Many of our grantees are involved in developing Christian leaders. Many of these leaders oversee organizations with staff largely from the majority faith of their country (where Christians are usually a religious minority).
How can a Gospel witness occur in such a workplace context? In this piece written by one of First Fruit’s founders, Peter Ochs, he draws from his own leadership experiences to discuss the importance of building an intentional organizational culture where winsome faith can be modeled. Even though his context is in the US and in a business, we hope it will have relevance to a wide range of organizational settings.
Of all the leadership principles out there, why place so much importance on organizational culture?
Any kind of organization has a culture – whether it’s a business, a non-profit, a political party, a church. Any group of more than three or four people develops a set of values, which defines their culture. And no business practice can be successful in the long run that is in opposition to the organization’s culture. In fact, if an organization has a strong culture, it’s going to spit out a person who tries to change it, or tries to work at cross purposes with that culture.
Cultures simply are. They exist.
My premise is that organizations need to develop a set of basic Christian values, out of which the culture will emerge. These values can be expressed in secular terms as well as in Christian terms, and they can be justified from either a Christian perspective or from a business perspective. They can create a framework, or culture, within which an organization can run successfully, and be a testimony to the people who are in it and to the people who come in contact with it.
In the business you ran, you had people of different faiths and non-faith. How do you appropriately promote the Gospel in that context?
That is a question I want to explore – whether it is possible to create an environment for running a company that would be positive for the promotion of the Gospel, and at the same time, is viable from a business perspective. If it’s only good in promoting the Gospel and doesn’t work from a business standpoint, then ultimately the business realities will choke it out. It won’t have staying power. And if it’s only a viable business model, then it’s irrelevant as far as Christianity is concerned – it has lost its reason for being a witness in the broader culture.
The challenge for the Christian in the workplace was best articulated by Os Guinness who said:
The problem is not that Christians are not where they should be. When you think about where Christians are in the US today, they’re in every walk of life… business… politics… education… everything. The problem is that they are not what they should be right where they are.”
That captures a very critical concept. But most people come to know Christ by seeing models of Christian behavior and being attracted to them. It is the result of the way most people learn anything – they see it in practice. Children learn from what they see their parents do, not from hearing parents say what they should do. Ideas are caught, not taught. But a lot of people say that the reason they don’t believe Christianity is relevant is that they see Christians living differently from what they say they believe.
The workplace is the most obvious source for a very powerful interactive kind of modeling of the faith.
You say culture emerges out of a set of core values. What does that look like?
At my company, Fieldstone Communities, we created “Fieldstone Values.” We put them on cards, and employees know that if I see them at work I’m going to ask to see their card – whether it’s the receptionist or a superintendent in the field or a senior manager. It’s a visual symbol that these are the core values on which our company is run. They are so central to who we are that, when we decided to change one of them, we spent about a year talking about it, and then another six months talking to people in the company to make sure that there was almost universal concurrence before we made the change.
We put the values in secular terms, but I have a biblical reference for each of them, which I did not put on the cards.
- Excellence in everything we do
- An environment of teamwork and trust
- The value of each individual employee
- Commitment to our customers
- The importance of profitable operations
- Integrity is the conduct of our business
They are values everyone can believe in – Christian, non-Christian, atheist, it doesn’t matter. They all want to work for an organization that talks this game. But the challenge is, can these values really be implemented and the company be successful? Our goal is to take these values and use them to shape the culture of the company, instead of letting the culture happen – which it will do – and then reacting to it. We see the culture as a business variable that we can work on.
Can you give us an example of how these values were put to the test?
The Fieldstone Company started in 1981, a severe recession year. For more than two decades, through some very challenging business cycles, we chose not to lay off a single employee. I don’t think there is anything evil or wrong necessarily with laying people off – it’s the reality of many businesses. But we have tried to run our business in such a way that we wouldn’t have to do that.
We operate from a mindset that says, “I value people, and I value people by valuing every one of my employees. If I do that, I’ll see them as an investment, and if I see them as an investment, they are not a cost. And if they are not a cost, but an investment, then I don’t want to cut my investment when times are tough. That’s what’s going to help me be successful.”
When the market turned south, we reduced margins in some cases, cut prices, adopted a different mindset, doing everything we could to avoid layoffs. As we look back now, we are convinced that doing what we did for the reasons of not wanting to lay people off, was also the most profitable way we could have run a building company in a recession.
How do you ensure that these values are not just a product of a stale corporate exercise but rather something actually lived out?
There has to be a way to measure these values in action. Anyone can talk a good game, but if the people don’t believe it, which is often the case, it’s not worth very much.
So we hired an outside consultant and we developed a survey. One of the areas I especially prided myself in was in how we compensated our people. But 42% of our employees said our compensation was a problem.
We formed a focus group of employees. “The pay is fine,” they said. “Medical benefits, lousy.” We found out we were spending just as much or more than our competitors, but their programs were all better than our programs. We reduced our cost by 20% and put that 20% savings back into a far more enhanced benefits program.
We unveiled the new package to the employees and they were blown away by it. We asked and listened. We responded to what they said. It said to them, in the most tangible way possible, “We are serious about these things. We really do value you, and if we work together, we can be better than what management working alone ever could be.” This unlocked a floodgate of change.
How have you seen the Gospel promoted in your company?
At the end of a meeting, one of our hard-bitten field superintendents came up to me and said, “The other guys and I were just talking,” he said, and then he began to cry. I put my arm around him and tried to turn him away from the others to save him some embarrassment. It took him a while to regain his composure. When he did, he said, “All I can say is, thank God I work for Fieldstone.” He knew how bad it was in our industry during those years, and he saw his friends out of work and losing their homes. Guys in construction know how brutal a bad economy can be. He saw the value of having a job, of being able to work, and it created this emotional response.
Talk about being a Christian witness to something. How are you going to reach a guy like that field superintendent? It’s what he sees modeled in your life.
Other results I’m excited about are that two of our top management team members have accepted Christ. Members of their families are accepting Christ. We have some Bible studies that go on in the office. They are completely voluntary, and they happen outside of working hours. Being a Christian is in no way grounds for hiring or promotion in our company. That’s based on the job you do. But we want to provide an active witness for people, and people find it attractive.
Christians are called to put their faith out on the line, for the world to see in action. It’s all about being what we should be, where we already are.