PODCAST | Rebuilding Culture After Crisis

PODCAST | Rebuilding Culture After Crisis

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In today’s podcast, our COO, Jennifer Paulson sits down with Gail Mayes, our Director of People and Culture. They discuss how to rebuild a healthy culture after going through a crisis. Gail shares some tangible tips that our own Vanderbloemen team does on a regular basis to maintain our people and culture. We hope you enjoy the conversation!

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Resources:

https://www.vanderbloemen.com/culture-wins-book

https://www.vanderbloemen.com/culture-tool

Transcript:

Christa Neidig:
Welcome to the Vanderbloemen Leadership Podcast. I'm your host, Christa Neidig, Manager of Marketing and Business Development here at Vanderbloemen. In today's podcast, our COO, Jennifer Paulson, sits down with Gail Mayes, our Director of People and Culture. They discuss how to rebuild a healthy culture after going through a crisis. Gail shares tangible tips that our own team does on a regular basis to maintain our people and culture. We hope you enjoy the conversation.

Jennifer Paulson:
Hi everyone, I'm Jen.

Gail Mayes:
Hi, I'm Gail.

Jennifer Paulson:
So Gail, I would like to talk to you today a little bit about rebuilding culture after crisis. So I've got some questions for you. You're Vanderbloemen's Director of People and Culture. So this is something that you have a lot of experience in, both in your role at Vanderbloemen and in your previous roles that you've held in other organizations. So just to start out, can you give us some examples of crisis that you've either seen happen at churches, in organizations that you've worked with? What are some examples of crisis that can potentially be damaging to an organization's culture?

Gail Mayes:
Wow. At Vanderbloemen we see a lot. So we see a lot of crisis. We see a lot of great things that happen in the church, but we also see a lot of really hard times that churches have gone through and that we walk with churches through those times. So some of the hard times that we have seen at Vanderbloemen are pastors leaving unexpectedly, pastors dying or getting very ill and having to leave their position. We've seen pastors leaving abruptly because of internal and external crisis, maybe mental health crisis, but also sin. Having to leave the church because they've been asked to leave because they violated the standards of the church or stepping down because they realize that they have violated those principles.
Also, other hard times that churches have experienced are financial hard times. So maybe they have just uncovered a financial scandal or misrepresentation or they realize that they've lost money somehow. So those are some crises that we've walked churches through and that we've seen.

Jennifer Paulson:
That's great. And I think, and I've discussed a little bit before, it can be serious when you're talking about a crisis. It could also just be that you've got the wrong person in the role and potentially they're hurting the culture rather than helping. So it might not be a "crisis," but it is still something that's damaging to an organization's culture.

Gail Mayes:
Absolutely. We talk about bad hires. So if you've had a person in a role for six months, a year, two years, and you realize pretty quickly on that this person was not a fit for your organization, but yet you keep them on because you're hoping to try and fit them in, or they're a great person, they're just on the wrong seat on the bus. And then you realize, wait, we don't have a seat on the bus for this person. That is a crisis because not only do you have to walk this person out of your organization, but then you have to go back and redo the work that they've done or maybe fix some things that they've broken or relationships that they've strained within your congregation or organization. That, I would consider a crisis as well.

Jennifer Paulson:
I think it's a great point. So Gail, along that same line, what have you seen that crisis can do to employees? So let's say you've witnessed a church that's gone through crisis, an organization that's gone through crisis, what is the toll that it takes on the employees in that organization?

Gail Mayes:
Well, first I would say that the emotional toll is real. Maybe the employee had a friendship or a good working relationship with a leader who just had a moral failure, and so then they're processing that disappointment. It's discouraging. It's just really sad and can be spiritually impactful for that employee. The second is increased workload. If there is a loss of a staff member, if there is a hard falling out of an organization, man, you're just going to have to do more work. If a person leaves, you inherit their cases, you inherit their work. So, that's a second thing.
The third thing that goes along with that is increased work outside of their gifting. If an employee leaves and I'm taking half of their workload, I may not like what I inherit and it goes outside of the things that I normally do, outside of the things I like to do. And, an employee can do that for a period of time, but we're talking over the long term. We're talking weeks and months. That's just discouraging. It's not fun.
And then the fourth thing, which goes along with all of these things is just, it's bad for morale. Employees become discouraged, employees become drained. This is what they talk about when they go out for lunch is, Man, I'm doing more work or I don't like what I'm doing now. And then it's like a virus. It's contagious. People with low morale just spread that, and then they get other people thinking, Oh, I don't like my job. I don't like what I'm doing either. And so that's one of the things we see when hard times happen to companies and churches.

Jennifer Paulson:
Something a little bit tangentially related to that is then even if you do hire in good people, if you already have that low morale in the office due to that crisis and due to the emotional toll that it's taken, then that can ruin it for the new good people. And it can become a disease like you're talking about, where the morale continues to decrease and it takes the positive away from some of the new hires that might come in with an open mind.

Gail Mayes:
Absolutely.

Jennifer Paulson:
Gail, how do you know if you have a problem with culture in your organization?

Gail Mayes:
The first way that you have a problem is people don't like coming to work, but that's your first culture problem. Cultural indication is that people don't want to come to work. They maybe are coming in later than they previously were or are leaving early. They take longer lunch breaks. Maybe when they used to eat lunch in the break room, they are now going out, which we have no problem with. We want employees to enjoy their lunch break and to leave campus if that's what they want to do. But that could be an indicator of your culture going south quickly.

Jennifer Paulson:
Do you also see sometimes where maybe the office base was happy and laughing and there's maybe less communication, maybe just the energy in the office is a little bit more negative?

Gail Mayes:
Absolutely.

Jennifer Paulson:
What do you think is most critical to creating a good culture? So we've talked a little bit about the warning signs, you know what to look for, what might be a bad culture. What are some of the things that are critical to creating that good culture in an organization?

Gail Mayes:
Well, of course the first step would be making sure that your employees are aligned with your vision and values.

Jennifer Paulson:
That's great.

Gail Mayes:
Do you have clear a clear vision? Do you have clear values? That your employees can communicate both to themselves and both internally and externally. Having those vision and values are so important. Next step is hiring to fit those vision and values. At Vanderbloeman, one of our values is ridiculous responsiveness. And so we want to hire employees who will respond to our clients and our candidates and also to each other in a timely fashion. And so we look for that in our candidates. Hey, how long did it take this person to book an appointment with you? Did this person respond to your emails? When you asked them a question, were they able to get information to you quickly?
The second answer is a little harder, and that is getting the wrong people off your bus. If part of having a healthy culture is having the right people in the right seats, having an unhealthy culture is having the wrong people in the wrong seats. And so that takes time and it takes some care to do well. But that's two steps that you can take to having a healthy culture.

Jennifer Paulson:
I think that's great, Gail. Many studies have shown that people work harder for a company that they believe in the vision of. So you were talking about Vanderbloemen's vision. I think connecting people with the vision and making sure that they see what they do on a daily basis actually impacts the organization, that's going to make a person feel more connected. So in terms of building a good culture, that's a critical part. When you're talking about the wrong people off the bus, that's a challenging thing to do. And I think it's important in those situations to be patient and to give it time. It might not happen overnight. There's ways... we talk about sun setting and sun rising, but getting the wrong people off and the right people on, and I think it's a lot of difficult conversations.
So maybe the morale at an organization has decreased, and maybe that has become a disease for some of the people that it's unrecoverable from. But I think other people, once new good leadership comes in, they can be kind of swung back to the right side. So it doesn't necessarily mean everyone that was involved in the past has to go. It's a matter of, who's resilient, who do you think can be part of the building blocks as you move forward?

Gail Mayes:
And some people are self-aware enough to know, Hey, this organization, maybe at one point in time, it worked for me, or I fit in with the culture and now I don't. And so some people are self-aware enough to see that and other people need to be brought into that self-awareness through conversations with their managers.

Jennifer Paulson:
That's a very great way of saying it, Gail. How do you know if you've created that successful, positive culture? What does that look like?

Gail Mayes:
I think it looks like employees who want to come into the office or want to be working with each other, who spend time with each other in the office and outside of the office. Again, we want to guard our employees time and we don't want to require them to spend time with each other outside of the office, but you're going to want to have relationships with the people you work with and you're going to want to either do things with them or maybe share a meal together. For me, that's a sign of a positive work culture.

Jennifer Paulson:
Gail, you've been in the people and culture role here at Vanderbloemen for about 9 months, maybe 10 months right now. Can you talk about some specific things that you've done at Vanderbloemen over the past 9 to 10 months that you and the team have done to improve the culture in your tenure here? I can think of one thing that you've done.

Gail Mayes:
Yes. What have we done?

Jennifer Paulson:
Well, there's multiple, but the one that's immediately coming to my mind is Terrific Tuesday.

Gail Mayes:
Yes.

Jennifer Paulson:
So we noticed that something that Vanderbloemen could be better at is actually connecting the office team with the vision. We've got a team of excellent consultants and they're connecting with a vision on a daily basis. They're going out to churches, they're interacting at a lot of different levels, but the office people are supporting those consultants and aren't necessarily connecting with the vision. So, that's one thing that you've really focused on.

Gail Mayes:
Yes, we had a staff that loves working towards building the kingdom and loves serving churches and organizations, but they weren't feeling that connection. And so we started something called Terrific Tuesdays to have teams share and have individuals share how they were in their role as in-office staff serving the kingdom. And so when we asked people questions of, What is a win for you today? How did you serve the church this week? They could give an answer and people really jumped on to that. It was encouraging to them, it was a morale boost. We have tons of laughter, we call it Terrific Tuesdays. Sometimes we bring treats, which our office staff really likes.
It's a 15-minute meeting. It's not a long part of our week, but it gives the team members an opportunity to share how they are fulfilling the vision of Vanderbloemen to serve the kingdom by not even leaving the office.

Jennifer Paulson:
That's great. I wrote three things down on my notepad of other things that you've done, Gail? So we have a weekly all staff meeting. So we have Terrific Tuesdays on Tuesday, and then on Friday mornings we have an all staff and one section of that is consultants on the road. So the consultants, they're traveling around and they get the opportunity to speak into the office team about maybe experiences that they've had so that everyone can feel part of the win.

Gail Mayes:
Yes.

Jennifer Paulson:
Something else that we did at Vanderbloemen, under your direction, Gail, is a culture survey. So we sent out a survey. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?

Gail Mayes:
We sent out a survey to employees to elicit honest feedback. What are we doing well? What are we not doing well? How can we help employees feel connected to the vision? We also had listening tours where we sit with every employee individually and ask them those questions to get honest feedback. I did a listening tour in the spring. You did a listening tour over the winter. And employees will tell you how you can help them enjoy their workplace, enjoy the culture, how you can improve culture, what they see as things that are broken, and maybe give you ideas on how to fix them.

Jennifer Paulson:
An expression that I like to say a lot is weigh in equals buy-in. So on these listening tours, it's allowing the people to weigh in on what's important to them in the company, and then they really feel heard. And especially then when you see the lead team start taking steps toward those, toward improving things that they've brought up, that's when you really hook the employees and make the employees realize that you care about them.

Gail Mayes:
Yes, I would agree.

Jennifer Paulson:
So another part of that culture survey that you sent out was talking about the motivation. So asking employees at Vanderbloemen, what motivates you? What are things that we could be doing better? Actually listening to them and actually kind of coming up with a list. And it was really interesting. So when we got the responses back, kind of fell into two different categories. One was more flexibility, and then one was related to things in the office such as the break room, food that we would have, things like that. But flexibility, I think we kind of thought that it was important, but we didn't necessarily know how important it was until we gave that survey.

Gail Mayes:
Oh, it was absolutely listed as number one. Employees today because they went through the COVID era when they had more flexibility in the workplace than we've ever had. And then coming back into the office, employees want to have that flexibility and they want to work towards it. So yeah, we didn't expect it to be number one and it was.

Jennifer Paulson:
No. And actually, I think flexibility, even beat pay. So we were talking about Terrific Tuesday, another thing that Gail implemented was Reward Wednesday. So, that's something that we were trying here. I think we got it from one of our clients as something that they had done. But we have KPIs, key performance indicators for each of the teams, and then if they achieve those goals, those financial or the metric goals, then the next month they get to work from home on Wednesdays. So those are called Reward Wednesdays. That's just a little thing. It doesn't cost the company any more money, but I would say that, that's really been a big part of making people feel engaged, rewarded, and valued, don't you think?

Gail Mayes:
Absolutely.

Jennifer Paulson:
Yep. Another thing that we have at Vanderbloemen is a culture tool. And you can find that on our website. We have a really neat thing that you can give to your team members in your organization, your church, the employees can fill it out and then it gives you a report as to the health of your culture and the specific things that you need to work on.

Gail Mayes:
Absolutely. You may feel that your culture is great, you have a perfectly good culture, perfectly fine, everyone is happy. Well then, sending a survey to your employees is only going to confirm that. However, if you get those survey results back and they are not what you're expecting, then it gives you some opportunity to make changes within your organization towards having a healthy culture.

Jennifer Paulson:
I think it's important with culture to not bury your head under the ground and just think, Oh, it doesn't matter. We're paying them. That's all we need to do. Well, we're in a different day and age. It's not your grandfather's organization anymore where people just stayed in the same job for year after year. We are seeing a lot of turnover in churches and organizations in our organization. And so it's incumbent upon the leadership at organizations to make the work environment pleasant and make the employees feel valued.

Gail Mayes:
Absolutely. It's going to cost you money if you have turnover. Your profit margins will be lower. If you're a church, your ministry will not be as successful. Long tenured employees are a key part of the growth of your organization.

Jennifer Paulson:
Gail, flipping it on the other side, have you tried anything either at Vanderbloemen or other organizations to improve culture that you've seen did not work that either had the wrong end result, or maybe you've seen something at other organizations where they've tried to do it, but it hasn't improved? I actually just thought of an answer to this question as I asked you. You guys cut this out, but what I think I would say is you were basically saying even if your culture's good, send it out, it's not going to harm. I feel like anything that you try shows the team that you value them. So I don't think you can actually make a mistake in culture. I think if you're telling your team it's important and you're trying anything, they will see that as a leadership team that cares about them. So it's a situation in which you can't really make a mistake.

Gail Mayes:
Any effort is good effort as long as it's done in good faith.

Jennifer Paulson:
Yep.

Gail Mayes:
If you are working towards your vision and values and you are encouraging employees along the way, they will appreciate that effort. And this is where you want to have open and honest communication with your employees where you can say, Hey, that Terrific Tuesday thing that you implemented actually was pretty discouraging. And that's something you want to hear. If you think you're going to start something and it's going to be successful, but employees come to you and say, actually, that had the opposite fact, you're going to want to hear that and you want to have that communication with your employees anyway.

Jennifer Paulson:
I just wrote down transparency. I think something that Vanderbloemen does really well, and it's under your direction here, Gail, is that we're very open and honest. I would say that the communication to the team, it's basically, we don't hide anything. We are open and honest. We're communicating with our team at all times, and people feel like they're part of the solution in almost every situation.

Gail Mayes:
And of course, you want to keep your communication within the bounds of HR practices and good HR practices. You don't need to be sharing your employees information with everyone. But transparency is important to this generation. It also, the Bible talks about that, bringing light into darkness. And as Christians, we are supposed to be lovers of truth and lovers of light. And so the more transparent, the more light you can bring into your organization, the better.

Jennifer Paulson:
Something that Vanderbloemen always embraces is constant improvement. We had a company meeting a few weeks ago and the spirit of it was constant improvement. It was talking about what are we doing well, but then what can we continue to do even better? Even better? And that brings everyone in. I think that, that shines a light on the things that could be better, but it also, again, shows the employees that you value their solutions.

Gail Mayes:
Absolutely. Constant improvement acknowledges the fact that nothing is 100% all the time, and that there's always ways to make things better. And so by eliciting that information from employees on how you can improve, getting a list of their ideas, getting their feedback, maybe that is by them coming up to me as Director of People and Culture and telling me some ideas that they have. And maybe it's coming from their managers from the one-on-one meetings that they have with their employees. But you always want to be open to hearing that, acknowledging that, Hey, I might have done something wrong, or we might have taken a misstep within our organization and acknowledging that and improving down the road.

Jennifer Paulson:
The worst thing that you can do is hide anything bad, cover it up, not address it, push it aside, hope it'll get better. That's the worst thing that you could do.

Gail Mayes:
I think scriptures are pretty clear that is not a solution and is in fact the worst thing that you can do.

Jennifer Paulson:
So Gail, you're our Director of People and Culture. My last question for you is, let's say you're a pastor listening to this, you're a COO listening to this, how do you know if your organization, could use a Director of People and Culture?

Gail Mayes:
Well, that's a great question. So obviously part of my role is traditional human resource management, payroll, benefits, working with employees to make sure that our handbook and works well and that they got their money on time and that our managers are equipped to do their jobs. But the culture part of my role is just, I'm an employee that loves this organization and that sees the value in what we do and who we serve and how we serve the church. And so that could be any employee, doesn't necessarily have to be a director level person or employee. But, that can be someone who you recognize as the lead pastor or COO or executive pastor that hey, you have someone within your organization that you feel embodies the vision, values of your company or your church. And so talk with them and see if they'd be willing to step in as a culture whip or a culture manager.

Jennifer Paulson:
I said I wasn't going to ask you any more questions, so I'll state this in the form of a statement, Gail, but talk about budgeting for culture.

Gail Mayes:
Budgeting. Yes, the culture umbrella. Things like training can go under the culture umbrella. So taking employees to conferences, taking your staff to conferences, trainings and the like. It can also fall under Terrific Tuesday treats. Today for our Terrific Tuesday, we had popcorn and employees loved it. But if you're pinching pennies, if you're an honest church and you're saying, We don't want to spend tithe money on snacks for staff, have a snack sign up sheet. Employees could bring in homemade cupcakes or a snack of their choice if they wanted. It's small things. Doesn't have to be big things.
I think every employee here at Vanderbloemen has a list of our values on their desk, and each one of those cost $1 to create. Crista, our Marketing Manager, took it upon herself to create those with frames that she had purchased from Hobby Lobby. So this was not an expensive culture improvement, but I think everyone on the team would say that it's great.

Jennifer Paulson:
Well, I will say, Gail, I started at Vanderbloemen in January and from January to now, about the end of October, the culture has just grown in leaps and bounds, and that's largely thanks to you, Director of People and Culture.

Gail Mayes:
Well, thank you, Jennifer.

Jennifer Paulson:
You're welcome.

Christa Neidig:
Thanks for listening to the Vanderbloemen Leadership Podcast. At Vanderbloemen, we help Christian organizations build their best teams through hiring, succession, compensation, and diversity consulting services. Visit our website, vanderbloemen.com to learn more and subscribe to our Vanderbloemen leadership podcast wherever you listen to podcasts, to keep up with our newest episodes. Thanks for listening.

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