that.
Bob: I think that one of the things is—what we call ourselves a Christ-centered organization is really about putting others first or loving your neighbor as yourself. So as we think about that, it just drives the way that we care for the foster children that come into our organization, the way we support our foster families, the way we interact with the state government and the people we partner with, our churches, and the way we all work together. When you put other people first and you love them as your neighbor, it just changes the dynamic. And it’s really powerful to see this played out day in, day out and during stories of situations where it could have been a bad scenario, and you’ll see that love come in there, and you’ll see others’ needs being put first, and you’ll see a situation turn 180 degrees. It’s powerful to see that. And so it’s, really, for me, it’s humbling to be part of something like this where there’s something so significant moving in so many lives.
So, as president and CEO, talk about how you began to desire God’s very best for your workplace culture. What encouraged you, from the first BCWI results even before you got there as you looked at those and now as you’ve helped to really shape your culture, to go from where it was to now just being highly flourishing?
Bob: So when the Lord called me to this work about eight years ago, I was like, how am I going to do this? And the Lord just reminded me that He was going to be with me. But I knew that if I’m going to lead an organization like FaithBridge, I just had to make sure that I was putting Christ first in my life at all times. And then it became just clear that FaithBridge couldn’t accomplish all that God wanted us to do if we didn’t have a healthy culture, because we needed to be working as one in the body of Christ. And so we had to work on our fundamentals. I would call it blocking and tackling. And if you talk to my team, I often talk about we’ve got to build a strong foundation. And so without a strong foundation, we’re not going to be able to get the success and the results we need.
So I guess from the first Survey that took place before I joined the organization, I was encouraged by two things, and that was really that people felt good about the life-giving work that was happening through our organization, that we had a sustainable strategy. And when I think about those things, if you have those, you have some what I would say are the fundamentals to potentially build a great organization, and it seemed like we could position ourselves in the market with that. So from there, I felt like the things that were working but maybe needed improvement, we could build off those things. And so it was just kind of a sign that we had some of the right things there, but we had more to do, and if we could do more, God would probably give us more impact.
And so, well, let’s talk about some of your action steps. What were some of the things that you did to strengthen and improve your culture after you looked at your Survey results?
Bob: I want to step back, just kind of my fundamental beliefs are that people who do the work are in the best position, Al, to really evaluate what’s working, what can be improved. And so from that kind of perspective, when I first came into the organization, we started using a balanced scorecard to measure and monitor our performance.
And so one of the things that that’s helped us do is kind of giving everybody clarity about what’s important and what we’re going to be paying attention to. And to build that scorecard out, I asked our teams to help us really decide what was important, what objectives we needed to set for an annual performance, and then we just started reviewing that, talking about it regularly, talking about what we could do to improve performance and how we’re going to do that. And so I think what that did is it really started to open up the lines of communication, and the notion that you can’t lead from the top down, I think you really need to lead and learn from the bottom up. And so that shaped a lot of what happened.
And then we just, as we started to gain success, we just started celebrating that, right? So we started something a few years back where we had G.O.A.T.s, greatest of all time. And so whenever we had one of these key items on our balanced scorecard that was better than another period, we would celebrate it. And to kind of make it fun, we put this little video together of these goats dancing, and then we would all get up, and I, the first time we did it, I stood up in front of everybody in the meeting, and I did the goat dance. And so it’s a humbling and humiliating thing that you’ve ever seen anybody try to do a goat dance, well, actually me. But it was fun. And so then we would all get up and do the goat dance and just to celebrate. And we saw that the more we celebrated, the more we were able to build our success, it felt like it was cumulative. So it was a lot of fun. And to this day, I have a goat in my office, a stuffed goat. For Christmas this year, one of my team members gave me a little goat that sits on my desk, and whenever I want to get connected to that goat, I can just push a little button, and the goat screams. So we just, we do all sorts of fun things with a goat. And it’s been a lot of fun.
And one of the things we did this year with Zoom is send everybody on the team a pair of sunglasses. And so whenever I say, “It’s sunglass time,” they know we’re going to celebrate a G.O.A.T. and get ready to dance. So it’s just been a fun tradition.
Al: Okay. Combination of things. So we’ve got goat dancing, we’ve got goat screaming, we got cheap sunglasses, so that’s fun. That’s great.
Bob: It has been great.
Al: And we do ask the question, I have fun at work. It really does tie people to the organization. That’s an important thing. And I hope that you guys are going to be celebrating the greatest-of-all-time achievements and continue to see even greater results. That’s great.
So, you continued the cycle, talking about the Employee Engagement Survey, and you came back for a second time, and you showed that FaithBridge was already on the road to flourishing. So tell us a story about that, Bob.
Bob: Yeah. So when we did the Survey in 2019, it was just, it was encouraging to see the results that we come up from where we were before. And we’d been concentrating on some areas that we knew that were important to me and to some of the other leaders, and so to see that kind of paying off and it kind of validated that what we felt like was important was working and it was building our culture.
And so one of the things that I believe is really important and we really try to practice this, though, is that it’s, I think, essential is kind of open and honest communication. So when we got the Survey results back, it was exciting because we were right there at the flourishing level, but there were some areas in there that weren’t so complimentary. But I just kind of said, “We’re going to do this and share with the whole team.” And so we shared the, what I would call, the good, bad, and the ugly. Everybody got to hear about it, and we asked for their thoughts and how they thought we could improve. And so as we dialoged about this and we gave everybody a chance to understand it, it just seemed like it was really well received and was respected because we weren’t holding anything back. You know, people knew that they made comments, it wasn’t just something that went in down on paper and nobody paid attention to it. We talked about it. And in fact, one of the areas we put a team together, a cross-functional team, we said, “Hey, how can we improve on this?” And so some of these things aren’t easy to solve, though, either. And so I think part of it for us was just giving everybody a chance to understand that we understand, we want to focus on this area and do better, but we’re not exactly sure how to do it. So let’s go on a journey together.
Al: Yeah, great. So cross-functional team was really the intent of getting input and figure out how to work together to create more G.O.A.T.s. That’s, yeah—
Bob: I love that, more G.O.A.T.s.
Al: More G.O.A.T.s.
So then 2020 comes, and you’re in the middle of COVID, but you decided you wanted to continue on the road to flourishing and survey the third time. And what you discovered is that your culture had even grown healthier, clearly solidly flourishing, but not only that, you’ve risen to the top 4 percent of the hundreds of organizations that we surveyed in 2020. The other thing that as I was looking at your report, 90 percent of your employees are in that engaged category, a tremendous improvement. So a couple of questions. You decided to survey in COVID, and you’ve seen a really remarkable improvement. Why did you survey in COVID, and do you feel the difference?
Bob: Yeah. People told me it’s probably not a good idea to do a Survey right now. And on the surface, yeah, that’s probably pretty logical thinking. But I just knew that—I could feel something. I could feel something happening. I could feel people feeling more connected, more engaged. And we had done some really special things when COVID started, and it just felt like it was the right time, and it had been a year. And I’m a real big believer in feedback and data and measuring things, and so I wanted to know, and so we moved forward with it.
Al: Do you feel the difference now, several years later? What’s it feel like to be flourishing versus just healthier?
Bob: Well, I mean, I can feel it just in the way that people interact. I can feel it in how I’m connected to people. I can see it in the results. So, like, when we first started celebrating G.O.A.T.s, the people that, if it was part of our team that had done something, that team was probably celebrating more than everybody was celebrating. The intensity of the celebration was high. What I would say now is when we have a G.O.A.T., everybody is feeling connected to that G.O.A.T. Even if it’s not something that everybody was directly responsible for, it feels like everybody’s in a deeper level of connection, more accountability, and more ownership. I think that’s what you want, is you want an owner-led owner kind of culture where people feel like it’s theirs, right? And I feel like I could feel that coming, because I’ve had my own experiences before where I’ve had that in other organizations for brief periods of time. But it felt like it was sticking here. And that was really, it was palpable to me.
Al: 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, you got your Survey back; you’re in the top 5 percent, 4 percent of all organizations; and then, you announce it to your staff. So tell us the story of how you chose to announce the Survey results to your staff. There’s something that we can all learn here.
Bob: Yeah. That was kind of fun. So, we have committee meetings of all staff six times a year. But what I did is just called a special meeting over Zoom. It was a short meeting. It was only going to be 30 minutes.
And what we did, we did two things that are really cool. I want to tell you about the first thing that was really cool is we work with a sister organization 4KIDS of Florida. And we decided, coming into the election this fall, that we would do a time of prayer and fasting with them. And so I wanted to announce that, and I told everybody we’re going to be doing that, and we were going to be connected together spiritually around that.
But then I said I had a surprise for them. And so they know we’ve done the results, and I threw up on the video the results of this. And it was really cool because everybody was very excited that we were doing well, and we were celebrating that. And so they thought that was over. And I said, “Well, wait a minute. I have a surprise for you, and I’m not going to tell you what it is right now. But there’s a surprise coming. We’re going to have our first in-person meeting, socially distanced, since COVID. And we’re going to have that a couple of weeks later.” And I said, “At that meeting, I’ll tell you.” So when I got to that meeting—it was indoors, of course, but we were spread out—and I got up, and I had a jacket on, and I said, “I suppose you’re wondering why I’m inside with a jacket on?” And I said, “Well, this is the surprise.” And it was this really nice jacket that had our logo on it. And in the back of the room, I had jackets of all sizes for people to try on and of all colors. And I said, “We’re going to go back there. You’re going to get to pick out the jacket of your size, pick the color you want, and then we’ll get them ordered and embroidered, and we’ll have them shipped off to your house.” And it was just, people were so excited about that, to have some way to symbolize that. And I said, “The reason we’re doing this is just to celebrate what God is doing at FaithBridge. This is a way to just to mark the moment, to be joyous about that.” And so it was really exciting. And people, I think they really appreciated the fact that they got to pick out exactly what they wanted. We’re all unified then when we wear these jackets. It’s a great reminder of what we’re doing together and how God is working.
Al: Yeah. Well, a little company swag is always a home run when it comes to recognition, that’s for sure. Yeah, great. That’s a great story.
As you’ve looked at your results, of course, you already know this, that two of the most popular words that your people use to describe your culture were the words Christ and prayer. Christ and prayer. Tell us how Christ and prayer in their role in your organization helps to create a flourishing workplace culture.
Bob: So, our identity is really tied to who we are in Christ, personally and as an organization. And it just shapes everything about who we are, what we do, how we do it, and why we do it. So I just think about it this way. I may be the president and CEO of FaithBridge, but we’re all following Christ, and He’s leading us.
And a few years ago, when we started to have a weekly time of prayer and devotions on Friday mornings for anybody that happened to be in our office—we had people that are out of the office, working all the time—and it was either led by me or some other senior leader. And that was an important start. But the Lord was just impressing on me that we needed to do more to kind of encourage people to foster their own relationship with Christ and make it really kind of core and daily part of who we are as an organization, who they are. So we started just making prayer a regular part of every meeting and conversation we had, just not on Fridays. And so for about a year, we practiced doing that internally. And some people are—it’s hard for some people to pray out loud, but we wanted just to give people that opportunity.
And what we started to see is the fruit of what God was doing in each situation that we’d given over to Him in prayer. We saw miracles happening and situations turning 180 degrees in a way that we couldn’t even understand. And it started to encourage all of us.
And then I encouraged them, let’s take that outside of the organization the next year. Let’s use it in the relationships we have with people that may or may not know Christ. But let’s see if we can let’s introduce prayer into those environments and give that over to the Lord. And so more encouragement was coming. And that was—we had some really good stories about that. Then, COVID hit. And so that kind of killed our Friday-morning prayer time. And so as I was praying about, like, “What do I do, Lord, now that COVID’s here? How do I lead this organization?” the Lord just started telling me, “You need to pour into your people. You need to help your people really grow in their relationship with Me.”
And so one of the ways that the Lord has put on my mind is instead of having all these meetings in person, let’s move the prayer and devotion time to Zoom. But instead of you leading it all the time or somebody else, why don’t you get your other team members to lead it? So I just started asking people if they’d feel comfortable leading devotion and prayer time. And 95 percent of everybody said they’d be willing to do it. And so they started doing that every Friday morning. We had a common format that they could use that would make it easy and comfortable. But the fruit that’s come out of that, I couldn’t be more proud about anything that we’ve accomplished in 2020 than to see people grow in their relationship with Christ and to see their faith grow and to watch them lead others in this area. That is probably the most binding thing we’ve done as an organization is just pray and read scripture and praise God together. Every Friday morning, it doesn’t matter what’s happening, that’s what we’re doing.
Al: That’s a great story. I really love that you’re really trying to foster your employees’ relationships with Christ. That’s spiritual leadership right there.
And it’s not just that your people are focused on Christ and prayer, but it also leads them to focus on fulfilling your mission, the mission of FaithBridge, and trying to bring it back to leadership, especially spiritual leadership. So, Bob, here’s a question. What’s your greatest desire as a leader, the leader of FaithBridge, as you step into the year 2021?
Bob: So my greatest desire for FaithBridge is that each of us will grow in our relationship with Christ, that others will see our good works, and that our Father in heaven is going to be glorified. And as we do that, I’m just praying that God will lead and multiply our efforts so that we’re going to have more impact on foster children and their families throughout the nation. That’s what I want for FaithBridge. And if we do that and if God does that, then everything’s going to be where it needs to be.
Al: That’s a great desire.
So as 2021 unfolds, what’s one distinctive strength about your culture that you’d like to see improve even more? And you’re already in the top 4 percent, but what can improve even more, in your mind?
Bob: So we have a really flat organizational chart, so there’s just not a lot of room for vertical growth. But I’ve been thinking that if we could develop our team and help them find more ways to feel like they’re growing and advancing in their careers and personally, that would be really important. So we’re looking for ways to do that, that they feel like they’re able to contribute, that they are making an impact on the organization. And so that’s been a discussion that’s been going on. And we’ve working on plans for that right now, in fact.
Al: Yeah. That’s great. Helping people develop and grow, and that’s going to actually have the results of seeing FaithBridge develop and grow. There’s no question about that correlation.
So how about a growing edge for you personally in your relationship with Christ? How would you like to see yourself grow for the sake of either yourself or FaithBridge and, of course, the children and families you serve?
Bob: Well, it’s hard for me to sit still and be quiet. I really like to get things done. But lately the Lord has been impressing on me the need to spend more time in silence and solitude, with no agenda but just to listen and wait on the Lord. And so often I’m finding myself distracted when I’m doing that, but I’m asking the Lord to help me do that.
And I was thinking about this. Those that know me know I love to fish. And when I’m outside and I’m fishing, I really feel more of God’s presence. So I’m wondering, is this the Lord telling me I need to fish more in 2021? I’m not sure about that. But the bottom line is, I’m just hoping to be obedient to the Lord, where He’s leading, and I know that He is speaking to me and I just need to wait on Him or just to be still and be silent.
Al: So, I’ve got to ask this question, Bob. And our listeners just love to hear the way your employees, your staff are growing spiritually, how they have opportunities to learn and grow, how they’re growing in their faith, that way the culture is growing. So what about, is there a link between growth and those ways and growth as an organization? Have you seen any growth in FaithBridge over the last couple of years?
Bob: I think as people grow in their relationship with Christ, what that’s doing is that’s helping us to fulfill our vision and our mission and our goals. It’s very clear to me. We do really hard work, and we’re doing work that’s messy. There’s a brokenness. And we’re seeing, as God is the center of everything we’re doing, we’re seeing the beauty coming out of the ashes. And I’ve seen God working through us and in us in the lives of the children and the foster children and the birth families we’re working with, in our foster parents, and our church is just—it’s a powerful connection. And as we deepen our relationship with Christ, I see the outcomes, the impact of our mission increasing.
Al: Yeah. Great.
Well, this has really been great, Bob. We’ve really enjoyed everything we’ve learned. And as you started off, you know, how important it is to build a strong foundation, having a strong culture is a strong foundation, having a strong spiritual foundation, how you’re using balanced scorecards for clarity and how that helped to bring clarity to the organization. And of course, I think we’ll all remember G.O.A.T.s and what that stands for, the greatest of all time. So when you’ve got a greatest-of-all-time event, you celebrate it with dancing and other ways. I can’t wait to see a video of that. But then, as you surveyed in COVID, you felt that was important to continue the routine. And again, the results you got were just really helpful and informative. But then, just around spiritual leadership and your focus on Christ and prayer and how prayer and Christ really has strengthened and how important that is to your culture overall. So, all of this has been really helpful. And then, also, then, finally, the way you’ve really focused to help employees develop and grow over the past couple of years.
So, I really appreciate all we’ve learned and the key points and takeaways that you’ve given us. How about, is there anything else that we haven’t talked about that you’d like to include in our discussion?
Bob: One thing I would just say to leaders out there, and it took me a while to learn this, but I think having really clear, defined objectives, a well thought out plan where everybody on the team knows what’s expected of them, having the resources and tools to be successful, I think those are all really important, and I think those are foundational to success.
But what I found that’s been very helpful to me and our team is just understanding why. When people understand why something’s being done, they have a chance to ask questions of their leaders and see how their actions can connect to the vision, the mission of the organization, I found that it’s really powerful. And so I’m learning and practicing this and encouraging my leaders to practice this is, let’s always try to communicate the why for everything we’re doing, no matter how big or small, because it really matters. It’s the key to building that connection, to strengthening your culture and your results.
Al: And why leads to life-giving work, helping people understand what they do is important, and certainly, that’s true at FaithBridge.
How about, to conclude our interview, Bob, one final thought or encouragement that you’d like to leave with our listeners.
Bob: So, I just believe God puts us in the roles we’re at for such a time as this. And it may not feel that at the time you’re in that right role. But here’s what I want to say and encourage people is, wherever you are today, you are right where God wants you to be. So trust God, just commit your plans to Him, do your best, and leave the outcomes to God. If you’re obedient and you do all those things, everything’s going to work out the way that will glorify God, and you’re going to be right where you need to be.
Al: That’s great advice.
Bob Bruder-Mattson, the president and CEO of FaithBridge Foster Care in Alpharetta, Georgia, thank you for being so open and genuine about all the things that matter most in your organization, your workplace culture, and, of course, most of all, to Christ and His kingdom. So, thank you for sharing your story and how FaithBridge has discovered what it means to grow a healthy culture and be on the road to a flourishing workplace. Thanks so much, Bob.
Bob: Thank you, Al. It was really an honor and privilege to be here with you today and the listeners, and just thank you for the opportunity to share what God’s doing in our ministry.
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.