28 min read

Transcript: Top Reasons Why Your Church Should Prioritize Team Work and Trust // Ashley Wooldridge, Jeff Osborne, Christ’s Church of the Valley

Flourishing Culture Leadership Podcast

“Top Reasons Why Your Church Should Prioritize Teamwork and Trust“

February 13, 2023

Jeff Osborne and Ashley Wooldridge

Intro: Are you interested in increasing the impact of your organization? Today's episode includes a wealth of practical steps your organization can take to do just that. Listen in as I talk with the top two leaders at one of the largest churches in North America and how they have created a flourishing workplace culture.

Welcome: Welcome to the Flourishing Culture Leadership Podcast, your home for open, honest, and insightful conversations to help develop your leadership, your team, and build a flourishing workplace culture.

Al Lopus: A flourishing workplace culture provides an environment for your staff to thrive and builds commitment to a vision and strategy for your organization. And today on the Flourishing Culture Leadership Podcast, we're going to consider how engaged employees want to grow with your organization rather than looking for jobs elsewhere. Trust, sustainable strategy, healthy communication, these are all a few of the key attributes to a flourishing workplace that we will explore in this podcast.

And I'm delighted—I'm just thrilled—to welcome Ashley Wooldridge and Jeff Osborne to the podcast today. Ashley is the senior pastor of Christ’s Church of the Valley, Jeff is the executive pastor, and they serve a very large multi-site church in the Phoenix area.

Ashley Wooldridge: Well, Al, we’re honored to be with you.

Al: Well, building trust is an essential aspect to a flourishing workplace culture, and this isn’t easy in a large multi-site organization. And you've been doing the Employee Engagement Survey with us for the last 14 years or so, and the level of trust has definitely improved, particularly in this last year in your Survey. And so trust is so important in relationships. Ashley, what have you been focusing on over the past year that has built trust with your staff? Take us behind the scenes. Are there some principles or practices that you and your senior team have implemented?

Ashley: Yeah, Al. First of all, we were thrilled to see the trust scores go up, because, as you know, you can only go as fast as the speed of trust. So I think if I was going to back up and look at the things we've done, we've done a lot of things to try to build trust, but I always feel like culture flows top down. Whatever you want needs to be practiced at the top of the organization. And we have an executive team of four people, and I would say the thing that we have worked on on that executive team more than really anything the past few years is our teamwork and trust. And I really feel like our teamwork and trust with each other is higher than it's ever been, which I feel like is filtering down to every level of the organization. It's kind of easy to tell people, “Hey, we want you guys to trust each other. We want you guys to practice teamwork,” but if they're not seeing that at the top, they don't really sense it's happening at the top, it will not happen anywhere else in the organization. And so I can truly say—and Jeff is one of our executive team members—and Jeff would say this as well, we really do trust each other. We really do operate as a team, and more so now than we ever have, I really think that's reflected throughout our whole entire organization.

Jeff Osborne: Well, Ash, isn’t it ironic? Just this morning, Al, in our executive-team meeting, we were talking about our 2022 performance, and Ash was talking about this very thing: teamwork and trust. And that is always for us the number one thing that Ash will hold us accountable to. How well are we working together? How well are we trusting one another? so that you can get exactly what Ash said, the flow down of trust. And it starts with us in that conference room, like this morning, making sure that's a priority for us.

Al: Yeah, I love that. As you say, trust flows downhill. So this last couple of years with your top-leadership team, what are some things that you've done to actually, then, improve the level of trust?

Ashley: Yeah, I think we, as Jeff said—this will sound very simple, but I think it's profound—when I measure or grade or do performance reviews with our executive team at the end of the year, they would all tell you this if they're sitting in the room—Jeff just mentioned it—the number one thing I grade them on is their teamwork with each other. Now, that is a subjective thing to measure, but I've actually written out what it looks like for them to excel at teamwork. I've written it out in a paragraph form what that looks like. I've written out what it looks like if they're average at teamwork, and I've written out what it looks like if they're not good at teamwork.

So what are some things practically that I would measure them on? Are they defaulting to each other where someone else is stronger than they are? because that exudes trust, right? I need to know where I'm strong, I need to know where you're strong, and I want to default. Jeff is much stronger than I am in so many areas. So am I, as a part of our executive team, am I defaulting to Jeff and say, “Jeff, I trust you on that one. You're better than me. You run with it.”

That is so—again, you can still grade that because you can see the behaviors. Is that happening, or am I holding on to everything? Are other people on our executive team holding on to everything? So we grade that. I grade that at the end of the year, and they know that's a number one thing I grade with them on. They could hit every other metric in our church, our baptism, our number of groups, people serving, our attendance goals, they can meet every goal, and if they're not operating at the highest level of teamwork that I want, we're not healthy; we're not functioning; we're not a great organization.

Al: Great example as well. And for our listeners, here's the top leader of the organization doing executive reviews at the end of each year, and I think that’s a shout out right there of an important practice, but then, focusing on how well they're working together and behaviors connected with that. Fantastic. Yeah.

Well, Jeff, one of the areas that impacts engagement or retention for people is to feel like they have a growth path within their work. And you've invested, I know, a lot in the training and development of your team. You've got regular all-staff training sessions. You've got a number of things. Well, share with us how you focused on employee development, and talk about how you've provided opportunities for your staff, and what are some of the practical ways that you've included growth paths and development for your staff team?

Jeff: Well, I'll start with one of the things that we all embrace is we recognize the idea that if you're not growing individually, you're dying. And so we have in place for all of our employees something called an individual growth plan. Part of that is to say, yes, we want objectives for you, but if you don't have a growth plan that's going to develop you in wherever you are—and that includes all of us, including at our level. You know, if we stop growing, we die. And so it’s super important that we put that in place. So we put that structure as a part of our performance-management process to say, yes, we have objectives, but then, we're going to focus one of those core objectives on your individual growth.

And so we have had consistent feedback from the Best Christian Workplace Survey for probably the last three or four years that there's just not enough training and development. So we heard that message loud and clear. And so part of what caused that is we are growing pretty fast, and we now have about 483 people, so when you grow at that rate, it's really easy to just bring someone on the team, throw them in, say, “Get in the game. Just start shooting the ball, and we'll let you know if it's right or wrong.”

And so we've put in a few really intentional things over this last year and a half. One of them is a set of leadership-fundamental courses. We realized a lot of our people leaders have never led anybody before. So how to manage results, how to manage your team, how to empower, how to communicate. Do you do one on ones? How do you do that? So we put that in place, and we've established that for all of our people leaders.

And then, we recognize that about half of our staff are from the marketplace, and so they might not know exactly how to be comfortable in a pastoral role. So we created these key-ministry-skills courses so they know how to do a baptism, how to talk somebody through a crisis, a trauma, a tough issue, whatever the case may be.

And then thirdly, we created something called role certification. So now for all of our key pastoral positions and soon to be other non-pastoral positions, a kids’ pastor now knows our playbook instead of, again, saying, “Let's just watch. You shadow somebody, kind of watch what they do.” They may be shadowing someone that doesn't do it the way we'd like them to do it. So we now put them all through role certification. It's not bureaucratic; it's not complex. It's actually freeing because it's like, “Oh, thank you for the roadmap. I know how to be a kids’ pastor, because I've never done this before.” And those couple of things have been great.

And, Al, we just now are rolling out an implementation of our learning-management system, but it's also a knowledge database. And it allows us to put everything in there, everything from how to fill out an expense report to how to do a baptism, it's all in there. And that includes podcasts and resources and books. And so we've really doubled down on the feedback we've heard from our team. It actually improved this year in our Survey. I think people have seen the investment. And now the hope is they apply. Just like our approach with sermons, we don't want to just teach them something and get in their heads. We want them to apply it. So that's what we've done.

Al: Wow. So you've listened to the feedback from your staff. You've built these three key initiative leadership foundations, key ministry skills, role certifications, and gosh, your scores, it seems to be working, right? I mean, that's the beauty of measuring. And so many times you put programs in place and you don't know if they're effective or not. But yeah, you can actually tell based on how people react to an Engagement Survey. Yeah, that's great. Wow.

Well, Tara VanderSande, our consultant who works with you guys—and we think Tara is absolutely the best at what she does.

Ashley: We do, too, by the way.

Al: Yeah.

Ashley: Can we shout that out as well? Yeah.

Al: Yeah.

Ashley: Yeah, she’s amazing. She has been the most humble and most strategic partner, and we just want to shout out to her. She’s been awesome.

Al: Yeah. And she also works with other large multi-site churches, which helps even give her better insights into your situation. So the number one question that she gets from our churches is, how can we keep everyone focused on a sustainable strategy? And particularly in this last season with COVID and so on, that's been a key issue. You know, it's been hard to keep people going in the same direction, and your Survey scores show that you're doing a great job at this. And I know sustainable strategy is something you've done well over time. So how do you keep people focused on the main thing? Ash, how about you? Where do you want to start?

Ashley: Well, I would start with, first of all, you have to have a main thing. I'm of the opinion that most churches are so scattered in their approach and their strategy that no one's really clear on what the main thing is. And I think that's the job one of a leader is to really make sure that you are clear on this is our focus; this is our main thing. And that sounds simple, but that takes a lot of work, and it takes a lot of repetition with your staff. So I think, number one, you need a main thing.

Number two, you have to keep communicating it over and over again until probably you sound like you're blue in the face. And then, I would just say this, too. I think your strategy or whatever your main thing is, it needs to be simple. It can't be too complex. So you need to have one, but it needs to be not so complex. Like, you should be able to walk up to your staff and say, “What really is our—not just our vision or mission, what is our strategy?” And we've tried to work really hard to boil that down to, basically, we have these five things that make up our strategy, and we just keep talking about them over and over again so it’s clear.

Al: Yeah. Share with us real quick what those five things are, just to give people an idea.

Ashley: Yeah. So I’ll back up just because they support our vision and mission. Our vision is to reach the entire Valley for Christ. That's our vision. It’s a big vision. Phoenix is the fifth largest city in the country, and we want every person in our city to hear the message of Jesus. And our mission statement is win, train, send. We exist to win people to Christ, train believers to become disciples, and send disciples to impact the world. And that's great. A lot of churches have a vision and a mission. You stick it up on a wall and say, “That's awesome.”

But our strategy to help accomplish that vision and mission, it's these five things: we need to expand our reach and footprint. So if we want to reach our city, we need to have more buildings and space to actually reach more people.

Number two is we want to build a strong team and culture. So what we're talking to you about right now matters so much because we know that culture eats strategy for breakfast. So we're going to build a great team, and we're going to invest a ton in our culture.

Three is we want to see people take their next steps. So everything we do as a church is actually centered on helping people take their next step in their faith. And so that's a strategy of ours. And it's in the center of those five because it's the most important.

Our fourth strategy is we need to focus on our financial health because it's really hard to hire the right staff and continue to build and expand if you don't have financial health.

And then five is we have to continue to improve our systems and our processes. And that’s the one that might surprise people because it doesn't sound very fun. But as James Clear said, you don't rise to the level of your goals; you fall to the level of your systems. So as we've grown, we have to make sure that our systems support our growth.

So it's those five things, and we just keep talking about them. We expand our reach and footprint. We build a strong team and culture. We're going to challenge people to take their next steps. We're going to focus on our financial health, and we're going to create great systems and processes. And if we're not growing as a church, it's because one of those five strategies is lacking somewhere. And we're normally lacking somewhere. We normally have something that's out of balance, so it's our job as leaders to say, “Okay, where do we need to focus this year? What part of our strategy needs to focus?” So that's our strategy.

Al: Yeah. Clear, absolutely. And, yeah, repetition, keeping it simple, being able to communicate it, just as you have. That's a great example. Thanks, Ash. I appreciate it.

Jeff, how about you? Any thoughts on this question?

Jeff: Well, yeah, Al, if you think about it, we've had those same five strategies for the last three years. This is our third year of the same strategies. Something's really important about that. I think sometimes people confuse strategies with goals and objectives. And as Ash said, if you're clear on your destination, your vision, your strategy is simply put as a path to get to that destination. So don't confuse your staff by constantly changing your strategies because you read something in a magazine or you saw a cool podcast or whatever it may be. They need consistency. If those three things, those five things that Ash just mentioned were good for us last year, well, what has fundamentally changed?

And sometimes as leaders, we just like change. We’re like, “Oh, it's tired. Let's change it.” The reality is we should actually not feel that way when it comes to strategies, because unless something’s fundamentally changed with how we reach the Valley for Christ, we need to keep doing those five things and keep pushing it. And it should never get old, because it should be taking us closer to that vision, and that should be measurable. And it is, by our attendance and the baptisms and the things that we see.

So I just think there's something about strategy that the world, particularly the marketplace and it flows into our churches, has made it something that needs to change constantly. And they make it an Etch A Sketch, and they shake it, and they change it, and they shake it. And this is something that our team should know exactly what our strategies are. They shouldn't change too much over time.

Al: Well, and when it's that clear, then you also hire people that believe in those strategies themselves.

Jeff: Yeah.

Al: So that helps you, you know, improve systems and processes. I know people that work in churches and they don't believe that there should be any.

Jeff: Yeah, right. Yeah.

Al: Those are all small churches, aren't they?

Jeff: Yeah, right. They want the Holy Spirit only, and they get what they get.

Al: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Well, so, one of the things, also, that comes out of your Survey is that there's room for innovation and experimentation, and your staff really feel that. So how does strategic clarity, or how does this interact with giving people space to innovate in their jobs? And innovation, experimentation, that's one of the things that we survey. Are there some particular features of your organization and structure that help people feel like they can innovate to achieve their goals? What's your sense behind innovation?

Jeff: Well, maybe I'll start, Al, and then let Ash chime in on this one. But there’s often that controversy. Are you innovative, or are you stifling innovation with a focused strategy, like we talked about? The reality we think is having a clear and focused strategy actually allows our staff to be more creative because they can focus in their lane on how to be bold in innovation. One of our culture fundamentals, we call it, one of the behaviors we reinforce is we innovate and improve boldly. Well, that's really hard to do if people are operating out of fear. Will it get rejected? Will the team shoot it down? And so it's really important that we're actually freeing people up to say, “Hey, within these lanes, go crazy. Boldly innovate.” And it allows them to not have to wonder if it's going to be rejected. And so it channels that innovation. It actually allows them to be a little bit more productive with their innovation, because if they bring the wrong-rock syndrome—they come in, and they give us some idea that's way out there—well, they're going to think we don't like innovation, but actually it's just a waste of everybody's time. Let's channel that innovation around these clear strategies. And so we think that's one of the ways to do it.

And a couple of years ago, we had a program. We called it the wow-idea program, which was—and it wasn't just a normal-idea program where you submit ideas and you get a $5 gift card. It was actually a program that we took really seriously, and some of the ideas that came out of there, Al, were unbelievable. But we never would have known had we not put that program in place to tap into the innovation of people who often just do their job and they're not in a creative role. And they came up with all kinds of amazing things, and we gave them pretty significant monetary rewards for that innovation. I don't think you do that every year. It kind of could get tired if you do. But for us it was something every four or five years that you really tap in and say, “What do we got out there?” And we got some great things, and it's really helped change us.

Ashley: Yeah.

Al: Yeah.

I trust you’re enjoying our podcast today. We’ll be right back after an important word for leaders.

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And now back to today’s special guest.

And employee involvement, getting people involved, giving some recognition and significant rewards, that really helps. And one of the things you mentioned, Jeff, is fear. And when you've got high trust and when you've got involvement, there's no room for fear in your culture. And so when people have a sense of, “I don't need to worry if I stretch a little bit in a specific area in the area that I'm working in. I don't need to worry of being chastised,” that they can really be innovative. Yeah. That’s great. Yeah.

Jeff: Well, and, Al, I’ll tell you on that very point, Ash and I talk about this a lot with the rest of the execs, we tell people, when they're new to our team, we say, “Your biggest impact is in that first six to nine months because you have fresh eyes.” And so we really encourage them to go innovate, push on things, ask why? because pretty soon they'll be like us, and they'll get used to it, and it's no longer fresh. And so I think one of the things leaders have to do is be willing to give people the keys a little bit. And we do that every time we have a selection panel where we interview somebody. We say, “When you're here, we need you to go in and really look closely,” because it's the danger of being great, you know, at a lot of things—and we do a lot of things well at CCV—that can create complacency. And so you've got to be so careful that you don't think you've figured it all out, that there's a humility and a humbleness that says we still have a lot to learn. And that brand-new associate pastor, that brand-new worship pastor could give us some innovation that could really change the game for us.

Al: Yeah. Wow. Yeah. Ash, anything you'd like to add on this innovation and experimentation?

Ashley: We've just tried to embrace the culture where we want there to be some failure, because if there aren't some failures around us, that means we're not risking enough. And so I think opening the door for people to take some risks where they know if there is a miss, someone's not coming down on them like crazy. I'd rather risk big, as Jeff said, in support of our strategies and have some failures. So if we’re looking around, and every single thing we do, everything is a success, we're not risking enough. We’re not innovating enough. So I think we have those. We have things we're talking about right now that we're like, we might shut it down. It doesn't mean it was a failure. It just means I'm really glad we took that risk, and now we've learned something from that that we’ll maybe implement somewhere else.

Al: Yeah, exactly. Without failures, you're not really stretching; you're not learning and growing. It's kind of like when I was snow skiing. If I didn't have snow in my jeans at the end of the day, I knew I wasn't learning.

Ashley: Yeah, there you go.

Al: So, yeah.

Healthy communications, another area that you guys do so well in, and communication can be really complicated in a large multi-site organization. And some of our listeners might be struggling with communication between their central site and their satellite campuses, or even in smaller organizations, between teams. And this is an area where Christ’s Church of the Valley showed significant improvement over this past year. So what are some of the practical steps that you took in this past year or two to focus on healthy communication, where people are involved and so on? Share what you've learned so that our listeners can take some positive steps as they listen.

Ashley: Yeah, I want Jeff to specifically talk about some of the communication platforms we've really tried to leverage to just communicate more and more. But I think, Al, one of the things, especially those churches that have multiple campuses, which is a lot of churches now, what they experience is they experience a lot of tension between call it the whatever you call the central team and your other campuses. And there becomes these big communication breakdowns. It becomes these, you know, a lot of tension that's created.

And I would say one of the things that we have stumbled upon because we've done it both ways is we have tried to clarify as much as we can what the role of the campus is versus what the role of a central organization is. And I do think that's important that you continue to have those conversations on clarity. What we've found is that if you focus too hard on clarity, you are going to stifle teamwork and communication. So one of our executive pastors said this line, and I just loved it so much. His name is Ben. He said, the goal isn't always clarity; it's teamwork. We try to clarify as much as we can, but we know that we want those teams having high teamwork with each other, which that increases the communication exponentially. If the campus knows, “You know what? The central team is so for me. They're here to serve me,” if I know that, that communication channel automatically opens up. And if the central team knows, “Hey, the campus team, they trust me. They're going to respect me,” well, that opens up the communication channel as well.

So I just say again, you should—I'm not saying don't focus on clarity between the two teams, but what I found is that if you focus too much on clarity, everyone gets in their lane and their bubble, and it's almost like you push everybody out. “This is my lane. You told me this is my decision to make. This is clear.” It's like you focus everything on clarity, where your goal actually isn’t clarity; your goal is actually teamwork. So make sure that teamwork goal you're focused on, and then you focus on the postures between the two teams, which I think helps communication exponentially.

Jeff: So good. So, so good. And that posture is really helping, I think, our scores, and people get there, it’s the heartbeat of what we're trying to do. So that's great.

There are a couple of things, Al. And again, this is not necessarily that you were asking for this, but I'll say it again. Communication came out in our Survey as something we needed to work on, and so we had to implement a few initiatives. And so we had to do some simple things. We had cross communication between central and campus. We had cross departments and even leader to staff, because, again, remember, many of our staff have never led anybody before. So we had to put that communication training in place for all of our people leaders to say doing one on ones and doing something we call a quarterly performance huddle, so there's no surprises at the end of the year, that's not a nice to-do. That's your job as a leader. You owe it to give your staff clarity. Am I performing as you expected? Have the expectations changed? Has our environment changed? Did we buy a new campus? Is there something new that went on?

The world is not static, and I think sometimes, Al, we communicate something at the beginning of the year, and we think, “Yeah, we told them that.” But the world has changed greatly in three or four months. And so it's important, I think, on communication for us to keep reinforcing to our leaders through those communication trainings the essence of making sure that you stay relevant with your staff.

The other thing we did is we implemented a platform, Ash mentioned. When we have 13 campuses and a central team, people are on the move a lot. They're not just sitting at their desks. And so we realized, email communication was tricky. Ash does an all staff once a month, but even that, there's a lot that happens in between. So we ended up getting a platform—it’s a communication platform—that looks a lot like, I would call it internal social media, almost, it looks like. It allows us to send videos, to quickly do updates, prayer requests, and it goes out to your phone, and you get a notification on your phone just like you would for Facebook or some social media. It allows you to quickly get informed, even if you're on the go, even if you're not sitting at your desk. And we use that platform, Al, to actually roll out our cultural fundamentals as well. Once a week we roll those out. And again, that platform has helped us all get on the same page.

We've done really exciting things like when there's a new campus opening, and many people have never physically been to it, we had a drone camera go out and do a video of the progress of the campus, and post that on this CCV Connect platform that we have. And it really just helps people feel connected. So remember, it's just like people that walk into our church, they want to feel connected. Well, we need our staff to feel connected. And sometimes the campus can feel like an island, or even the central team, because they're not out there on the campuses. So we implemented that this last about a year and a half now, and it's been super helpful for us.

And then, the thing that we're right now trying to do is we're trying to address what Ash talked about on the campus central team specifically. We've finally created a more-structured input-feedback model because what we found is when you have that many campuses, it's difficult to get the feedback. So a lot of the communication comments verbatim that we got from our Survey wasn't just, “Hey, you're not communicating enough. Do more,” it was, “I'm not allowed to get input into an event. Or gosh, did you think about a small campus when you designed that?”

And so that input-feedback model is just a simple mechanism. You got to keep these simple, or they're going to fail. They're going to clog the system up and fail. You've got to keep them simple. But a simple way of making sure we have contacts for kids’ pastors, student pastors, etc., that allows us to get input before we roll out an event or a program to make sure we've heard the voice of those campus teams. Most people, what they're really saying, Al, is, “I don't need a higher volume of communication. I need to feel heard. I need to know you heard me, and my voice is real.” And so that's something we're rolling out now as we speak, and we think it's long overdue. And I'd recommend that for any church that has a multi-site model.

Al: Input-feedback model, yeah. I love that idea.

Now, Jeff, you mentioned a term I've got to ask you about. It's called, you said you roll out a cultural fundamental. What would an example of one of those be?

Jeff: Yeah. One of the things that we put in place, oh gosh, two years ago now was a model that says our culture, which is really a collection of behaviors, has to be more than just the core values that maybe are at such a high level that it leaves a lot of room for interpretation. And so, again, we're just turning the headlights on, Al, for our staff when it comes to culture. If we say things like, “Hey, Al, we'd love to hire you, but we don't think you have the CCV DNA,” what does that mean? And so for us, we had to define it. We had to define it really well for our staff so that they know how to be successful. We owe it to them to say, “If you want to be successful in our culture,” because it matters, and as Ash said, we're going to focus on it heavily, “You've got to be able to know how to be successful with that culture.” So we created these behaviors, and they're not meant to be anything more than an aspiration of how we want to behave with one another, with the men and women who step on our campuses.

So, for example, we extend trust. You asked about trust at the beginning. Trust is one of our fundamentals, Al. So what we didn't say is, “We like trust.” What we said is, “We extend it,” so exercise it. We want to see you behave in a way. So if we're holding on to something, we can go to that leader and say, “Hey, how come you're still doing that? Don't you have a team below you? We need you to extend trust.”

And so those fundamentals, we clearly define them, and then we ritualize them. Every week on Monday, we had one this Monday about helping people in the next steps. And it's a video that comes out from one of our leaders, often down in the organization—at the beginning of the cycle, it was Ash and the exec team and some top leaders. Now it's all the way down—and they share what they think about how we can implement that fundamental and maybe some challenges with doing it, because the reality is these behaviors are not easy, and it's not a checklist of things, but it's a way to make sure that our team can be successful with the culture.

And I would encourage your listeners, Al, they can do this. They do not need to pay a high-powered consultant. They don't. They can actually do this if they just spend some time sitting down and identifying and clearly defining those behaviors that matter, and then having some sort of a ritualization. Ash does an award every all staff for someone who's been caught in the act of living out those behaviors, those fundamentals. And every meeting that has a structured agenda, the first thing on the agenda is the fundamental of the week. And so we spend two or three minutes talking about that. So by the time you go through the week, you may have heard six or seven examples of how to lead people in their next steps. And the hope is at the end of that week, that's really clear that you know how to be successful within CCV.

Al: So, Ash, Jeff just really outlined a very practical approach that you have to implement in your cultural-improvement program. Can you flesh that out a little more for us, especially from your seat?

Ashley: Yeah. I just love that every single week we're talking about one of our fundamentals. So this fundamental goes out on video. You get to comment on it, which I comment on every single one as the leader of the organization because I want to show that I'm bought into it as much as anybody. And then, we're talking about it during meetings, which sounds like, “Hey, why don’t you to start your meeting and dive right in?” It's like, well, what's more important than the behaviors and the culture we want to create? So we're starting meetings talking about that, and then, we're really trying to reward people who are living it out.

So I think the only other thing I’d say on that, Al—and this isn't original to me—but culture is really made up of what you're creating, right? So those are those fundamentals we talked about. It's what you're rewarding, which we talked about rewarding those behaviors in different settings where we see people living them out. And then the third thing that creates your culture is what you allow. And so this is the one where I would say we have tried to get a lot better because we have not been very good over the years at saying, “Hey, we're talking about these behaviors and fundamentals. We're talking about our culture. We're trying to reward people that live it out. But what are we doing for the people that are not actually living it out on our staff? Are we addressing that? Are we exiting people that don't live those things out?” because at the end of the day, you can stand up, and we can actually do everything—we could stand up with a megaphone in every single meeting and say, like, “This is who we are. This is what we're about,” but if you're allowing someone to operate on your team that's not living those out, you sound like wah, wah, wah, wah. You sound like nothing to the organization.

So that's the other thing we've been trying to really focus on that I think is coming out in some of our Survey results is we're doing a better job of the accountability, which, by the way, again, to Tara, that came out in our Survey a couple of years back, the accountability piece. And we had to look at ourselves in the face and say, “Hey, as much as we care about our culture, are we actually holding people accountable that aren’t living out our culture?” And to be honest, the answer was, not all the time. And so we’ve really tried to work on that, which I think is really helping our scores as well, as our staff sees, “Oh, you do believe what you're saying.”

Jeff: And I’m going to break here on our staff now because they weren't living that out. “You're serious about this.” “Yeah, we're dead serious about it.”

Al: Yeah. Creates opportunities for real straightforward, honest conversations and meaningful conversations, doesn't it? Yeah.

Jeff: Yeah.

Al: Jeff mentioned we extend trust. Can you think of one or two more that might…?

Ashley: Yes. Let me give you a couple. One of our fundamentals is we speak straight. We don't shy away from difficult or direct conversations. We have the courage to speak for the betterment of the overall team, and we share truth with confidence and grace, and we value honesty over loyalty. So that's one of our fundamentals. We speak straight. So we might talk about that fundamental and say, “Are we speaking straight? Is there anything we haven't put on the table? What are you seeing around here we're not seeing?” So that's one that we talk about a lot, which we think is really important.

Another one is we exercise humility. And this is one where if you want good communication, if you want teamwork, none of that happens without the humility that we're called by God and Jesus Himself to have. So we learn that one this way: we check our title at the door. We never stop being a student. We get comfortable saying, “I don't know.” We apologize and make it right. We ask for another set of eyes. We're coachable, and we're willing to learn. So when we talk about that fundamental, that's what we talk about. Like, are we exercising humility? And sometimes we have to look at each other and go, I wasn’t.

Al: And we've got a Survey question on humility, so we're able to give you some feedback on that ourselves. Yeah, right.

Ashley: Yes. Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

So these are all fundamentals that we talk about that are designed to help us live out our core values as a church. And I just love the practicality of it, of just talking about them all the time, and really trying to live them out.

Al: You know, I've often defined, in fact, in my recent book, you know, I define culture as the way we do things around here. And what you've done is you've actually defined the way you want people to do things at CCV. You've defined those cultural fundamentals. You've defined the culture you want. And again, culture is people's behaviors.

Ashley: Yeah.

Al: And you've defined behaviors, and this is how we want to behave. That's very consistent. Those examples, I think, of the fruit of the Spirit. And again, that's how we'd like to see Christians actually live in relationship with each other. So yeah, so, how we do things around here. And it's based on behaviors. Yeah, yeah.

Well, this has really been a great conversation, guys. We've learned so much in our conversation, which covered a lot of ground. Starting off with building trust. And Ash, as you said it, the culture flows top down, and you've really worked hard on that. And you've created tremendous responses to feedback from your employees of what they're looking for. Like, Jeff, you talked about your training programs, and you've built leadership fundamentals. You've built key ministry skills. You've created role certifications in implementing an LMS, learning-management system. And then, we talked about strategy, and you've got such a clear strategy. I love the five things, the five strategic keys that you have as an organization, how simple, how you're able to repeat them, how clear they are about what the main thing is. And innovation is so important in churches, just to keep moving forward as communities and cultures change. Great communication discussion. And then, these models for actually implementing your culture. Just a great conversation.

How about anything you'd like to add that we haven't talked about kind of on this topic? Ash, how about lead us off?

Ashley: Well, I just, I think you have to have a way of measuring your culture as well. And that's where—you didn't ask me to say this, so I’m going to say that—but that's where I just, I think the Survey we take at the end of the year to hold ourselves accountable, to are we actually living now and creating a culture that we want?, that's where this Best Christian Workplaces Survey comes in so key for us. But not just the Survey. It's the follow up after the Survey and what Tara has done for us. And I'll just say, Jeff and the team, just being so willing to take that Survey and say, “Okay, we heard the feedback in humility.” I don't even agree with the feedback sometimes on the Survey from my—you know what I mean?

Al: Yeah, well, sure.

Ashley: You know what I mean?

Al: Yeah.

Ashley: But, you know, Jeff’s good to say, we’re just, like, “Let it speak to us. It is what it is.” And I have to humble myself and say, “It's what we're hearing. We've got to do something about this.”

So I think that's just the last thing I would say to anyone out there is just make sure you're really taking the feedback seriously. Have a way of measuring your culture, which is what your organization's all about, Al. And then, just go do something about it. Don't let it sit there. The worst thing you can do is take a survey and do nothing about it. That might hurt you worse than anything.

Al: Jeff, how about you?

Jeff: Well, I would also encourage your listeners. They may listen to all this and say, “Well, that's great. You guys are way down the road.” But man, I would encourage them, crawl, walk, run. It's the old adage, “What was the best time to plant a tree? Twenty years ago. But the next best time’s today.” And so just get on the journey. Don't worry about perfection. And maybe even they have to work on influencing upwards. Maybe their senior leader is not quite as passionate as Ashley is about it. But just get on the journey and increase your circle of influence. And just, we want to encourage churches to just start and not worry about perfection, and reach out if there's help and benchmark and ask people. But just get started on this journey because, man, it will make a difference if they do. So I just don't want them to think that we've arrived, and they can't get there. They absolutely can, because they can move from wherever they are today to somewhere new tomorrow, and take their Survey data and start listening and do focus groups and talk to people. And they can make a difference right where they are. We just encourage those churches to continue to be great.

Al: Ashley and Jeff, I want to thank you for your contributions today. You know, most of all, I appreciate your commitment to serving God's kingdom through the local church and the vision of winning the Valley for Christ. Thank you for taking time out of your day today and speaking into the lives of so many listeners.

Ashley: Well, thank you, Al. What you do matters, and we appreciate you.

Jeff: Thank you.

Outro: The Flourishing Culture Leadership Podcast is sponsored by Best Christian Workplaces. If you need support building a flourishing workplace culture, please visit workplaces.org for more information.

We'll see you again next week for more valuable content to help you develop strong leaders and build a flourishing workplace culture.