The only way to change culture is to create more of it. - Andy Crouch
Everyone has something they would like to change about the culture where they work. This is as true for CEO’s as it is for first year interns. Some of us would like our work culture to be more friendly, while others would like it to be more productive. Others want their workplace to be more innovative, less demanding, more inclusive, more growth oriented, less about who you know, less about work hours, more about what people contribute, less about monetary results, more about societal impact, less bureaucracy, and more action. The list of changes that employees want done in their organizations is seemingly endless, and often contradictory, but nonetheless, it is apparent that everyone wants something to change about the culture in which they work.
The Time Is Now
The last two years of global pandemic have set us up for massive changes in how we work, and this certainly includes the culture of our organizations. Bill Schaninger – senior partner at McKinsey – claims, “This is an unbelievable opportunity to remake culture. It’s rare in a leader’s lifetime to have such a clean drop for reshaping how you run the place.” Even some of the most historically rigid companies and nonprofits are open to reshaping their mission, values, and way of working.
You Are The Change
The culture at most organizations is impacted by people in every position at every level – including entry level. People who are confident in their purpose outside of work are most able to make a difference in the workplace. This means that those who follow Jesus have a distinct advantage in shaping and making culture. From the very beginning of time, we were made to create and subdue the earth by putting everything under the Lordship of God.
The Way Is Love
The great commandment that we love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength and love our neighbor as ourselves is a cultural commandment (Mark 12:30-31). No organization has made as much of a cultural impact on the world as the Church of Jesus. The early church both understood and answered their call to make disciples of all nations. Making culture was part of their method as they expanded from Jesusalem to Judea, and from Samaria to the ends of the earth. Making culture and loving their neighbors were synonymous to early Christians who had enormous influence on the Roman dominated world by sacrificing their lives and serving people who had the greatest needs. They were known to be inclusive of men and women, all ethnic backgrounds, and every economic status — rich and poor.
Community Is Key
Andy Crouch, author of Culture Making, says that “Culture making is hard. It simply doesn’t happen without the deep investment of absolutely and relatively small groups of people. In culture making, size matters—in reverse. Only a small group can sustain the attention, energy and perseverance to create something that genuinely moves the horizons of possibility—because to create that good requires an ability to suspend, at least for a time, the very horizons within which everyone else is operating. Such “suspension of impossibility” is tiring and taxing. The only thing strong enough to sustain it is a community of people. To create a new cultural good, a small group is essential.”
Andy Crouch is also a partner at Praxis, which is a creative engine for redemptive entrepreneurship. Praxis gives us seven ways to change culture in their book, The Redemptive Business.
Every organization intends to attract great people, build a healthy culture, and develop great leaders—yet most organizations fall well short in actual practice.
Particularly through the influence of the technology and knowledge sectors, we are all being pushed into workism, to borrow the coinage of Derek Thompson—in which our work carries too much weight in forming our sense of value and purpose. From the always-hustling culture of Silicon Valley to the Chinese “996” norm of working from 9 to 9, 6 days a week, there is an expectation that if you really want to rise, more work is always better. And if our work defines our identity, how can we refuse? Under the promise of “always-on” access and maximal productivity, we rarely have a moment where our inbox or most pressing work issue is absent from our minds. And our workism can affect others even more than ourselves: as those of us with the most margin and agency willingly exploit ourselves, we create norms that flow downstream to those with far fewer choices.
Organizational culture suffers when our work means too much, and also when it means too little. A companion error to workism is instrumentalism—the view that work is merely a means to money and freedom. Here too, organizations and individuals can conspire in what seems little more than an exchange of labor for money. Leaders use people as “human resources” to be allocated rather than as whole persons to be developed and blessed, perhaps especially in environments where the opportunities for impact or financial returns are significant. We may “invest” in our people’s usefulness to our venture, but this language can feel hollow if we demonstrate little regard for their lives outside or beyond their tenure at the organization.
Almost all human communities tend toward conformity and avoid confronting the most difficult truths, and our workplaces easily become places where certain truths are never spoken and many voices are never heard. As we pare down our ranks to those who are willing and able to tolerate an organizational monoculture, our firms gradually lose the honest edge at which real excellence is found. We may recruit and retain for a conventional “good fit” in ways that exclude the abundant diversity of human experience and limit our organization’s capacity for generative growth.
Instead, we long for our organizational culture to reflect grace and truth; and for members of our team to bring their whole selves to work and be energized by their work for their whole lives. We aim to create workplace cultures that cultivate and celebrate redemptive action, blessing people by giving more than we ask in return.