We asked 12 BAM Practitioners how they have gone about developing their company culture and what values and behaviors they have intentionally tried to instill. Their responses showed six clear themes: 6 ways to develop company culture.
Part 1: The top 3 ways practitioners told us they develop company culture
1. Visible Values That Are Thoroughly Integrated into Operations
Having a set of clearly articulated values is a key to developing an intentionally-driven company culture. These values must then be woven through everything that happens in the company.
We try to integrate our core values into everything that we do. Our job applications are built with questions that try to assess these values in applicants. Our HR training is basically a series of lessons on these specific values. Most problems that arise can be answered by looking back at these core values and applying them to individual situations. However, it is sometimes tough to remember to take opportunities to teach values. Often our employees come to us with problems and we have tried to develop a habit of pointing them to the core values and asking them which ones apply to their particular problem. This means slowing down from the demands of the day and taking the time to walk through it with them. It is often tempting (because it is easier and faster) to just tell them what to do. However, we find that when we are intentional and take the time, it is a huge blessing to both parties and to the long-term effectiveness of our business. – Steven, Service Company, Thailand
We have a defined set of three core values, which are Social Justice, Honest Relationships, and Servant leadership. Clearly these have an underlying missiological foundation. Our values affect the way we operate, for instance, our office layout reflects our values: no-one has a big office, or a large desk. We are seeking to embed these across our whole team, irrespective of faith background. We are currently walking through a series of 1 hour sessions with our management team entitled Values Conversations. These are round-table discussions around the values, rather than front-led training. The concept behind this is an understanding that we are journeying together, we are all a work-in-progress and the role of leadership in these conversations is from a place of vulnerability and mutual learning rather than from a place of strength. – MH, Asia
Developing clear values is important. I would say Trust has been a key value for us. If you can build a culture of trust, a whole bunch of other really healthy things follow. If you have trust, then you will not have too many problems with jealousy or suspicion and there will be more integrity and honesty. If you can build a culture that causes people who work together to trust each other, then the teamwork and commitment side of things comes much easier. Of course there are still challenges, but this goes a long way in getting the corporate culture heading the right direction. – James, Construction, Indonesia
The best opportunities to reinforce our values are the difficult ones, decisions that are made which cost the company contracts or money, but which we make because they are right. It’s easy to be honest when there’s lots of money being made, but much harder when the crunch comes! I have threatened to terminate employees for lying to customers and disciplined others for misleading suppliers. I’ve learned that my employees generally want me to treat them with honesty and integrity and to treat them with respect, but they don’t really want to have to treat others that way. Culturally they value strength over humility and consider a crafty deal to be good. I push them the other way and used to get push back from them for that. So difficult days do have their bright side; they test our commitment to our values and help us apply them. – Robert, Manufacturing and Consulting, Middle East
2. Go Counter Cultural
One of the most often mentioned ways that BAM practitioners develop their unique company culture is to be very intentional about nurturing biblical values that are counter to the local culture.
Our core values (Loving People, Excellence, Integrity, Accountability, Stewardship) grew out of a few different things. First, we came up with a list of things that we felt God valued. Then we narrowed that list to specific things that our leadership team highly valued. And finally, we narrowed the list further by asking which values flew in the face of “normal” values in our context. This friction with the local culture allows us to stand out and creates many good conversations with employees, suppliers, and customers alike. – Steven, Service Company, Thailand
Nepal still operates under the influence of the caste system which we have also intentionally tried to “weed” out of our company culture. Everyone is expected to be willing to help out with whatever needs to be done no matter their position. Even our skilled sewers are expected to help sweep and clean at the end of the day, which makes for some uncomfortable situations! One of our sewers would disappear at the end of each day and refused to sweep. It took him 3 months before he was willing to pick up a broom and I’m so proud now whenever I see him sweeping. – Peter, Manufacturing, Nepal
An important part of our company culture is creating a family atmosphere. I want to show that we all need each other to get the job done and that we need to help one another to succeed. Over here that idea breaks up the class system. – Anne, Food & Beverage, Southeast Asia
Important for me was tackling the use of money. While in Angola I learned that “traditional” missionaries seldom speak about money, because it doesn’t come to them as a result of employed work, and so they have not much to teach to people. Also, missionaries don’t want to chase people away by asking for money, in contrast, they want to attract them by giving them things. After 150 years of getting used to this, the customers of the our Christian bookstore couldn’t understand why a missionary is selling stuff and not giving. I tried to teach our two local partners that money is a tool, not a goal. Our goal is to bless people with the product of our work; money helps us to do it. After I left, when they had to handle the business alone, I could see from their communications that they had learned it. – Hans, Retail, Angola
I work at developing a company culture that is counter-cultural to the majority worldview. In particular I have emphasised honesty in all things, integrity in work, commitment to one another as equals. I have also tried hard to demonstrate that humility is a virtue rather than a weakness and that pride and arrogance are not virtues to be developed. One last significant value is to look at reality rather than image – emphasising real learning over a certificate, real accomplishment over false praise and integrity in our corporate promises. We put these things in our corporate value statement and I work hard to implement them in practical, visible ways for the employees to see and experience. – Robert, Manufacturing and Consulting, Middle East
3. Leaders Modelling Values
It is crucial for BAM practitioners to model their values in their own behaviour and attitudes if the culture they want is really to take root. Do what I say and not what I do is no good in a BAM company!
Modeling is key. People will never grasp the power of Jesus via policies or rules. People do not believe what you say, but what they see you doing. Love is our most powerful initiative. Sowing love into our relationships opens doors for everything we do with both our customers and employees. As our employees see our love, and how we offer grace when they fail us, and forgiveness when they intentionally sin against us, they’ve no response. – Patrick, Asia
I believe my behaviour as manager speaks more loudly than words on a chart or even words in a meeting. My staff ‘hear’ what I do more than what I say. What I do should align with what I say and what the company policies preach. I find that going through difficult challenges in the business is the best time to demonstrate the depth of my commitment! – Robert, Manufacturing and Consulting, Middle East
I share values like Honesty, Love and Kindness with my staff, but also teach by example. They watch me wash the dishes when we are busy and they see that the owner helps and will do any job to help the company ‘family’. We do have rules to help remind them, but if you can get the key people doing it, then all the rest of the staff will follow. – Anne, Food & Beverage, Southeast Asia
We try to live out the core values before our employees, customers, and other business contacts. We specifically encourage the employees to embody the values while at work and hold them accountable to doing so. – Steven, Service Company, Thailand
As leaders and owners we seek to model our values, and are accountable for this to a board. Our staff team are able to comment anonymously on this. None of us is perfect, and we do find ourselves getting it wrong at times, as leaders and owners. We have to say sorry sometimes for when we make mistakes and don’t model the values and behaviours. We have also had very significant issues with one or two of our managers not modelling the values and we have had to confront that directly. Maintaining values under times of high pressure and the culture through numerical growth have also been significant challenges. We are seeking to make sure that our values are not compromised by either of these, but it is always a challenge! – MH, Asia
Avoidance of office gossip is one of our values, and I make a point of never saying a bad word about one team member to another. Conversely, I regularly ask for feedback from team members in the hope that any grievances can be addressed directly. – Jai, Retail, Australia
We as owners have worked very hard to try to model the values in our day to day interactions at the office and often refer to them when problems arise. It’s really easy to point out why these values make us a better company which gives us the opportunity to share about why living out these values also make us better people, which has opened up to many discussions about faith. We model our values sometimes by helping out with clean up. Every once in awhile we shock the system by cleaning the bathrooms, which is hilarious. Our staff all get so stressed and it’s fun to especially see the guys get flustered. Their first response is to yell at the ladies to take over but they quickly realise that that’s probably not appropriate and that they should also help too. The thought, though, of cleaning a bathroom themselves is almost as bad as the sight of seeing their bosses cleaning the bathrooms. – Peter, Manufacturing, Nepal
Compiled by Jo Plummer for The BAM Review, with many thanks to the 12 BAM Practitioners we talked to.
Jo Plummer is the Co-Chair of the BAM Global Think Tank and co-editor the Lausanne Occasional Paper on Business as Mission. She has been developing resources for BAM since 2001 and currently serves as Editor of the Business as Mission website.