24 min read

Transcript: A Rescue Mission that Moved from Near Bankruptcy to Flourishing // Jeremy Montgomery, Philly House

The Flourishing Culture Podcast Series

A Rescue Mission that Moved from Near Bankruptcy to Flourishing

November 7, 2022

Jeremy Montgomery

Intro: Imagine walking into an organization that is only a year away from bankruptcy and facing a disengaged staff as the new CEO. Well, where would you start? Today we talk with the CEO of the second-oldest rescue mission in the United States to learn what steps he took to quickly move to flourishing.

Al Lopus: Hi, I’m Al Lopus, and you’re listening to the Flourishing Culture Podcast, where we help you create and lead a flourishing workplace. We find the problem many employers are facing today is readjusting to our post-COVID, hybrid world. The great resignation is still evident, where employees are quitting at record levels, filling millions of open jobs, even as we face a cooling economy and record-setting wage inflation. We know that having a flourishing workplace with fully engaged employees is the solution. So this week, we’re talking about moving forward on the road to flourishing, no matter where you’re starting from.

When you’re coming in as a new leader, it’s helpful to assess where your organization stands and what needs to change. But it may feel like multiple issues need your attention, and how do you discern where to start as you move your organization toward flourishing? On today’s episode we’ll meet with a leader who came into an organization with a long history of service to their community. By embracing a process of assessing and learning, he was able to implement needed changes and realize positive improvements quickly.

I’m delighted to welcome the Reverend Jeremy Montgomery, and Jeremy is the president and CEO of Philly House, the second-oldest homeless shelter in the United States. Jeremy, it’s great to have you on the Flourishing Culture Podcast.

Jeremy Montgomery: Thank you, Al. You know, I’m a big fan of yours as well as the Best Christian Workplaces Institute. This really is an honor. Thank you for having me.

Al: Well, I’ve just enjoyed so many times having you participate in workshops. I mean, we’ve kind of done this a little bit in the past, and I’m glad we’ve got this chance to do it on the podcast.

So Jeremy, you started at Philly House as a CEO—now it’s been four years, approximately—back in 2018, and at the time, we did an Employee Engagement Survey, and those results were quite low. And I believe that was just before you got there. And when we looked at the results up against other rescue missions, there was definitely room for improvement. And we were wondering, “Okay, so what’s going to happen here?” So take us back to that time when you came into the organization—it had a long history—it was clear that you needed to make changes and improvements to continue to serve the Philadelphia community. How’d you decide where to start? I mean, there was a lot to do. But where do you decide where to start, and what were some of the first steps to address the workplace culture and get employees on board so you could begin to see some change and make changes to the organization?

Jeremy: You did summarize that accurately. In June of 2018, it was the first time that this ministry had participated in doing a Survey with the Best Christian Workplaces Institute. I started in November of 2018 after a long national search, and as a new leader coming in to take the place of somebody who was retiring, I took a real clear look at what those results were of the Survey. In many respects, it became my roadmap. And new to this city—I wasn’t from Philadelphia—I had moved here to be able to assume the role. The truth was, as the results of that Survey showed, is it was a very toxic culture. In many respects, they asked me the question, “Well, where did we start?” And in many respects, we didn’t have much of a choice whether or not we wanted to make those changes or not. And a lot of it was because in addition to a toxic culture, the organization also was on the verge of financial bankruptcy.

And so I was recruited to this role by a national search firm. And the first conversation I had with that recruiter, he said to me, “Jeremy, if the board doesn’t find the right next CEO, the correct one, probably within a year, after 140 years of being in operation, they’re probably going to have to close their doors.” So if you think about most leaders walk into a new role, a new organization, and the general rule of thumb is you don’t make any changes within the certain first, what, six months, Al? I mean, how would you advise most leaders? You’re not walking in and, boom, start firing off all these changes. But I had no choice. We had no choice. So that was in November 2018, where I started.

That following month, in December of 2018, is when we got the death knell, which was our audit of a going concern. And of course, anyone that has financial background understand that’s basically the auditor saying, “Yep, in a year you’re done.”

So coming right in, I had to make all kinds of changes in order to be able to make that happen. And the first thing that I did to get people on board was I met with every single staff member within my first 60 days. It was a big, tall order—there were 54 staff here at the time—and I made a personal effort to sit down with every single one of them, and I kept real good, copious notes. I had the same five questions that I asked every single one so that we were able to compare answers. And from there I knew, just from those listening sessions, one-on-one meetings with every single staff member, exactly what they had already pinpointed to be the things that needed to change and change immediately.

Al: Wow. Yeah. You had a lot to do in a short period of time, and you couldn’t wait a year, really—

Jeremy: I couldn’t.

Al: —to make those changes. Yeah.

Well, your efforts certainly have made a difference. I mean, you’re flourishing. You’re thriving now, four years later. And you continue to be committed to the Employee Engagement Surveys, and it’s been encouraging, really very encouraging, for us to see marked improvements year after year. And now Philly House is not on the lower quartile; you’re on the top tier of rescue missions that we survey. And a couple of areas that have shown significant improvement is sustainable strategy. And of course, near bankruptcy, your employees had to be thinking, “Where are we going? Are we even going to be able to get there?” But also, fantastic teams. So you’ve got groups that are working together. So how’d you bring people along to help motivate them to embrace this strategy and to work together on teams to implement the changes that need to be done? Sometimes there’s so much, people just get stuck in the mud. Were there some specific practices that you can share to inspire other leaders, those that are listening, to help them in a similar kind of a situation?

Jeremy: Yeah. One of the first things that I implemented that was embraced significantly is what I refer to as a meeting cadence. If you have most people raise their hand in terms of how many people love meetings, most don’t raise their hand. Most hate meetings.

So, you know, first of all, as it relates to what a meeting cadence looks like, it’s first to ask the question, what meetings are necessary, and who should be part of those meetings? So forget about departments; forget about individual roles; forget about all those sorts of things. Like, what are the essential things on an agenda for a meeting that need to be discussed?

And so a meeting cadence for me looks like this: first of all, I’m a drummer by nature. And so anybody who’s been in a band or knows musical aspects of what the word cadence means, usually it’s marching to the beat of the drummer, right? So whether it be a marching band or any type of band. So that’s why I love the word cadence is because it is that solid beat that everyone can count on. And so to set that rhythm as a leader in terms of when people can count on when things, certain items and certain aspects, are going to be discussed, so important. And so a meeting cadence is broken down daily, biweekly, weekly, bimonthly, monthly, quarterly, and then annually. And so we break it down and say, “Okay, what meetings should happen daily?”

And I guess in my experience in working in so many Christian nonprofits, both in church as well as parachurch organizations, my experience has been most really aren’t good at conducting effective meetings. And of course, I don’t think that has anything to do with being Christians. That’s even in the corporate sense, right? And so establishing that cadence. And that begins even with supervisors, with every single one of their direct reports, weekly, that weekly cadence that even my direct reports, my executive team can count on direct time with me on a weekly basis to be able to come in with the agenda items, their list of task items, so that we can talk about them. And then that goes all the way up to board meetings. What is that meeting cadence with the board in terms of being able to handle those things?

So that’s the first very specific practice that I implemented.

The second one is, then, in that, just even as I referred to the one-on-one meetings, is to listen. After about 90 days, and certainly six months and even being here for a year, people used to say to me, “Wow, man, you changed so much. Holy cow, look at all the change you created.” And it was really important for me to establish is that, no, I didn’t change a thing. Al, all I did was listen. They had the ideas. They had the necessary solutions. And oftentimes I just had to authorize to move forward, right? And so even in the meeting cadence, for me to sit very intentionally in that first year with every team—so it was our homeless services, it was our food services, all the aspects of our ministry—for me to take a direct role, and my role was only to do one thing: to listen and then to authorize them to make the decisions and clear out all the roadblocks from them to be more effective in getting the job done and effective ministry. So I think that sometimes it’s not rocket science. It’s oftentimes just listening to our team and really trusting that they know what’s best and getting out of the way.

Al: Yeah. Wow. So listening and getting the roadblocks out, that’s what I gather from that and what we hear oftentimes. And that’s true servant leadership is okay, so how can you help your front line be even more effective? Yeah. Wow. So listen—

Jeremy: And Al, if I can add one more thing. And again, that was the critical aspect of utilizing that for five years, the BCWI Survey. So in that first one in June 2018, I even went back and printed some. And there’s a key question, open-ended question, that you ask of all ministries and churches. It’s what improvement would you like to see in this case in Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission now called Philly House? And again, it’s not rocket science when I read some of these things. And even as I read some of them, listeners out there, I would ask, evaluate how difficult it is to address these things. And the answer is it’s not difficult at all.

First of all, the answer was figure out what it means to be Christ centered. We’re a Christian ministry. Somebody was saying, “Here’s a big improvement. Well, figure out what it means to be Christ centered. Currently, it’s unclear.” Wow. So there was an absence of prayer. There was an absence of Bible study as a team.

The second thing, provide a safe ministry environment. The staff is poorly paid. Next, better communication. Here’s another one: employees are not given a respectable living wage. In the first 90 days, I increased all full-time employees, up to a $15-an-hour minimum wage, a living wage, because data also showed me that the average pay rate for all 54 staff here was $10.38 an hour, $10.38. So listening to that, right?

I feel that some members are not performing up to expectations. So year after year, as you’re helping ministries, Al, with the Best Christian Workplaces Institute, it’s one thing to survey, allowing people to be able to directly pinpoint the very specific things that they would love to see changed. It’s another thing to listen to it and actually implement it.

Al: What a great start. And yeah, you’re listening. Those are—and summarizing your open-ended questions, what would you like to see changed? And just kind of what sounds like you just kind of knocked them off, one right after another.

Which gets to my next question, because it’s about healthy communication. That’s one of the—

Jeremy: Yeah.

Al: —FLOURISH factors that flipped in the first couple of years. I mean, now it’s just really strongly positive. And communication goes both ways. What you share with those under your leadership is one way, but also, how you listen well to employees. And how have you and your leadership team worked on healthy communications? I mean, you’ve described some of it already. You’ve listened to the Survey results. You’ve got one-on-one meetings. You’ve got a cadence. What else have you done?

Jeremy: Yeah. I appreciate this question because I’m going to share a very fresh, recent, relevant example. This past June 2022, when we got the results and we were discussing them with your consultant Giselle, for the second year in a row, there was some both open-ended questions as well as the result of our Surveys that indicated that many felt leadership, that being me and my executive team, that we didn’t do well with disagreements, that we didn’t know how to handle conflict. There were some very specific questions that, you know, that you’ve formulated over the years that kind of flesh that out.

And so the advice from Giselle was pointing us to one of the resources. And you have many resources that you’ve developed over the years. And one of them is distinctly called Disagree with Purpose: Fostering Healthy Conflict. And what I learned even about myself is because I am extroverted, I am a go-getter, that can intimidate people. That can intimidate them in a way that they don’t feel like they can speak up, and to be honest, to share their mind. On one hand, you just heard me say, “Hey, I listen. So what do you mean, you’re intimidated? You’re not going to tell me what you feel,” right? And so for me to be able to actually take and absorb that kind of blind spot and realize, “Oh, okay, it’s not the aspect that they wish to disagree. It’s more so the aspect that I haven’t effectively taught this team and even myself how to do it even with purpose, with intentionality.” And so that resource that you provide, as you well know, sets out the ground rules of how to engage in those communications to foster that conflict.

And so that’s just an example where after, you know, five straight years of doing the Best Christian Workplaces Institute, where we’re excelling very well with a very flourishing culture, there’s still a lot for us to learn and to be able to implement in terms of better communication.

Al: Yeah. And your people are changing, not a lot, but over time, and you’re bringing in new people, some people are leaving, and even more reason to continue that communication focus.

So in addition to the Employee Engagement Survey, you’ve also done 360 leadership reviews. And Jeremy, I know that you’ve really appreciated that process, and you’ve been very vulnerable and transparent with the process, much like you have already talked about the Engagement Surveys. In fact, you invited your board members to be part of the call where Giselle Jenkins, our consulting director, shared the results with you, and they were involved. And that’s not always the case, where a leader will invite the board into this kind of a meeting. So share with us why you were so open with this process, and what did you learn through embracing transparency in your own assessment? And I know others who are listening are thinking, “Oh, gosh, 360s, do I even want to do that or not?” So share with us your experience.

Jeremy: Yeah. And recently you and I were in a meeting with a bunch of CEOs, and you were giving a presentation on 360s. And I think both you and I, afterwards, we were shocked at the almost visceral reaction from these CEOs, like, no. You don’t ever ask your subordinates or even your board to evaluate you. And I think the truth that that reaction that we come to learn and listen to was because in most unhealthy situations, a 360 can be used as a means to terminate. It can be more so used as a means to be punitive. And certainly, I’ve been in unhealthy, toxic environments myself in the past, and so I can understand that. I can understand the reluctance from other leaders to want to ask those that report to them that they lead, how am I doing? And evaluate me from a 360-degree view in terms of who I am, as it relates to my character, as it relates to my leadership, my strategic planning, my communication, all those things.

And my reaction to my personal reasons of why I’m open to that kind of transparency simply comes from Jesus’s words, Matthew 5:16, where Jesus, we all know the verse, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good deeds and glorify your father who is in heaven.” Now, as many times we’ve heard that verse in this case, I use it as it relates to me, submitting myself to let His light shine on me so well that, then, those that are around me ought to be able to, then, give me the feedback in terms of what they see as being either good or even evil works.

And I would compare it this way is when I was in my mid-thirties I went in for a flu shot. And I was 35 years old, quite a few years ago at this point than my age now. And after about 45 minutes of sitting in the exam room, the doctor walks in and says, “Mr. Montgomery, how do you feel today?” And I said, “I feel exactly fine. Can you give me my flu shot so I can get out of here?” And he goes, “Well, we’re just glad you’re here.” And so that’s when I found out I had high blood pressure. He said, “Let’s just say for the last 40 minutes we’ve evaluated you, and you have 171 over 119. We’re glad you’re here,” right? And so imagine if we went through life without an annual exam or physical to identify the unhealthy attributes that sometimes we can’t do anything about. I couldn’t do anything about my high blood pressure. That came down to genetics.

So I’m the same way, a 360 allows us to invite others to reveal those blind spots. It was a blind spot that I had high blood pressure and that I had high cholesterol. Thank the Lord, now I’m on the medication to keep me alive a little bit longer. But in so many ways, I can confess and admit that as a leader, I have some rough edges, and I have some blind spots. There’s no way I can see 360 degrees around me. And because I want to be effective in the Lord’s work, in the ministry, in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I dare not want there to be any shortcomings that are of my own doing, whether I’m aware of them or not. And that’s exactly the role that the 360 plays for me.

Al: And I really enjoyed a workshop that you and your board chair did together at a Citygate conference a couple of years ago. And I appreciated that you even asked your board chair to come and do a presentation with you, as you talked about 360. And that’s been a good process, hasn’t it?

Jeremy: It’s been a great process. I mean, I’m very blessed to have an amazing relationship with my board chair, and that is everything. And when you don’t have that, it’s very tough to be able to certainly to be able to thrive as a leader, but sometimes not even being able to survive. And so that workshop that we led was on Tuckman’s model of forming, storming, norming, and performing. And I gave my perspective as it relates to that group dynamics of me being a new CEO, coming into a brand-new culture and a brand-new organization. And he shared his perspective from the board of overseeing the changes and the disturbances and the storming, and also being able to help to be a healthy influence upon the norming and the forming and ultimately the performing. And the 360 was a very significant key for the board to have a finger on the pulse as it relates to the health and the flourishing or the potential toxicity of the culture that exists under my leadership.

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

Book Promotion: I want to tell you about an exciting, new opportunity for all of you who want to create and experience a flourishing workplace culture. It’s the release of my new book, Road to Flourishing. It describes the eight keys to boost employee engagement and well-being in your workplace. Let’s break the cycles of toxicity, dysfunction, destructive conflict, fear, and unwanted turnover. Road to Flourishing is designed to help you understand what drives employee engagement and how we can move the needle on the health of your organization’s culture and performance. This book is designed for you, a Christian leader in business, a church, or a nonprofit. It includes real stories of flourishing workplaces as a great tool for your development, a book study with your leadership team, and a developmental resource for your frontline managers. Let’s change the narrative and reality. Join the ranks of leaders who are skillfully leading flourishing workplace cultures. Buy Road to Flourishing today wherever books are sold.

And now, back to today’s special guest.

Well, Jeremy, it’s been a great conversation. And we have many organizational leaders who regularly use the Employee Engagement Survey and 360 reviews to learn and grow. But you’re so enthusiastic about this process, and we really appreciate that. And I love the discussion on blind spots and your heart to continue to grow as a leader because your organization will only grow to the degree that you’re growing. You know, you embrace accountability and transparency, and you’re committed to keep learning. So is there something—I mean, not everybody is that way. Is there something in your personal journey as a leader, in your background, where you developed these values and characteristics such as your confidence, your transparency, your enthusiasm for growth?

Jeremy: Sadly, Al, I think a lot of it has been borne from my own pain and my own baggage. I haven’t always been a CEO. I’ve carried every type of position under the sun, from being a janitor to being a valet driver to being a machinist, third shift, to being a pastor in a church that, yes, is also doing janitorial work every weekend as well. And I just in my life have had my own fair share of toxic leaders and bosses. And sometimes it was even just in the form of having never met with me. Like not sitting down with me on a weekly basis as it relates to cadence. So that’s where some of that history in my personal journey comes into that.

I’ve also been in situations where I didn’t get effective performance evaluations. And if I got one, it often was more of a personality test to bash me or even to control me or even to be able to hedge me in because that leader, that boss, was a little insecure, didn’t have the confidence themselves. And so that’s a lot of my past experience. Now that I am at the helm of an amazing, old, historic organization, I dare not want to repeat the mistakes that I’ve been subjected to.

And then the other thing, Al, is, likewise, you can probably work with me right now to compile the list of all the moral failures amongst Christian leaders. And it seems to never stop. And usually, the common thread that’s identified when things come to light, when things are revealed, is that there was a lack of accountability, a complete breakdown, not even a breakdown, a complete rejection and lack of accountability. So whether it was a moral failure, as it relates to even financial affairs and embezzlement, or the ultimate immorality of failures. And so I often look at it this way, you know, I want to breed a healthy culture. And in order for me to do so, I myself need to be healthy, and these are the tools that help me to do so.

And it’d be like any of us walking in to see our dentist, and we know that we need dental care. And our dentist has the most atrocious, unkempt, unmaintained teeth, would make us sit in the chair and get right back up and walk out and be like, “Dude, you’re not going to care for my teeth when you don’t even know how to care for your own teeth,” right? And to kind of put that crude way is for us to be practitioners ourselves and to caring for people’s souls and to see that souls are clean and cleared and redeemed by God’s power and His love. And through Christ’s sacrifice, we ourselves need to be completely clean and cleared and maintaining our own character. And the best way to do that is, again, asking others what they think.

Al: Thanks for sharing. That was outstanding. And as I think about our podcast listeners, even now, some might be nodding in agreement with what you’ve just been sharing at this time. And others might be discouraged and not able to even see a way forward in face of multiple challenges in their organization. So what would you say today to a leader who is discouraged? Here we are coming out of COVID. We’re kind of questioning whether there’s even a recession in front of us. We’re concerned about our revenue. The one who knows that they need to make changes and facilitate a growth but is overwhelmed with where to start in the process, what advice would you have for somebody like that?

Jeremy: Get professional help. I mean, get professional help. And I’m not talking about the psychiatric kind, but that might be necessary, too. I think that if anyone is on this podcast, if they have not yet fully engaged the resources of the Best Christian Workplaces Institute, as a starter, that’s the no-brainer. That’s the place to start to even begin to understand, with even administering the Survey, the places to begin. People will tell you. You ask them; they’ll tell you. And that’s exactly the nature of this Survey.

And then there’s lots of other professional help to be able to gain. I’ve spent money out of my own pocket for an executive coach, the high value of having somebody that I can bare my soul with, that’s going to reveal even the rough spots in my own life. Get professional help. And one of the reasons why many won’t and don’t is that of a little bit of the super-hero complex that we in ministry and Christian organizations often carry. We, in many respects, need to be the Superman or the Superwoman, the Wonder Woman for others. If you’re feeling discouraged, that may be a great place to be. Drop the super-hero complex and realize you just need some help and reach out, and there’s a lot of places to be able to get that now.

Al: Yeah. Great advice. Yeah. Thanks so much.

You know, I love the vision of Philly House: the homeless, hungry, and hurting in Philadelphia will achieve stability and self-sufficiency through a holistic transformation while experiencing the unconditional love of God. And boy, it’s the love of God that really helps to transform people so they’re able to do that.

Jeremy: Yeah.

Al: But, you know, this work isn’t easy, Jeremy. Your case managers care, homeless services staff, they work hard, and they treat your guests with dignity and empower them to be stable and to grow and to thrive. So how do you and your leadership team keep your employees motivated in the face of daily ups and downs? And there are lots of them in the work you do. What are some of the practices that really become important to encourage your team in times like this?

Jeremy: We love to have fun. We have to have fun. Sometimes, with my youth-ministry background, I employ all of those same tips, tricks, and tools of playing games in every single staff meeting and gathering we have. Matter of fact, in the BCWI Survey, question number six is asking people to rate, “I have fun at work,” and this is under your category of life-giving work. And I would even want to ask you, Al, like, at what point did you realize that needs to be a question? Like, we need to ask whether or not, in Christian ministries and churches, whether or not employees, to be engaged, are having fun? Where did that even come from?

Al: Well, Jeremy, there is a source. Back in the late ’90s, when the Internet and Internet companies were just coming to the fore, and I’m out here in Seattle, where there’s a lot of those Internet companies that were just coming out of nowhere. And I was doing the Best Companies to Work For survey with a statewide business magazine. And so I’m going to these organizations where their employees are saying, “This is a great place to work.” And so I’m talking with them, and they’re talking about what they’re doing to create fun at work. And that’s not one of my work natures to encourage—

Jeremy: Okay, all right. Well, it is one of mine.

Al: I know. I can see that, yeah.

Jeremy: So can gravitate to that. But still, it’s not yours, but you still saw value in that.

Al: Oh, I saw the value in that, yeah. And so it’s in the book; I’ve told the story. I thought, “Well, I need some help”, much like you just described, “I need some help creating fun at work. I know I’m not the one to do that, and I know the ones in the office that are.” So I said, “Okay.” So I created a little bit of a fun committee, and I said, “Okay, you’re the fun committee, and I’m not on it. I don’t want you to spend a lot of time, and I don’t want you to spend much money, but let’s create some fun.” So it worked. I mean, yeah, it’s in the Survey because it builds camaraderie. It builds a sense of life-giving work, as you’ve just said. Absolutely.

Jeremy: So here we were, March of 2020. COVID was hitting us hard. We had a massive outbreak here, one of the first in the entire city of Philadelphia. So I regularly began holding staff gatherings strictly to have ice cream. And so for many of my staff, they don’t know that I’m fun. They don’t know that I can have a sense of humor. And all we would do is the chicken dance. Al, you remember the chicken dance? I mean, that’s all we would do. And after about 30 seconds, you’re all just laughing. It was just silliness. It was stupidness.

But that June of 2020—you already heard and know about the June of 2018 results—we ended up scoring the highest rating in your history amongst rescue missions, that June. Why? Because one of the categories and one of the things that you hope to be able to measure is that life-giving work. If my team and my staff didn’t get a sense of life-giving work, of being even called essential workers—that was not in our vocabulary. It is now because of the pandemic. They’re essential. And we would walk around the office having fun with it. “Hey, man, you’re essential,” you know, and just smiles and just, like, “Yeah, now that you mention it, I am essential,” right?

And so we carry that over, even, like I said, in our monthly all-staff meetings. We’re always providing food and fellowship. And I think that so many of we executives get in this trap that it needs to be about the financial statements or it needs to be about the dashboards or it needs to be about, you know, strategy and how we’re going to reach more, feed more, that sort of thing.

And most recently, because of our rebrand in September of 2022, we had a big launch party for all of our homeless-shelter guests and residents on Friday the 16th. And so it was the staff’s idea that part of that, we’re going to get the dunk tank, because who had to be in the dunk tank? Yes, the CEO. So I sat out there for about an hour, letting every homeless dude almost in the entire Center City, Philadelphia, throwing balls at me to be able to sink me. But you can imagine since then, that’s everything everyone talks about around here. “Oh, my gosh. You should have seen when the CEO…”

So the ups and downs of ministry, create some fu. And don’t make it superficial, right? Don’t make it fake or plastic, but truly let it be out of the motivations of why people want to minister and want to be able to do so with excellence.

Al: Well, for our listeners, I want to hear more stories about dunk tanks. Yeah. Wow, Jeremy, that’s a sense of high bar.

Jeremy: Well, you’ll get all the complaints for the CEOs, right?

Al: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. Well, that’s a high bar. Okay.

Well, Jeremy, you’ve certainly led your organization forward in the past four years. I mean, just, I’ve watched it. It’s just been a remarkable move forward. And not only improving employee engagement, but also leading during the pandemic restrictions. And just my hat’s off to every rescue mission, frontline, essential worker for the hard work. I mean, there was no working from home when you’re working with the homeless. And of course, who was hurt the most through the pandemic? It was the poor. And so thanks for that.

And as you look ahead, what challenges and opportunities do you see on the horizon for Philly House? How are you positioning your team to continue to grow and flourish?

Jeremy: Yeah. Some of the conversations we’re having even in the Citygate Network, which is the former Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, is being prepared for migrants that are coming across the border, showing up to our doors. So very specifically, intentionally, we have a number of our staff that are Spanish speaking. We serve a good component of that already. But what are we doing right now? And this is where we’re posturing and positioning us to even prepare culturally for Spanish-speaking needs.

So here in the city of Philadelphia, fifth largest city in the United States, we’ve been very intentional of engaging with the city, as well as its Office of Emergency Management, its Office of Immigration Affairs because Customs and Border Patrol has listed our mission as a resource for migrants to be able to show up to if they are coming to Philadelphia. Now, that was news to us, but immediately I think our overall country and our ministries need to be better prepared to ensure that we are able to have the cultural understanding and sensitivity to what these migrants are needing.

And then secondly, what we see on the horizon is for over 144 years, we’ve been part of relief services, the emergency aspect of homelessness, and that is providing meals, providing shelter. We ourselves have developed a master plan to get into the permanent-housing aspects of what many need. So we have an amazing location here in Center City, Philadelphia, and we have a plan to be able to build our own permanent-housing units. And so for us, that’s moving beyond just Band-Aids to the situation, to real solutions and cures.

More specifically, this pertains to our senior citizens. On fixed income the cost of housing is out of reach and completely prohibitive. Yet what we’ve recently discovered is in Medicaid there is a waiver program that 100% pays for the housing needs—100%, not even a 30% co-pay—for those that have a disability in senior citizens. So we’re looking to be able to see how we can get into that market, if you will, becoming the landlords instead of us farming off to other providers in this city and other entrepreneurs that are providing it. How can we as a ministry get out ahead of that wave in order to be able to provide some of those permanent-housing accommodations?

Al: Fascinating. Well, Jeremy, we’ve learned so much from our conversation. This has really been a pleasure. We’ve had some fun.

I love the way you started off with a meeting cadence. You know, as you were beginning to turn around Philly House, a meeting cadence. You really focused on listening. Listen, listen, listen. You talked with every employee. You took notes. You began to identify, based on feedback, things that you could fix, and you fixed and implemented them right away. You focused on communication and even realized that you can disagree with a purpose and make sure that the good relationships are strong as a result. We had a great conversation on 360s and the importance of understanding blind spots and making sure that there’s accountability when it comes to leaders and ministry. And gosh, we had a great conversation about just making sure you’ve got some fun, creating fun. You know, find a youth leader or a youth pastor. I’m speaking to our listeners. If you’re not the one to create fun, find a youth pastor who knows how to have fun and see how you can begin to do that in your organization. Well, it’s just been a great conversation, Jeremy.

What would you like to add that we haven’t talked about?

Jeremy: The whole premise of even the ministry that you provide, Al, you know, three is summed up with Peter Drucker’s comment that culture eats strategy for breakfast—of course, lunch and dinner. And strategy are those things that are visible. Think of an iceberg. The things that are above the surface that we can point to. These are our goals or objectives. These are even our finances, all those things. As a culture, it’s just so way tucked below the surface. So how do you tap into that to understand your true culture? And you’ve got the tools that you put together. And I highly recommend to any and all listeners that are out there, take your culture seriously. It’s going to kill any other ministry objectives that you could ever want to put forward.

Al: Jeremy Montgomery, thanks for taking your time out today and speaking to the lives of so many listeners. Really appreciate it.

Jeremy: This is really an honor. Thank you, Al, for having me.

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.

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