6 min read

S7E17: 4 Key Rhythms for Developing Healthy Communication and a Flourishing Culture

S7E17: 4 Key Rhythms for Developing Healthy Communication and a Flourishing Culture

How do you create a flourishing workplace that features healthy communication and strong employee engagement? What are some of the key rhythms a leader must practice to flourish? Pete Kelly, CEO of Apartment Life, shares his perspective. Pete has been leading Apartment Life, a unique business–as-ministry organization, for several years. Prior to that, he was with Cru for 24 years, developing leaders, and also doing front-line ministry in several settings.  


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In this episode:

  • Share a story about the impact of Apartment Life, to help our listeners understand how your organization meets the felt need for community for people living in apartment complexes. (02:13)
  • Apartment life has been around for 22 years (02:32)
  • Apartment life helps to build a sticky community and also make spiritual impact (03:12)
  • You're able to provide a financial incentive because greater retention provides greater profitability for these communities (04:04)
  • Pete, you’ve been at Apartment Life for more than 6 years now. You took over from a visionary founder – Stan Dobbs. Some of our listeners might be facing a leadership transition, or they have recently taken over from a dynamic leader. From your vantage point now, what are a few keys that helped you have a successful organizational transition? (05:08)
  • "Two things I think that Stan did really well: one is he was very affirming to me personally but also publicly." (05:44)
  • "The other thing he did really well, which is hard for founders sometimes, is he let go, and he very quickly turned over the reins, deferred to me on all decision making." (06:03)
  • "One thing I did well is not to change too much." (06:21)
  • Now, for many years, you've been surveying employees with BCWI and with our Employee Engagement Survey, and you’re consistently high and well above the sector average. I mean, you're a flourishing workplace and have been year after year after year. So why do you keep surveying your people, and what do you learn that provides new information each year? (07:17)
  • "Well, culture itself is one of the foundational pieces of who we are" (07:41)
  • "So having at least a once-a-year anonymous feedback loop, what you're doing well that you want to keep doing and what you're not doing well or could do better that you want to change. And that's where BCWI survey has just become so important to maintaining that culture. And we don't just look at it once a year. We talk about it throughout the year, and we think about the different areas of engagement and how are we doing in those. So, it's just historically been a very important part of Apartment Life." (09:06)
  • I’d like to focus on your healthy communication scores and how that impacts employee engagement. Are there some particular processes that you use to communicate effectively? Or does something in your structure help with great communication? What ideas can you offer someone who is trying to improve communication across their organization? (09:56)
  • Two areas: the tools that we use and the rhythms that we use (10:44)
  • Zoom, Marco Polo, Asana, phone calls, texts (10:56)
  • "We have weekly rhythms, which one of the things we do is using that Marco Polo video conferencing, at the beginning of every week, we send out a short video message to all of our employees, reinforcing some aspect of our organizational identity." (11:16)
  • "We talk about the pyramid. We talk about some of the priorities for the year, a fifth-year vision, 10-year vision." (12:07)
  • "We have, twice a month, so every other week, we meet with all of our key leaders in the organization on Zoom. And we have standard processes we go through likewise with our executive leadership team." (12:58)
  • "Monthly, we've got newsletters. One of the things we started doing is town halls. So every quarter we have a Zoom town hall."(13:08)
  • "We have an annual strategic-planning process, annual 360 feedback." (13:27)
  • "You know, one thing that's interesting about your structure is that you have an employee team, but you also have volunteers in the field who are front line for Apartment Life, and they get a reduced rent to facilitate or to work in the community, in the apartment complex that they're assigned to. And you've surveyed your volunteers through BCWI, and they rate communication also very high, saying that they get timely information to help them perform their role and that you actually then act on their suggestions. So how do you keep this level of communication and connection out in the field with volunteers?" (14:00)
  • "Well, it's harder to do with volunteers, honestly, because they're busier. And so a lot of times, the times that they are available are nights and weekends, and we want to be very careful about not we're going to call them on the phone or get them on a Zoom meeting that it's not too much of that. So, I'm glad to hear that there's been positive feedback on that." (14:34)
  • "In addition to communication, you're intentional about the idea of belonging—I mean, that's a word that you use—making sure that everyone is kind of the part of the vision of Apartment Life. So, what are some practical ways that this works out for your staff? You know, how do you bring together people from different backgrounds, different life experiences, and then help them feel like they belong as you all move towards your common goals?" (16:57)
  • "And we just identified one of the weaknesses of our organization is that we weren't very culturally diverse. We were all white, middle-class leaders, and that's a real issue on a couple of levels because when you look at the picture of the body of Christ in Revelation 7, you see people from every tribe, nation, and tongue worshiping the Lord. And we weren't reflecting Revelation 7, and we weren't reflecting, honestly, the constituents we're serving in apartment communities." (17:18)
  • "And we went on a listening tour and met with our black staff, our black coordinators out in the field, to say, “What's it like to work with Apartment Life? What's it like as a black American to do what you're doing in the apartment communities?” (18:38)
  • "What we did is we basically did a couple of things. We tried to anchor a long-term vision for the organization that the leadership of Apartment Life at every level would reflect Revelation 7 and the diversity of the residents we serve. And to do that, we realized that we needed a place where everyone felt safe, that they could bring their full selves to work." (19:19)
  • "So, one of our commitments is we always want to hire the best person, but we want to be deliberate to make sure one of the three finalists is a person of color, somebody of diversity, somebody that's going to bring something diverse to our culture, and then we're going to hire the best person." (20:24)
  • "I hear that Apartment Life is also a fun place to work. I not only hear it; I see it when I look at your Survey results. People love to work at Apartment Life, and they're not just helping Apartment Life residents have fun and community, but you do this with your staff. So how would you encourage our listeners to incorporate fun into the workplace? And do you get any pushback from people who tend to be more serious at work when it comes to this? I know this has been a core Stan has really kind of started this fun-at-work thing, and it's a core of Apartment Life. But how do you do that?" (22:30)
  • "But one of the simple things we do is we just try not to jump too quickly into work when we start meetings. And so, when we have a Zoom call, sometimes it's only five minutes on the front end; sometimes it's even 20 minutes on the front end, where we're just catching up, and we're laughing, and we're talking about what's going on." (23:19)
  • You know, pouring into your team and leading your organization forward and flourishing takes time and energy as a leader. So how do you fill yourself up, personally? You know, can you share some practices that keep you going? I mean, leadership's an inside-out job. You know, you can't lead if you don't have anything inside, any strength inside, to lead from. So how do you fill yourself up as you work at leadership? (24:43)
  • "Certainly, starts with regular rhythms of connecting with God in the morning. And just like you would want to have a regular date night with your wife, you'd want to have something like that with God. And for me, every morning, I just look forward to it. I genuinely do. Spending time in the Scriptures; spending time in prayer; thinking; reflecting; sometimes even journaling, although I don't do that all the time." (25:13)
  • "Another thing that fills my tank is just having relationships." (25:33)
  • "It's one of the things, and I know not everyone listening is in ministry, but one of the things that's very unsettling to me is that it's possible to be very good at ministry and become increasingly disconnected from Christ." (29:00)


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