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Dear BAM Mentor,
Starting out, I have BAM goals for my business and part of that is a company culture I want to intentionally develop. I expect my values and intentions will hit some roadblocks as I work that out on the ground…. How have you intentionally developed your company culture so that it reinforces and integrates with your BAM goals? What have been some challenges to that process, especially when operating cross-culturally?
~ Crossing Cultures
Company Culture is Kingdom Culture
If we believe that the first step of any successful mission is getting a believer together with an unbeliever, then we can immediately see the power of business. If the business context may be the only encounter a person has with the Kingdom of God, then that business culture becomes mission-critical. As Peter Drucker says, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
If you wish to get something done in business, the environment the people do it in is important. If you wish to get something done and have people encounter the light of the Kingdom, then developing the right culture is a non-negotiable. In our business operations, we say that we, “Show people around the kingdom and introduce them to the King.”
Generating Kingdom Culture
Below are some key points to consider when developing a Kingdom culture.
1. An experience of the Kingdom is your company’s product
Your culture is the first thing people experience when they encounter your business, either as a customer or an employee. Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos, says they are in the business of delivering happiness. Charles Schultz, CEO of Starbucks says “Coffee is our product, but that’s not the business we are in. We are about building a company that treats people with respect.” These guys understand there is something deeper going on when people encounter your product or service. It is one thing to say this is what we do (product or service), it is another to say this is how we do it (culture).
In a crowded market the ‘how’ is often more memorable and impacting than the ‘what’. This current business reality elevates the ‘how’ to a level that is at least as important as the ‘what’. For a BAM enterprise, this has welcome implications. Scripture is our cultural guidebook. Biblical principles may be expressed in different ways, however scripture offers us guidelines for a transcendent, irresistible ‘how’. Considering the “experience of the Kingdom” as a product of your company is a healthy beginning to crafting your company culture, the ‘how’.
2. Create a set of values in writing
Your culture will be, and needs to be, more than just you. Though you may be the primary driver of that culture, it cannot spread well without clarity and intentionality. People may appreciate working with you, or the environment you create, however if it is not written down, it will be hard to reproduce as you grow. Growth sometimes ushers in the demise of financially mismanaged companies, and it has also triggered the dilution of good Kingdom cultures as well (more on this in point 4).
3. Set your values based in Kingdom principles
I know this seems obvious, however it cannot go unsaid. Set values that are founded on Kingdom principles, not on what we are told is ‘good business’. This is essential because the temptation to follow the status quo as the only possibility in the present environment is always palpable. A good example is if your value is integrity; what will you do when the corrupt electricity officer comes and requests some cash? Very likely those around you will tell you corruption-free operations are impossible. As difficult as these things are, they are opportunities to show a different ‘how’ – this is the arena where people encounter the Kingdom of God.
One helpful way to manage the tension and think this through is to see business planning as more about what you are going to do, and values (culture) as how you are going to do it. This practical dichotomy allows us more easily to apply the grid of scripture, as scripture itself is much more about the ‘how’ of life and not the ‘what’. Consider the principles or values the Bible gives us, before applying them into the different practical contexts you will encounter.
4. Kingdom people in key roles
Since culture is more about the ‘how’ than the ‘what’, it follows that it will be key people in your business who disseminate your culture, not posters on a wall boasting ethical platitudes. No matter how much you say ‘customers matter’ or ‘respect everyone’, unless the people you have in key positions are reflecting those values, it will not matter.
In an office of six people where the founder holds the Kingdom values close this is not so difficult. However, it becomes extremely important as you grow. As the business grows and expands, your hires (and fires) become incredibly important. If you accept the idea that your product is the experience of the Kingdom, and that your people disseminate that experience, then it follows that hiring and firing based on Kingdom culture is at least as important as hiring and firing based on skill. When you identify these Kingdom-propagating people, place them in roles where they will have the greatest influence.
5. Passionately live your values
Values and culture are not aspirational ideas, they must be flowing out of you. What is attractive about the Kingdom, and thus our Kingdom culture, is the passion that is behind it. An academic dissertation on the Kingdom will draw few; but an experience of Grace, that is deeply sincere and counter to the normal culture, will captivate. When crafting the values that will form the bedrock of your culture, choose those that you naturally express passionately.
Another Response on this topic:
Starting a business whose explicit goal and raison d’etre is to serve Kingdom concerns is difficult, but not impossible. My take on ‘Kingdom concerns’ is that they essentially boil down to developing people and glorifying God. Down through the ages, many Christians have successfully set up businesses for the same purpose. No doubt, many have also failed. While I do not have empirical evidence, I believe a majority of failures could be down to the business end of things, rather than their choice of Kingdom values over commercial interests.
I started a BAM company in India about 20 years ago. It took me three years to get to a point where I could formalize in writing how I would run the company as a “Kingdom Business”– as I referred to it at the time. Here are seven key principles that I discovered along the way, especially during those first three years of trying to figure it all out. I hope these principles will help you in your own discovery of what it means for you to be a BAM entrepreneur. [Read More…]
D is a practitioner in Asia that is passionate about integrating business and mission, and is serving as a Guest Mentor for this month’s ‘Ask a BAM Mentor‘ panel.
Submit a Question to the mentors panel via the Contact page, select ‘Ask a BAM Mentor – submit question’ as the subject.