One essential aspect to moving an organization forward is the establishment of trust. This may seem obvious, but too often change agents neglect to take the time to establish a foundation of trust before they try to make significant changes. This is true both for leaders within organizations and outside consultants and coaches contracted to assist with reorganization or transformation.
In a recent article at Inc.com, Marissa Levin, Founder and CEO of Successful Culture, discusses research that shows the significance of trust in the success of an organization. The article is directed to the business world, but also applies to faith communities and nonprofits. She suggests eight ways to build trust in an organization. Here I paraphrase Levin and add my thoughts on how faith communities can benefit from her recommendations.
Recognize Excellence. Public and immediate recognition of a job well-done increases productivity and encourages others. Congregations and nonprofits depend heavily on volunteers. Often a small group of people do a majority of the work. How does your leadership publicly celebrate volunteer and staff contributions? Is it possible to have a time during worship to recognize what people have accomplished throughout the week? Note that a generalize “thank you” to everyone, or celebrating the mediocre may do more harm than good. It sets a tone that is not beneficial to the mission of the organization.
Induce “Challenge Stress.” If people are not challenged, they will not step up. Attainable challenges are good for all organizations, including faith communities and nonprofits. I have worked with too many congregations that try to cater to the whims of the membership while expecting little to nothing from them. When I coach churches, I encourage them to challenge themselves with SMART goals that will move them into the future God has for them. Healthy congregations have healthy leaders that can create “challenge stress” – enough to stress to combat complacency, but not enough to overwhelm or discourage their flock.
Empower employees [and volunteers] to choose their work patterns and habits. As Levin points out, staff would give up a raise for more autonomy and control of their work environment. Of course, we have certain boundaries and guidelines for what people do in the name of the church or organization, but we can be permission-giving within those limitations. Leaders who micromanage the mission dishearten and constrain their staff and volunteers.
Give [people] a voice in their job design. Many congregations and nonprofits “assign” staff and volunteers to projects or committees that need warm bodies. Instead, encourage people to follow their passions to work on the areas of mission of which they are most excited to be a part. Spiritual gifts assessments are good tools for helping members discern their passions and areas of strength.
Communicate often. Let me repeat this one. Communicate often. Every group that I have worked with has listed communication as a weakness in the organization. If Levin suggests that large corporations need daily communication with direct reports, what does this say to faith communities and nonprofits? If you want to engage people in your mission, keep it before them daily and be specific about expectations and opportunities. If you have a staff, practice direct and daily reporting, and encourage volunteers to report back regularly. Not only will this improve organizational functioning, sharing stories of mission activity will also encourage more people to get involved and financially support the organization.
Intentionally build relationships. This one should be a no-brainer for faith communities, which are in the business of relationship-building. All the major religions espouse having healthy, loving relationships with the divine and other people. For example, Christians are called to be friend to the friendless. Muslims are required to give alms to the poor. Judaism teaches that all humanity are one. Many congregations create small group ministries to encourage fellowship and mutual ministry. However, there are situations where the pastor feels isolated. The relationship between a pastor and member is unique, very different from member-to-member friendships. Pastors would do well to find friendships outside of their church, perhaps with other pastors or nonprofit leaders. Intentionality is the key.
Facilitate whole-person growth. I have known pastors and nonprofit leaders who never take their continuing education time. This is a big mistake. Continuing education and sabbaticals are opportunities to grow intellectually and spiritually. When you give so much of yourself to serving others, it is easy to get burned out or complacent. Faith and nonprofit leaders are no different than anyone else. We need rest, renewal and intellectual stimulation. In my workbook for Presbyterian ruling elders, I advocate that volunteer leaders also take sabbaticals from leadership and intentionally attend to their spiritual growth. Whole-person growth is not just for leadership. Faith communities can contribute to a well-rounded, intentional personal development of all members. Jesus said, “I have come so that you may have life, and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10 paraphrased)
How do our organizations provide whole-person growth to our members and staffs?
Show vulnerability. As Levin indicates, the research shows that leader vulnerability increases trust and cooperation. Some faith leaders are afraid to be vulnerable with their members. They believe that they need to be an example of true faith and strength. Healthy leaders are able to show appropriate vulnerability and ask for help when they need it. Followers need to know that their leaders are human, that they are not only trustworthy, but trusting as well. This is also true for subordinate staff members. Team leaders who ask their team members for help and acknowledge that team members have knowledge and skills that they do not, establish a higher level of trust, respect and cooperation.
As Levin states, the bottom line is that trust-based culture is able to attract and retain high-quality workers and achieve greater results. A trust-based culture begins with leadership. Two questions for faith and nonprofit leaders to consider:
- How would you rate the level of trust in your organization?
- What steps do you want to take to strengthen the culture of trust?