Last week, Vanderbloemen had the honor of co-hosting the 2021 Culture Conference alongside incredible industry leaders like The 4Sight Group, Leadr, Life.Church, and others. The speakers focused on various aspects of culture such as how to know what your organization's culture is really like, steps for developing a healthy culture, pursuing unity in your organization, using culture to fulfill your mission, and much more. As one of the speakers, I was able to walk through my experiences with navigating cultural challenges and how you can change the culture of your organization. I want to share some of those thoughts with you here.
As we begin to recover from the consequences of the pandemic, it is not hard to admit that everyone's culture is bad right now. No one was able to maintain the communication, morale, and agendas that they initially had planned. We are coming out of a crisis of culture and heading into a new season of culture.
In Scripture, it is important to take serious note of the first time something is mentioned - I like to call it, "The Power of Firsts." That's why we should pay attention to the fact that the very first time God speaks negatively of something, his first curse, comes before sin even enters the world: he says, "it is not good for man to be alone." Before all else, God cursed isolation. We are meant to do life together; it is part of our calling to mold and enrich our communities, and we can start with our culture.
As someone who has written a book on culture, people come to me often with their questions and concerns about culture. Here are the top three questions I am regularly asked:
What is culture?
If vision is what God has called your org to accomplish, and your mission is the thing God has called you to do, then culture is how you as a team behave while you get it done. You can't fabricate a culture, you can only discover it. When trying to understand your culture, ask this question: When we are functioning at our very best, what do we do as a team that's common to us, but uncommon to other teams around us?
Understanding your culture is one thing, but understanding whether it is healthy or unhealthy is another entirely. If you are looking to discern the health of your culture, you can do so with our free online Culture Tool.
How do you change the culture of an organization?
This largely depends on how old your culture is. If your church has been around for decades, you aren't going to be able to come in and change things the way you would if you were the founder. Aside from that, the most efficient way to change the culture is to change the people at the table. People are the primary catalysts for culture going right or wrong. Chances are, your culture is worse than it was before the pandemic. There is a perfect window here to reset your culture by resetting the table. As roles open up, fill them with new people who are clear cultural fits.
So how do you teach culture to new people?
Though this is asked often, I don't know that you can teach culture. Culture is almost innate, and cultural alignment with your organization is uncoachable. That's why you interview for culture. Do not interview for competency; competency can be taught. In Jesus-focused organizations, there is a need for cultural alignment more than skill alignment. Ask yourself how can you craft your interviews to see if people naturally fit. If you are looking for inspiration, check out our comprehensive list of interview questions. The next thing to ask is if you know your cultural values. Take time to reflect and evaluate what is truly important to your organization. Once you know what those values are, you have found the alchemy for hiring the right people.
Right now, it feels like we are emerging from a bomb shelter and seeing the damage. We will eventually, Lord willing, be completely on the other side of this pandemic, and you have an opportunity to be a leader like never before simply by being present and being human. My final encouragement to you is this: your staff doesn't need you to be perfect-—they need you to be authentic. God cursed loneliness by simply saying it is not good to be alone, not by saying it isn't good to be with imperfect people. Take heart. Never before have we had the chance to reset culture like we do today, so take time to evaluate your culture, determine your cultural goals, and press on diligently and honestly alongside your staff.
William Vanderbloemen is the CEO and founder of Vanderbloemen, which serves teams with a greater purpose by aligning their people solutions for growth: hiring, compensation, succession and culture. Through its retained executive search and consulting services, Vanderbloemen serves churches, schools, nonprofits, family offices, and Christian businesses in all parts of the United States and internationally. Follow him on Twitter @wvanderbloemen.
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