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 build 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
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.
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
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 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
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
4. Staff Orientation and Training
Communicating expectations upfront about culture and the biblical foundation for company values is a powerful way to set the stage for a strong ‘culture identity’. Regular discussion and staff training reinforces the culture and values that are being communicated and modelled.
Staff orientation is something we use to manage expectations upfront – even before making employment offers. We share the mission, history and culture of the company, along with the role of faith at the company or the personal testimony of the founder. This is all to ask if the person is “willing to come into this type of environment”. We get a verbal agreement that they are joining a faith-based or values-based company and embarking on a journey to challenge and grow themselves. We’ve found this is essential to manage expectations and open the door for follow on spiritual impact. From there we take an hour weekly during work hours, where the company is shut down, to break into teams to discuss and set goals around biblically-based principles – Mark, IT, Asia
We’ve had a company-wide one hour meeting once a week where we have discussed our values (Love, Beauty, Justice, Integrity, Excellence). Each week we take one of the values and discuss how it relates to our work at the company and how it relates to our lives. We have often used Bible verses as “proverbs” to help illustrate points and the meetings are usually interactive which can mean small group discussions, skits, games, etc. – Peter, Manufacturing, Nepal
5. Use Rewards and Incentives
Use encouragement, rewards and material incentives to motivate employees towards behaviours and attitudes that are in line with the company culture that you wish to create.
Some of the values we try to instill are Honesty, Love and Kindness. My staff want to please me, they want to do well, and to hear me encourage them. – Anne, Food & Beverage, Southeast Asia
I do not see policies and structures doing much at all to integrate a positive corporate culture. This might just be my situation in a country like Indonesia, but these things have never got me very far at all. Modelled behaviour and motivating initiatives work much better. Building a reward or bonus system into this seems to work well for us. We really go the extra mile to try to build a family atmosphere that encourages and trusts each other. This gives people room to make mistakes and learn from them, while pushing them as far as we can towards the goals and targets of the company. If we have them working in teams and the whole team either achieves the goal and gets the reward (or does not) this builds the family atmosphere and deepens the level of trust. – James, Construction, Indonesia
Our performance reviews monitor the extent to which our staff model the values and they are only promoted when this is visible. This doesn’t necessarily mean they buy into the faith element, but it does mean they need to show evidence of the behaviours. – MH, Asia
6. Sharing Life Together and Serving Together
Culture is passed on through people and therefore through establishing strong relationships within the company. Nurturing a context for relationship-building and sharing is therefore a key for culture development. One of the most powerful ways to build a sense of team and cement relationships is to get out and serve the community together as a company.
Break bread together! We have a simple, inexpensive lunch provided for the staff with the environment and expectation to spend time sharing life together and not just talking “shop”. – Mark, IT, Asia
An important issue for me was the commitment to harmony, unity and fellowship within the team of about 12 people. The leadership team was formed by four people: my wife and me, and two local believers – owners of the business, who we were coaching. We had regular meetings with them to discuss business, but also to have fellowship or even fast together when things became rough. We had regular prayer meetings at the beginning and we had a retreat twice a year for 1-3 days, and this helped a lot. – Hans, Retail, Angola
We have a weekly team breakfast which also informally functions as a prayer meeting. We have a mix of Christian and non-Christian staff, so we have structured it as more of a time of sharing, but we always have one of our believing staff pray for the things the others have shared. – Steven, Service Company, Thailand
One of the most important behaviors we are trying to ingrain is kindness or goodness. We implemented a volunteer program where we dedicate the last Friday morning of the month for the entire office to go out and help people and organizations that are in need. Through helping others and encouraging acts of kindness, we have had a greater impact in our staffs’ lives and the community. The program is set up so the staff brings up ideas and initiates what to do and they become the team leader of the activity and others sign up to join in. – Ben and Yumi, IT, Southeast Asia
Compiled by Jo Plummer for The BAM Review, with many thanks to the 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.