The Flourishing Culture Podcast Series
“The Top Three Trends That Are Impacting Christian Workplaces “
June 28, 2021
Intro: What are the trends to focus on in the next few months? In today’s episode, we discuss key trends that are impacting the Christian workplace. Listen in as Tami Heim identifies the top three Christian-workplace issues leaders are facing.
Female: Today’s podcast is brought to you by BCWI’s 360 Leadership Assessment.
Al Lopus: Welcome to another episode of the Flourishing Culture Podcast, where our goal is to equip and inspire Christian leaders to create a flourishing workplace. As we face today’s leadership challenges, we are here to keep you from experiencing the pain of losing your best people and facing the resulting disruptions. Listen in as we help you attract and keep fantastic teams of engaged people who love one another while accomplishing great things for a higher purpose. Yes, we believe a flourishing culture is more important now than ever before. I’m Al Lopus and will be your guide today as we have a conversation about actions you can take that put you in the driver’s seat on the road to flourishing.
Suppose I told you that right now there are three noticeable trends that point to three barriers preventing your organization from fulfilling its desired outcomes. Name these barriers and your outcomes become more within reach. My guest can help you do just that. I’m delighted to welcome Tami Heim, the president and CEO of the Christian Leadership Alliance.
Tami, it’s always great to visit with you, and welcome again to the Flourishing Culture Podcast.
Tami Heim: Al, it is always so good to be able to spend time with you.
Al: Well, we had a great warm-up conversation. I’m looking forward to this recorded podcast conversation. And let’s just start off.
You’re three weeks away, at this point, from the annual Outcomes Conference. And I’m curious: why has the word outcomes become so synonymous with the Christian Leadership Alliance?
Tami: Well, I think it really comes from the place that the members in the community of Christian Leadership Alliance are really focused on kingdom outcomes. We’re a community, and we’re diverse, but we share that common objective and goal. And it doesn’t matter if it’s a Christian nonprofit, a church, an educational institute, or even the businesses that are involved in the community, ultimately, we are doing what we’re doing to advance the gospel and actually accelerate the second coming of Jesus Christ. In this community, we focus on equipping and stewarding well everything that God has given us and the assignments that He’s entrusted to us and learning how to thrive while we’re walking out all the things that the Father has already prepared for us to do.
We talk a lot about outcomes. So we have the Outcomes Conference. We have the Outcomes magazine. We have the Outcomes Academy. We just want to keep the focus on the work that we do and knowing that the outcomes really do belong to the Lord. We like to provide the places and spaces where leaders can convene, where they can, within the community, discover resources and experiences that’s going to enrich their professional development in those places and spaces. We want to connect others to be able to meet and then partner or collaborate on how they want to tackle these common challenges that they may be facing, and then just to freely engage with peers to be able to share their best practices, the current trends, and the new opportunities for ministry.
As I always say, the greatest thing is that people don’t get caught up in, “Well, this is my ministry, and this is what we do, and you do something like it.” You know, we leave that at the door, and we come together, and we invest the best that we have that God has given us in others. We multiply it, again, for greater kingdom outcomes.
Al: Yeah. And that’s the key. And I can say, having been to the CLA conference now for 20 years in a row, that’s exactly what I’ve experienced. What a great summary.
So Tami, what’s one of your favorite stories of a CLA member organization that’s experienced high outcome by engaging with peers and community.
Tami: Well, it’s interesting that you would ask that question, Al. We are actually celebrating our 45 anniversary this year at the Outcomes Conference. So for 45 years, we’ve been convening Christian leaders to an event like this, although last year it was a little bit different, but we still brought people together.
And my favorite story is the one that really started Christian Leadership Alliance. There was a group of 20 executive directors and CFOs that decided that they needed to come together because there was a crisis happening in the Christian community. And what it really tied back to is there was this lack of financial integrity around pretty much charitable gifts, and so they were seeing some big ministry leaders fall, and they were grieved by what they saw. And so they decided that they needed to come together and try to change this trend that they saw happening. And so they started to collaborate. And a lot of this was, again, CFOs. So they were looking at financial reporting, they were looking at what kind of standards did they need to set, and the consistent ways that they might be able to communicate to donors how their funds were actually being used to make measurable life change. And I really believe that as that group caught momentum, then we saw the outreach of that being the establishment of ECFA, which now sets the standards and does a lot of education around these issues of stewardship and really restored a lot of integrity back into nonprofit ministries. So I think every time God’s people comes together, there’s good things that happen, and then there’s ripples that occur.
Al: Yeah. In fact, I feel like ECFA is kind of like a brother or a sister organization to BCWI because they help steward the financial aspects, and we help with the people aspect, so—
Tami: I know. You are both. Both organizations we feel a very deep, kindred spirit. We do a lot of the training, and you do a lot of the follow-up assessment to see if the things that they’re learning are sticking.
Al: Yeah. So, you know, at the start of the year, I wrote a blog that pinpointed seven emerging workplace trends. And that blog has really gotten a lot of attention on Google, I’ll have to say, and so I’m grateful. But here are three of the seven that I mentioned. One is that this year we’re going to see decentralized hybrid virtual workplaces and that they’re here to stay. That, you know, yes, we had the virtual workplaces because of COVID, and now that we’re coming out of COVID, it’s still going to be virtual, but hybrid as well, as people go to the office part of the time, probably work from home part of the time, and decentralized, for sure. The second thing I mentioned is one-on-one meetings are really key to a team’s success, and we’re seeing that over and over and over again, and looking forward to talking about that some more. But also, that more organizations are going digital for continuous learning and development, and of course, CLA has been kind of on the cutting edge of that as well, having your digital program—what do you call it, Tami?—the institute?
Tami: Well, we have the Outcomes Academy, which is online, and then I think it super accelerated when we were the first Christian organization to create a virtual experience on the front end of COVID-19 and the pandemic.
Al: Yeah, exactly. Yeah.
So when I outlined these three things, Tami, what are some of your thoughts?
Tami: Well, I have to say, I think that there’s a huge connection between that first one, Al. I mean, one of the things that I’m finding is that you can’t say these are isolated challenges. There’s just a connectivity to all of them, and they impact each other. But I think one and two particularly, there’s kind of this hand in hand. People, no question, are going to have to rethink what it means to work and manage and lead without being there, right, being in that environment. And that puts an increased load on our need for more one-on-one communication.
Now, for Christian Leadership Alliance, we have always worked remotely, so that wasn’t something that was kind of shocking to our systems. But what was a big change for us is that originally, or for our team, we come together once a year at the Outcomes Conference. And that’s the time we come together as a team, and then we believe it’s our opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus as we minister to ministry leaders. And it didn’t happen in ’20, and now we’re going into ‘21. So it has been over two years since my team has physically been together in the same room, and there’s a real ache for that. But staying connected, something we changed as we started having meetings every week, our executive team and then our entire team.
But I got to tell you, I missed the boat on the significance of the one on one. And then I started to see things just festering in the team, and then I realized that that personal touch matters and that we have to clear the mechanism and be present. And being fully present is a gift that we can give that has invaluable return to those we give it to. So having those one on ones so that you can fill in the gaps, and it’s not just about going over the business of ministry or the things that need to be done, but it’s for that deep personal connection, to dial into someone and see where they are. It’s like, how do you replace the conversations that happen when you’re just wandering around the office, when you’re at the water cooler or you’re, you know, those spontaneous things that are just so rich? So we do have to adjust, and we do need to think a lot differently about it. But I hear all the time, Al, that ministers are saying, “We just don’t need the space.”
Al: Oh, really. Yeah.
Tami: “We just don’t need to do this. We need to sell our buildings.” And, you know, in the commercial real estate, I mean, there’s tons and tons of vacancies because people are saying, “We can be really productive at home.”
As far as online learning, I think that’s just a natural continuation of what we’ve seen happen digitally. I mean, I remember when Phoenix first came out, there was online school. And I know I don’t know of very many educational institutions now that don’t have some type of version of online learning, because people are busy and they need what they need when they need it, and so they’re looking for that kind of flexibility. I mean, we love everything that’s on demand, right?
Al: That’s right.
Tami: Because it’s on our time.
Al: We want it when we need it or want it. Yeah, right.
Tami: So, I think that’s going to continue. What I think is important for ministries in the context of, you know, that being a challenge is to be intentional about the constructs that they create to develop their leadership pipelines within their organizations. So just saying, oh, you can go to this or you can go to that and being random does not serve you well. But ministries and any type of organization needs to filter and guide and direct the type of online learning that they want their employees to engage in, because even though it’s online, it’s creating a common language within the organization and more of a shared experience.
Al: Tami, that’s great. And just like long-range weather forecasts, trends are not always positive. Trends can move in and threaten like looming thunderclouds, just to create a picture. And I know your leadership at CLA, and you’ve seen what’s going on and you see what’s going on in Christian organizations as you work with so many throughout the year. So, think about a few trends or patterns that kind of come to rise and give rise to your concern. What are three emerging issues that you see on the horizon that could seriously help keep Christian organizations from fulfilling their targeted outcomes?
Tami: Well, I would have to say that maybe some of them, like I said, there’s a lot of interconnection there. I think, first of all, it’s how they choose to embrace what technology makes possible.
Tami: And what does it mean to subdue it? I mean, we can get very caught up in the excitement of technology and miss subduing it for a way that it really advances our kingdom mission and purpose. And then I think, kind of connected to the one that you talked about, the first one is just recruiting talent and retaining them. And then the third one is, especially for our Christian communities, is understanding diversity and inclusion. And what does the Christlike response look like for that? You know, how do we find that space between truth and grace?
Al: Wow. Those are three great things, Tami. Let’s talk about the first one. You mentioned embracing what technology makes possible. Well, in this last COVID period, you know, technology has advanced years, not just not one year, but maybe five years of advancement because of the need to adopt new things. So tell us a little more about that first issue. What are you thinking?
Tami: Well, I think understanding technology—when I came to Christian Leadership Alliance in 2012, I was a little surprised because I had come from a web tech firm, and I thought, “Oh, gosh. We have a big opportunity here. You know, there’s, like, a big gap to fill.” And then we started to see some movement on that, but I think 2020 was the real accelerator and especially in the area of connecting with champions that sustain the work of the ministry and trying to figure out—we teach at Christian Leadership Alliance, and I know that’s true in many other organizations, that fundraising is a ministry in and of itself, and it is extremely relational, and it’s having the opportunity to invite someone to participate in a work that’s really near and dear to their heart. And so trying to figure out, how do you maintain those connections online, and how do you have to do that differently? And so I think there’s still an opportunity. I think 2020 was a year of testing and trying and seeing what would work. And just as things open up and we can, you know, we get to go forward and maybe get back in the living room or go out to dinner with people, I think there was a lot of good that was learned in that period that we should not quickly dismiss. Again, it goes back to, how do you use that technology to really work for you? And I think it’s God’s timing on things, right? So ministries had to learn how to make those kinds of connections just in time for Gen Z to turn 25. So as we’re talking about cultivate—and that’s the first generation that is 100 percent pure digital. And so now they’re coming of an age where we have an extraordinary opportunity to engage them in the work, so we have to become much more digital savvy so that we can meet them where they are and extend the invitation.
Al: You’re talking about connections with champions, and you’re talking, probably, about donors, in many cases.
Al: Yeah. It’s been really interesting to see how a Zoom meeting might even—now that people are up to speed on using Zoom, even older people, which are a lot of major donors—now they know how to do that. In fact, they’ve become comfortable with it, and they’d rather have an hour Zoom meeting rather than kind of take some time out for a face-to-face meeting, I would think. So, it’ll be interesting to see where it goes.
Tami: Well, I think it’s just like anything else. I think it’ll be a balance of both. Like, I love being at church, but my discipleship group is still meeting online because we can get right to what we want to do and have more time in Bible study than traveling to some destination, you know, and making that space. It’s less disruptive, and we can spend more quality time engaging in God’s Word. So there’s the best of both worlds.
Al: And you don’t have to be local to be part of that group. You know, that’s the other thing we’ve all noticed is as we’ve done webinars during COVID, you know, we’ve had 12 or 13 different countries attending our webinars and even other groups. You know, we see people that we used to know that want to be part of our group, but they are some other place in the world, and they can still join us.
Yeah, well, that’s right. Embracing technology. We’ve certainly seen a lot of changes.
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, that’s number one trend. Number two is recruiting talent and retention. That’s a topic close to my heart. And I get a sense, Tami, that there’s going to be a lot more of an issue here in the next six months about retention particularly, as well as recruiting new talent, because already it seems like the market place is tight all of a sudden.
Tami: Well, I’m hoping that the tightness in the market place will relax a little bit, once we get in motion again. But I think the good news is that we have no boundaries, right, because if we start doing more remote working, then it’s okay, you know, to look across the nation or maybe even around the world. But then the bad news is there’s no boundaries. So I think this will be a time that talent will just rise to the top, be easily identified. People will want to recruit the best people that are out there. And so nonprofit organizations or any organization, it’s going to be diligently working to make sure that you have the right culture and environment, that you are thinking about what’s valuable to the employees, that you are thinking about what is the satisfying experience that you bring. And maybe even for the nonprofit space, there may not be a swell of promotional types of opportunities, but there’s always opportunities to grow professionally and personally and within our scope spiritually. So we need to think different about how are we nurturing people along in their journey and how are we just maybe even the reward is a greater responsibility to make a bigger kingdom impact.
Al: Yeah. I like what you’re saying. Nurturing people, and sometimes leaders don’t think that’s their job. But we need to nurture and develop our talent to make sure that we’re effective next year and the year after that, don’t we.
Tami: Well, our teams are our first ministry. The model. I mean, Jesus got it done through the 12, and He brought them close, and then even within that, He brought His inner circle together. And so we need to diligently pray. I mean, we all have the big vision of whatever it is that we’re called to do, but we can’t miss that the team that’s been assembled is really by God’s hand as well.
Al: Yeah. Shepherd the people that God has entrusted to you, 1 Peter 5:2. Absolutely, yeah. Tami, that’s great.
So, our third possible barrier that organizations need to be mindful of, what are your thoughts on that?
Tami: I don’t know if we’d call it the barrier—
Tami: —but I do think that in our community, just wrestling with diversity and inclusion issues, you know, there’s been a radical change on the landscape right now, and we just need to be able to process that, interpret that, and learn how to be God’s action in the midst of it. We need to be steadfastly praying and staying true to the things that we’ve called to do. You know, when we talk about 2020, I mean, unprecedented was, like, the tag word for everything, right? And right now it doesn’t feel like that was a 2020 thing, right? I mean, we’re seeing this spill over into 2021, and, you know, every day we look at the news and we say, “Is this really our country? Are these the things that are happening?” Now, in that, there’s this enormous opportunity to meet people. I feel like we’re in a period where layers of brokenness and sin are just rising to the top and that God’s entrusted this time to us, and we have to be on point, manning our post because we’re the agents of truth and light and hope. So the opportunity, I think, to share the gospel is greater than it’s ever been and to meet some of these needs that just seem to be continually growing. So we need the Holy Spirit guiding us and directing us, helping us see what it is we need to be so that we really are reflecting the character of Christ.
And at the Outcomes Conference this year in June, we’re doing something very different. We’re having advisory-council- and board-led roundtable discussions in each one of the disciplines to wrestle with what are some of the most, you know, the hottest topics that are going on right now and to be able to be vulnerable to say, “We don’t know what the answer is yet, but we are going to come together to process that, to pray over it.” And out of that, I trust God will allow us to create resources and a better understanding of best practices so that we go through it together, because we are better together. But in the topic of diversity and inclusion, I mean, we have to be intentional and thoughtful as we walk into all of this.
Al: And it doesn’t happen by accident.
But talking about your three, number two and three really connect in my mind, and that is recruiting talent and retention. With millennials and Gen Z, if they walk into a workplace and it’s not diverse, they’re not going to work there. I mean, they already have in their mind that organizations need to be diverse to be effective. And so being able to recruit talent, keep your talent, and now millennials are already half of the workforce, in most organizations, that’s going to continue to be a big issue. I think you’re exactly right.
And I was listening to a webinar, and the chief human-resource officer at Microsoft was on the webinar, and she definitively stated that culture is more important now than ever at Microsoft and other organizations, as we come out of COVID and try to deal with these issues. Yeah.
Tami: I think for Christians, too, this can’t be about obtaining a percent or clicking it off or having the people there. I think it’s really meeting people where they are and understanding how they feel. It’s knowing how to love people well. And if we aren’t willing to be intentional about getting to know their values and the things that matter to them and to love them and respect them, then we really aren’t accomplishing anything. It’s like the cladding gates again. I mean, it’s without love, we’re bankrupt.
Al: Yeah. And it’s interesting. As I’ve done a couple of podcasts last summer on this topic of diversity and inclusion, it’s Christians that should have the skills that actually develop relationships. And that’s how we break down barriers between differences by having those conversations, building relationships, and breaking down those barriers. And we should be the ones that are setting the example for the world in that regard. Yeah, absolutely.
Well, given our timing of coming out of COVID and reflecting on the challenges that are facing our world, you know, there’s political challenges, economic challenges, challenges around justice, so what’s your thought on the importance of culture on Christian organizations at this point?
Tami: Well, I think we need to care for it and nurture it in a way that we maybe never have in the past. I mean, I think it really does have to be a top priority because the spiritual warfare is real right now. And more than ever, I think as Christian leaders, we’ve got to be on our knees. We need to seek God. We can’t let the things that are happening shake us or destroy the Christ centeredness of our organizations and the things we do. That is a sacred trust that we have, and we need to be protectors of that. We need to be grounded in our faith, we need to be grounded in God’s Word, and we need to remain a people that is fully convinced that the promises of God are true. We have to be the calm in the storm, and we have to bring out the best of those that God has given us within our organizations and help them fulfill what they’ve been called to do. I mean, really to unpack God’s best in them and to deploy them so that they fully realize that. That’s what’s really going to bring great satisfaction, I think, within our environments.
Al: Yeah. Really being strong in the spiritual dimension, particularly in this environment.
Tami, I’ve noticed, and we’ve talked about this a bit, that leaders are tired, and this concerns me. And I’ve noticed it because when it comes to doing Employee Engagement Surveys, for example, it’s more work for leaders. It’s another to-do. And we’ve seen that they’ve abandoned, to a degree, some of these things that need to be done, just because they’re tired. And I don’t blame them at all. I’m tired too, just trying to pivot and work in a new environment. And while it’s not being completely new for us, because we’ve been pretty much remote as well, but what’s your observation about the current health of leaders, particularly Christian leaders?
Tami: I think leaders are very tired. I think that they are weary. I think this has been just a refining time that we’ve gone through together. And many of them are on the front line, caring and taking care of some of the issues that we’ve had because of COVID. They’re fighting to keep the ministry sustainable and doing things. So it’s a good fight, but we need to be able to serve and do the things that God has called us to out of a place of rest.
Tami: And I think the disciplines of silence and solitude and prayer are important because we have to hear from God. I mean, we need this infilling of the Holy Spirit every day to guide us, to counsel us, and to comfort us. And that can only come if we make space for it. And there’s going to be seasons that you’re just going to have to run fast and you’re going to do it, but you have to pay attention to it. And if you can master the disciplines of silence and solitude, then you can bring that in to every day without saying, “Okay. Now I have to go in a closet.” You find moments that you can engage. In fact, I just went through, again, Ruth Haley Barton’s book on solitude and silence. I just did this with my discipleship group. And it was so good to go back to what are the disciplines of doing that. And you have to get practiced back up to make that happen. But we have to restore ourself. I mean, we have to be serving from a place of rest to be most effective, and then just trust God. Sometimes we just have to say, “I can’t do any more,” and I have to really trust that I can take my Sabbath, that I can take this time that I need.
Al: Yeah. And to even get away. So now things are opening up, and we’ll be able to get away and have silent retreats and so on in a place, rather than having our kids around the house and not going to school and doing everything else, you know.
Tami: Yes. That’s a whole other layer. I’m glad you brought that up, because that is a whole other layer to our work life this past year. Very challenging.
Al: Yeah. It’s been very challenging.
So, yeah. I really like your encouragement. Silence and solitude. Leaders, let’s recognize that we’re tired, but let’s get some rest and come out strong because these are going to be exciting times, I think, in the next couple of years.
Well, you know, Tami, this has just been great. I’ve really enjoyed all that we’ve learned. And, you know, I look back on our discussion, and your three points are great: technology, particularly how we connect with others and connect with our champions of our ministries. Secondly, recruiting talent and retention. This is going to be a huge issue for us in the next year as we see, you know, people have been staying in their jobs, waiting for things to settle down. And as things settle down, they feel like they might be able to take a risk to look around in another job. I think this is the time to really focus on culture and the talent and retention, as you say, and creating a positive culture and environment to do that. And then diversity and inclusion is certainly something we really, everybody must focus on. You see the large—I mean, the Christian should be the ones, I think, leading this charge. And yet, oftentimes, it’s still large corporations that are doing this, but let’s get in the in the fight, if you will, in that regard. And then, I think what you’re saying around silence and solitude for leaders is really great. Is there anything else that you’d like to add to what we’ve talked about?
Tami: What was interesting when I was thinking about your three points and then the things that we just discussed, I just really feel compelled that we really have to be faithful stewards of the hearts and minds and souls of ourselves and those that God has put us in relationship with. And technology and all of those other things are just the means to the end, and we need to understand how can we use those things to advance the importance of caring well and loving well.
Al: Yeah, great.
Well, so, to conclude our interview, Tami, what’s one final thought, one thing you’d like to leave with leaders who are listening, something that would really encourage our listeners?
Tami: What’s so interesting, the theme of our Outcomes Conference this year is thrive. And I will tell you that that was a theme God put on our hearts before 2020, because that’s just how we plan in advance. And so we’ve spent a lot of time this year just thinking about what does it mean to thrive. And we go back in scripture and we look at it, it is possible to thrive even in the times that we’re in, because thriving in Christ has nothing to do about the situation and the circumstances. It’s just how are we keeping our eyes focused on Him, and that daily surrender of what we can’t control to the One who controls it, and being in that practice every day, seeking the power that Jesus promised to us through the Holy Spirit, and that we do need to remain strong and courageous in whatever He’s called us to do, because His promise is true. He is always with you.
Al: Amen. Amen.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, Tami Heim, the president and CEO of the Christian Leadership Alliance. Thanks, Tami, for spending this time with us, being open and genuine about the things that matter, and really encouraging us for silence and solitude and rest as we can come out stronger here in our leadership. So really appreciate your integrity, your commitment, especially your commitment to your colleagues, and I know most of them. So thanks for taking your time out and speaking with us and speaking into the lives of so many listeners. Thanks, Tami.
Tami: Well, thanks, Al. And blessings to you for just how faithful you have been, and all the ways that you and Best Christian Workplaces Institute have kept organizations on the path to create flourishing cultures, and we need you now more than ever. So thank you for the good work and helping us, like I said, know how to love and care well for our people.
Al: Thank you, Tami.
And I have an idea for your next Conference theme. And now that thrive is this year, I think flourish should be it for next year.
Tami: Well, Al, we already have a theme for next year.
Al: Oh, okay.
Tami: But it’s just about time for us to start praying for 2023, so that could work, Al.
Al: Okay, great.
Well, thanks, again, Tami.
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