Organizational Identity with Linda Wagener | Podcast Season 03, Episode 03

by Jan 31, 2023Transforming Engagement: the Podcast

This week, Kate and Derek are joined by longtime friend, Linda Wagener, PhD, who is the Chief Culture Officer at Blink UX. With over 35 years of experience in organizational leadership, training, and research, her role with Blink is to build a resilient work culture that enhances employee engagement and productivity.

Linda’s expertise in cultivating and preserving a values-centered and unified workplace culture can be applied across organizational types. If you are in church leadership, we think you’ll discover some fundamentals to glean from a corporate setting and apply to your church organization.

Each week, we ask our guests to highlight an organization that is doing good in the world. Linda calls our attention to US Fish and Wildlife, the federal government agency whose primary responsibility is to manage fish and wildlife resources in the public trust for people today and future generations. You can learn more about supporting their work through the volunteer opportunities on their website.

About our guest:

Linda Wagener, PhD, is Chief Culture Officer at Blink UX, a research and design firm that creates products that people use, love, and remember. In her role she oversees the end to end employee experience, building a resilient work culture that enhances employee engagement. Linda has had a rich career as a psychologist with over 30 years of experience in consultation, teaching, and research in the fields of human development and leadership. For her own nurturance, Linda has trained and counseled international aid workers on trauma and resilience as they work and live in fragile, often hostile, contexts..


About this season’s co-hosts:

Dr. J. Derek McNeil is the president of The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology. Dr. McNeil has a PhD in Counseling Psychology from Northwestern University and an MDiv from Fuller Theological Seminary. Prior to his tenure at The Seattle School, Dr. McNeil served as faculty in the PsyD program at Wheaton College Graduate School for over 15 years.

Dr. McNeil has worked as a clinician in private practice, a diversity advisor, an organizational consultant, and an administrator. His research, writing, and speaking have focused on issues of ethnic and racial socialization, the role of forgiveness in peacemaking, the identity development of African-American males, leadership in living systems, and resilience.

Kate Rae Davis is the Director of the Center for Transforming Engagement. She brings a collaborative approach to her current role working with Christian leaders to restore their inner resilience and live into their purpose. She and the Center for Transforming Engagement team gather with experts from a variety of fields and shape discussions around challenges facing leaders in a complex cultural moment and discern how each might uniquely join in God’s work in the world.

Passionate about the church in its many forms, Kate is the recipient of the 2018 Bishop’s Preaching Award and can often be found behind the pulpit of her home church, St. Luke’s Episcopal in Ballard.

Supporting resources:

  • Learn more about Transforming Faith Communities, a free, one-year program that guides your congregational team to implement changes that address and fit your unique situation and context. By participating, your faith community becomes eligible to receive grant funds to support your growth. Together, you can transform your faith community, your neighborhood, and the future. Click here to find out more.
  • Don’t miss an episode: Subscribe to Transforming Engagement, The Podcast on AppleSpotify, or Amazon Music (Audible)


Episode transcript:

Kate: Welcome to Transforming Engagement, the Podcast, where we have conversations about changes that serve the common good and a higher good. Today, Derek and I are joined by Linda Wagener, a psychologist with over 30 years of experience in consultation, teaching, administration, and research in the fields of human development, family dynamics, leadership, development and systems. In her work, Linda has trained and counseled international aid workers on trauma and resilience as they work and live in fragile, often hostile contexts. In her current role as chief culture officer at Blink, she builds resilient work cultures that enhance employee engagement. Linda, welcome.

Linda: Thank you very much. It’s good to be here, Kate. Derek.

Derek: We should also say Linda’s a good friend of mine from way back, and so [Linda: yes, <laugh>], a lot of affection and gratitude for one, our chances to work together over the years and just you’re sitting with us today.

Linda: Wow, all of my best conversations happened with you, Derek, so I’m pleased to be here. 

Derek: Lovely. Lovely.

Kate: So sweet. So today’s conversation– hopefully one of those good ones for your future to look back on –is on organizational identity. This season, we’re looking at how we think about identity in a collective and how we work to shape the identity of our organizations in relationship to the world, maybe in contrast to the world. So maybe just a starting point, Linda, your career is so interesting in that you’ve done work <laugh> with both individuals and really hard circumstances as well as with organizations in challenging shifting context. And I think that offers such an opportunity, especially with the psychological lens. What is the difference between identity on an individual level and on an organizational level?

Linda: Yeah, that’s a really interesting question. It’s hard enough to answer what is a person’s identity. And really I think we have multiple identities and shifting identities. It’s a very dynamic system. We’re always trying to gain some sort of equilibrium about who we think we are. And I became really interested in the question of how organizations impact that individual identity back when I was in a leadership position in a seminary, and I began to see a really close connection between the work environment and individual health, to begin with, but also fascinating questions about alignment of values and how we can begin to think more clearly about those. So I really think most about the alignment of individual identity and organizational development, organizational identity. Now that I’m in the corporate world, organizational identity is front and center for most companies. They talk about it as brand but really now they’re in the corporate world. We’re beginning to see a much clearer understanding of brand. It’s not just how you sell yourself. Brand is really, really another symbol for just our identity. So in my role where I’m most interested in the employee side of organizational life, the corporate brand or the corporate identity has to really be authentic and impact the workers in a way that enhances their health and their sense of meaning and purpose and their reason for being in that organization. So for me, yes, it’s about alignment, but some things are still also very important, in both cases: authenticity, integrity, and values are really critical to both individual and organizational identity.

Derek: One of the things that I think that strikes me as you’re talking and as you start, as you began talking, I kept thinking you have been in so many different types of organizations from seminary, to private practice, to private entrepreneurial business to now corporate, and I’m sure others because you’ve done social service work. And so you, your perspective is one that’s fascinating because in some ways we’re really trying to learn across those sectors, what are some of the best cultures to build. And so as we think about identity, I think the other thing about identity is what are the best stories to tell? I think one of the sort of values we have is that what coheres our intersections, our parts, are the stories. And so as you talk about corporate and kind of the alignment, I’m wondering about the stories that are told and how stories are used as well in terms of this issue of identity.

Linda: This is a really good question. So it’s funny, in the corporate world, I bring in cultural anthropology into my thinking even more than I do clinical psychology. So I think a lot about the cultural artifacts that we have as that carry the story of our organization and how we tell the stories. And one of my favorite things that we’re doing right now is our all-staff Monday morning meeting. So everybody in the organization now tunes in by Zoom. It’s a hundred percent Zoom-carried now. And in that Monday morning meeting, we do exactly what you’re saying, Derek. We carry the story of the organization and, you know, those meetings can be so dull and boring and everybody wants to do something else while the meeting’s going on. I don’t think that’s true for ours. Ours is really so carefully curated to carry the messages, the values, the meaning of our organization. So we’ve identified a number of cultural pillars we call them, that are really critical to our organizational identity. Everything from clarity to autonomy, to performance, to team commitment to equity, all of these things, these seven things have to show up in our organizational life together every day and our Monday morning meeting. I love the fact that we carry all of those things into it. So we do things, for example, we show what we call GEM reports of, they’re very polished, very professional presentations of some of the work that we’re currently doing. I should mention that Blink UX is a user design and research technology company. So we do all kinds of very interesting work for other clients. Our clients are the big five tech companies and so forth, polishing their interface for the users. So what we do in these GEM reports is show, just this fascinating work that we’ve just completed for one of our clients, and somebody on our staff who did that work is presenting their work. We introduce all of our new employees, every, each new employee gets introduced three times in a row, three Monday mornings, and they answer a ice breaker question. This contributes to our abilities to form relationships and our commitments to one another. We talk about each, what’s exciting in each of our individual studios. And someone from that studio is talking about also the exciting stuff that’s happening in the city where they are, whether it’s Austin or Boston or San Diego or Seattle. And so the CEO talks about something, I do a cultural update every Monday morning about an aspect of culture that’s important whether it’s health-related, work-life balance, all of these kinds of things. So it gives us a chance every Monday morning to continue the story and to add another chapter and to show examples of all of those cultural values that are important to us.

Kate: I, I’m appreciating the sense of knowing the values, knowing the stories, telling on the values, and then bringing it down to that really concrete, tangible-level, artifacts. Like you said, it’s not just values that we espouse. And I think that that’s something that we see, a dilemma we see in individuals as well as organizations is that mismatch between the stories that we tell about ourselves, about what we’re doing. And then the shadow side of maybe easy famous example is Google’s “Do no evil”, which is something that you can say has a really high value. But what does that look like concretely? How does that actually get lived out in a day-to-day office? And inauthenticity of, well, you’re not really looking at the impact of what you’re doing two, three steps down. So I appreciate that it’s not an alignment into the concrete that has to make sense of the whole of an organization’s behaviors, not only its ideal behaviors.

Linda: Yeah, so problems arise and things go wrong. Maybe an example, I can bring an example to the front. So clarity and communication, open transparent communication. One of our values, we try to really live up to that, but we were acquired about a year ago and the acquisition process has to be secret and it has to be secret from most of your employees. And there’s an – until the deal is done, it stays secret. So it’s a clear violation of our promise to have open transparent communication, right? And so in the communication afterwards, what in corporate speak we call change management, is all of this– okay, we couldn’t tell you, but now we’re going to tell you and now we’re going to do the big reveal and now we’re going to open the kimono as much as we can and tell you everything that we can about what we did. But you see the negative impact on the organization of doing those things and you have to be prepared for them when you know they’re coming. And so organizations right now who are slowing down on their hiring or may have to do layoffs or all of these kinds of things that impact organizational identity– the same way it does when we as individuals can’t live up to our own ideals. We have a dilemma that causes us to have to do something we wouldn’t normally do or our shadow side catches us out, right. You have to redo a lot of repair. And same thing is true in organizational life.

Derek: It’s interesting because for whatever reason today this, I’m managing my son-thing going on, but I’m struck by the energy you expressed when we talked about the rituals, the rhythms, and even now as you talk about the values, in other words, the, there’s almost a sense of sadness that we have to violate our values, and excitement that we can live into our rhythms. And I want to just link those two things together because [Linda: interesting], the sense of our practices are not things we simply wrote down and did. So Kate, when you asked the question, it’s almost a sense of– people can get into authentic. Authentic’s a tough word cause sometimes it makes us do behaviors that we don’t feel in our bodies. But as you talked about the rhythms, I could feel it in your body. The sense of this is great, we get a chance to kind of work these things through. And I think that the encouragement to listeners is it’s not just someone doing practices like rote, like a memory practice, a thing that’s– but there’s a dynamic interaction in this that becomes more than just simply the thing we’re doing. It becomes an opportunity and place to connect and we feel like we belong to each other in these practices. And I think belonging takes it a little bit beyond just the practice of, and the rhythm becomes meaningful, not just simply behavioral. And then again, how hard it is when you have to violate something of the story of who we are to do something because there’s disruption in external environment that’s impacting us. So –which I think a lot of organizations will have to face. We are in disruptive times and things happen continually now. And how does you as an organization or how do you think as a kind of a culture holder, cultivator, manage those disruptions from the outside in because those are things we have to really face in tough times.

Linda:  Well, the pandemic offered so many examples and affected work cultures so deeply, I mean there was nothing trivial about how the pandemic impacted the way that we work together. It overnight became something completely different. And so from the start it was, I mean, I guess I’m lucky in that I get to have a singular focus. I’m not a CEO, I’m a chief culture officer. I get to just think about this. So I didn’t have to be distracted about now, oh my gosh, are we going to go bankrupt or anything like that? I got to just focus on the people. And some of our, one of very strong cultural values because we’re a creative agency and we rely on people’s brains, and so we have a commitment to balance that is one of our primary commitments, senior leadership down that we want people to take care of themselves and there’s a selfish reason for that. We rely on those brains to be creative and innovative. And if people are, if their workload’s out of whack or they’re so stressed about their family situation that they can’t focus on our work – that’s bad for our business. So I mean there’s nice that they’re integrated in that way. We can care for people and care for our business. It’s not a choice. So from the very start, we knew this, we had this value, and so we could say to our people, take care of yourselves, take care of your family. That’s your priority right now. Do what you need to do. And we were very deliberate about our messages about productivity because that was one of the concerns, is productivity now going to drop? And we could get that message out there. And we said it. Our CEO has a good saying, she goes, you can’t just say something once. You have to say it once a day, you have to say it once a week. And we kept repeating this message, take care of yourselves, take care of your family. That’s first. And I think also luckily because we were a consulting company with clients all over the world, we were used, we had the digital tools that we needed to still continue to work. So it was just a matter of thinking about, okay, how do we use these digital tools to reinforce or mimic or substitute for, even if it’s a poor substitute, all the things we used to do in person. But that’s where the communication worked in our favor. And I think because we were so on top of it, so immediate, so unwavering in our commitment to the wellbeing of our employees, that it carried us through.

Derek: Well, I too hear prioritization of people over productivity which is sometimes I think we will think of corporate as productivity over people and if we get, people can’t do it and get new people. And I think that’s kind of in these times the emphasis and the focus on people as our best commodity or our best resource feels very important. And I love this notion. We just keep repeating it, as opposed to say it one or two times. And again, it speaks to rhythms again. And I’m appreciating in culture shifting, that’s really part of what it means to culture shift. You have to repeat the new thing almost until it gets deeper beyond just simply our conceptualization of it, but into our bodies and into our practices. Yeah.

Linda: Yeah, it’s interesting. It can’t just come from a single person either. So I mean that’s part of what we do as well. We make sure that across the organization we have people carrying that message over and over again. Yes, the senior leaders have to do it. But so does every team leader have to carry and feel alignment with this same message. It’s interesting having worked in churches quite a lot as well, and in seminary, it is interesting to think about the difference between those kinds of communities, church communities, which really come together because of an alignment of values. You already have that. That’s why you’re there. In the corporate world, it’s not always clear that you have that. People don’t come, they come to work for you because they have a particular skill and a craft that they want to, they’re invested in. But the value alignment is something we have to work on a little bit more in corporate world. We have to be very explicit. These are our values. And from the very beginning, even in the hiring process, we try to be very clear: these are our values, these are our values, these are our values. And what are the values you need in an organization? This is one of my key, I interview every single employee that comes in a final round and one of the questions I always ask, what do you need from an organization in order to be your best self and do your best work? And that has to, so it’s not, we’re trying to get all square squares to fit in our squares. We need a diversity.We need a lot of variety. Again, that’s the seeds of creativity and a creative agency. But there has to be alignment at a certain level about how we’re going to live and work together. And those are the kinds of ways we’re looking for a fit and for a match.

Kate: The framing you made there of churches and corporate [yeah] is so interesting. I think a lot of my world is church people and pastors over churches and we have this fantasy narrative that people are coming to us with a desire for good values. They don’t actually have them yet. And so they’re coming to us to form and shape those values more. Or a different theological background might say people are coming to us with tainted values from the secular world, corporate workplace. And so they’re coming to us to realign them to good values. And what you are saying is as you’re speaking, I was thinking, oh man, work is such an opportunity to cultivate values. So it’s something that we’re doing five days a week and not for a couple hours on a Sunday morning. And I think I’m also struck by that the values you’re choosing, I mean maybe they have a theological bent, but they’re specific to the work when you’re talking at Blink about how you’re caring for your employees, that fatigued brains aren’t creative brains. And so the way you’re likely to fatigue your employees is by fatiguing their brains, the creative side. And that’s exactly what you’re going to try to care for. So the question for me, how does an organization come to its set of values? How did you all settle on your, I think you said seven–

Linda: Eight. Yeah, there’s technically eight. One of them’s environment and space, which we haven’t – we’re talking about it in a new way now. Yes. How do we help our employees have their space at home or space in the office, whichever they choose. But yeah, how do we come those

Kate: To those? Yeah.

Linda: Well I, I’ll say one answer. The answer I usually say publicly is that [Kate: great preface] yeah, it came from research. So I’m an former academic, I’m a lifelong social scientist. And actually Blink their distinction is that we do evidence-based design because we really incorporate a very strong research practice into the work that we do. So where is the evidence for how you create a healthy organization and create employee engagement? And it’s in the organizational development research, which there is a lot of. So that’s where it starts. It starts in that research. So what are the things that organizations need to be, I’ll say be, an identity word, in order to create employees who are engaged and productive? And the first thing that’s comforting to people who run corporations, if they pay attention, is there’s not a contradiction between caring for your people and profitability. All of the research shows that that stuff lines up if you care for your people and if you create an organization where they can be engaged and do their best work, first of all, your clients are going to get better results and you’re going to have more profitability. It all lines up, which makes perfect sense to us if we think about the human enterprise, right. But for years that was not understood and I think it’s still not understood in a lot of corporations. But yeah, each of those eight things that we focus on, that we measure, we measure, we train to, we lead to, we hire to, and we retain to and we do let go of people if they can’t do it right, cause we’re a corporation, not a family, not a church. So go start with research and then it also gets refined in our practice. We’ve been doing this for, using these culture metrics, I started using them before I was even at Blink, using them for a decade. So they get refined in the practice as well. And depending on the particular kind of work that you’re doing, some of them might shift in the way that they get articulated. Yeah.

Derek: That’s interesting. As you’re talking first of all, I thank you. It’s kind of stimulating. But as I think about church again, and maybe our assumption is that we have values in common much more so than we think we do. I think [ Linda: True] We come with some values in common and maybe assume a great deal because of membership cause you’re here, I can recognize you’re part of this thing, but I’m not sure if we rehearse our values in a certain way. So as you talk about the sort, we rehearse our values, we explore them, we measure them, we assess them. I think there’s more assumptions that happen in church context about that: one, because I think maybe the fear of a dogmatism, we start saying what our values are, how do we all live into them in a way that you’re saying, no, we’re a corporation, we gotta live into these values. Well I think if my church said, hey, these are the values we hold and you gotta live into them, I might say, wait a minute, this is a church. I come in a voluntary sort of way as a voluntary organization. So there may be some assumptions about church that we are more aligned than we actually are. And I think what scares me actually a little bit to think I, I’m wouldn’t consider myself conservative, but it pushes me to think about what are the values that maybe a conservative context would say, here are the things we’re going to live out, that I would feel uncomfortable with. And so what does that mean for church as we talk about church now that we’re not as textually-oriented. Most churches aren’t, which is where those value pieces came from maybe in some way. So that once-a-week thing, there is more communal sense of belonging in a corporate space that practice and rehearses values than I say in a church space. So it’s an interesting sort of thing. Yeah, interesting to think about as it struck me as you were talking. I like the sort of assumptions that we should care for people and that that’s productive and that we should create environments for them thrive in. One of the things we try to do here and I think is we’re learning to do that at the school, is how do we encourage people’s development how – we have a way of life statement that we’re trying to keep rehearsing to live into. And so we recognize this is the ways we belong, but also maybe the ways that we have a sense of identity and the ways we thrive that are still challenging as a academic institution cause of intellectual freedom or other assumptions we hold. So I’m marveling at a corporate world as much more family than we give it credit for.

Linda: Yeah, it is interesting and, you know,  I’m really proud of what we’ve created at Blink and have to brag that the first year of the pandemic we won an award for the best tech culture in the country. [Derek: I saw that.]  And those we’re always on and we’re always on the best places to work in the Puget Sound area and those kinds of things. So I think we’re doing better than most organizations and we have the benefit of being still at a manageable size. We still have fewer than 200 employees which makes it easier. And there are some things built into corporate life that maybe don’t get, like you just mentioned, both of you now have mentioned the formation side of churches, right. Well that’s part of our mandate as a corporate entity is to develop people and have a career path for them, right. So we get to be very clear about, well these are the skills and the things that you need to do to develop, to get to the next, to get a promotion, to get to the next level. So we are very explicit about development and we also include in that the soft, what people would call the soft side in the corporate world. It’s the interpersonal skills, is the social skills, is the way you treat one another. So it’s the hard skills of their craft as well.

Kate:  Which I think is something that the church has gotten lighter on many churches. Well there’s probably both. I think in our effort to keep people we thought we’ll be less demanding. So we, we’ll not make too many asks for volunteering. We’ll only ask for donations once a year during our pledge campaign. And really we’ve not given people clarity on what that formational progress looks like, on giving people the feedback: you could do better at tolerating uncertainty or I see you really struggle with anxiety and let’s talk about your prayer life. We, we’ve kind of surrendered a lot of that in the sake of being able to keep people. And I think actually then people leave because it’s not, well it’s not clear. But also people want something to strive for. They want something that’s a little bit demanding. Yeah, that formational role I think is something that we both really aspire to in Christian world and in some ways we’ve left behind and now have a lot to learn from the corporate bodies that have a very bottom line reason to have to figure out that kind of development piece.

Derek: And it may become increasingly important in environment. Again, we talked earlier about the distress of Covid, but I think the things on the horizon such as sort of economic things that we’re looking at or the political environment we’re looking at, the sort of isolation that people feel. Some of the other impacts of Covid on aloneness and depression that I think the church may, could– and I use church in that loose, larger generic sense– may begin to say, hey, we’ve got to put salt to this. We have to engage. Which might give us a clearer purpose as opposed to just getting people here to gather on Sunday, which then feels like a secondary purpose, not the primary purpose. And so maybe we’ve gotta reengage a primary purpose that really is much more people focused and people development focused, which then would give us maybe a more common sense of mission and common sense of meaning. But that’s a question as I’m listening to what you do and it was lovely to see that award for Blink and <laugh> kind of to hear in a bit the things, Kate, as you’re saying, maybe we’ve loosened up more for fear that people perceive it as too much, but we’re looking at a larger cultural environment that’s going to require us to engage things in a certain type of way that is already too much, that we’re going to have to struggle with and find a bit more purpose and meaning. And so this, that’s

Kate: That’s what strikes me about the award is getting it in that context of early pandemic. What a rough context to be able to respond well! That’s in my mind a double goal.  Would you speak a bit to how you held together your organizational identity values? What do you think you did different from other companies that led to that award in a really hard context?

Linda: I think we’re really personal. There is, it’s the kind of thing– it’s fun to have this conversation with you about the church and what’s happening there cause I’m less in touch these days. It – work friendships and work connections and work relationships and the work itself became the positive light in people’s lives during Covid, right? Oh, I get to turn on my screen and I get to see these people that I really care about. We get to do something meaningful together. I get to grow and develop still, not stagnant. All of that kind of stuff is still happening. What’s also interesting about Blink is right after the second year of the pandemic we got acquired, which is a very tenuous point for so many companies. They tend to have very high turnover. A lot of people suddenly become disconnected. They’re – whether the organizational identity shifts or not. So there’s an interesting question, how do you hold onto your organizational identity once you’ve been acquired, right, by a company that’s got 50,000 employees– that during both of those things, our culture thrived and our organization thrived, I think because we still were this place where people did feel like they belonged. They were still a Blinker. And we call ourselves that and Blinkers, which is kind of an interesting thing as well. And we were very warm in a time that’s very cold. And we were the place where people broke out of their isolation. Whether they were a single person really stuck alone in a small apartment in San Francisco or whether they were a family with toddlers and preschoolers who have two people trying to function in their career while also parenting their three and four year olds who don’t understand why mom and dad aren’t available to them even though they’re sitting right there, right. We really understood all of those stresses. We named them, we talked about them. We sent parenting kits to families, things they could, little seeds they could plant with their kids. I mean we paid attention to all of that pain. We didn’t ignore it and we didn’t say: we don’t care, you have to come and do your work. We said we do care. Let’s go do some fun stuff together. So I think all of that messaging, it’s not just messaging, all of that way of being I did think did create and continues to, even now this last year, we’ve grown by 30%, another really tenuous thing for corporates. So how are we integrate–we think so hard and so carefully about how to integrate all of those new employees into our culture in a way that doesn’t feel, that feels authentic, right. So I’m hearing, but all the stuff requires conscious management. So another thing we say about our culture is that we manage it as consciously as we do our finances. And I don’t think most companies are doing that yet. I wonder, are churches doing that? Are they managing their culture as carefully as they are their budget? I just throw it out there as a challenge because I think for us it’s been the deal differentiator. It’s why we’ve been able to attract and retain talent when our competitors are the big five tech people who can offer far more in terms of salary and benefits. We’re a small consulting company relatively, so we can’t compete at that level, but people still come to us because they wanna work with us.

Kate: I’m hearing from that pandemic experience, ways of being, to use easier phrase, for any hard context around true relationship, cultivating belonging, acknowledging pain, and doing something to care for each other in pain. And really that enculturation piece, that not just leaving it to newcomers to figure it out themselves, but actively giving them a path for them to figure out how to be [yes] with this organization.

Linda: Yeah,

Derek: That’s good.

Linda: Yeah.

Derek: Well I think we’ll ponder your question: How are churches? I do think you’re right. I’m not sure most organizations think that way. Particularly when you feel stressed you start thinking money, not people. And it’s so easy to fall into, again, what I’m calling a secondary as opposed to primary task is that how do we deal with the bottom line as opposed to how do we cultivate people who keep growing with us? And [yeah], on that note, I had a slightly different shift cause I wanted to ask you about conflicts. We tend not to talk about how we work through conflicts. And so cultures and individuals have conflicts and they can become moments of difficult change, transformation that could lead to positive outcomes. But how do you all deal with conflict? And the thing we sometimes don’t talk about.

Linda: That’s where being a clinical psychologist helps, I think as a chief culture officer, cause I don’t abide those unspoken things very well. So I’m one for mining and articulating and talking about, so one of our culture metrics is: how do we handle conflict? We are always training to that, talking about it. Our headquarters is in the Pacific Northwest. We have a nice, nice culture, we, which often means we don’t talk about conflict often

Kate: Means passive aggressive culture.

Linda: It can mean that. Exactly. Exactly. So it’s something I have to keep talking about. We measure it every year. We talk about it every year. But even in our trainings, we keep training our leaders. What is the, what are there conflicts going on? And I have to say I have seen a shift in our organizational ability to tolerate conflict and to resolve it as opposed to always go the harmony seeking path. So are we harmonious? Yeah, we still probably need to improve. I’d rather have us be harmonious than constantly fighting particularly when there is so much adversarial camp out there. But maybe an interesting thing to think about as well as there are ways in which because of where we’re located and because of the profession that we’re in, we’re fairly homogeneous. Political alignment is one of those. So the design world, the Pacific Northwest, the West Coast – our other offices are in Austin and Boston– tend to be blue. So I have had to keep pointing to the fact that we have red people too in our organizations and we have to be conscious of that. And we have to be careful about our language and we have to be inclusive, and we want to be inclusive because we want to invite a divergence of opinions going back again to the need for us to have innovation and creativity in our work. It’s part of that. I think this is another area where churches maybe even have a harder time because religion and politics have become so entwined in a toxic way in North America, well in the United States.

Kate: When Covid became such, it forced some of those conversations and differences because there was no non-response. Like churches could avoid speaking to certain hot topic issues, but you either have a mask mandate or masks are optional and encouraged or you don’t have any mask. There’s no non-response. Not saying anything became itself a politicized response. So there was no way for pastors to, I mean, yeah, I’ve talked to pastors who, Whatever decision they make, they have people leave on both sides because they’re doing something at all, and therefore we’re leaving or they’re not doing enough and therefore we’re leaving. That’s true on masks. It’s true on talking about race. Yeah, it’s true. On talking about women’s rights, it, it’s become so heated there’s no longer an avoidance. And in some ways you could say that’s helpful maybe for churches that have been disengaged. But to your point, it’s harder to hold people together when we haven’t had the practice of recognizing those differences that aren’t as visible and valuing those divergent viewpoints.

Derek: Yeah, I think we, we’ve also, lets think back up again about story. We’ve lost some of our larger culture narrative story that would say, hey, we have a common bond of sorts, I think. And I think that’s because we’ve also lost a certain amount of trust in our institutions. It’s hard to trust the larger story if the institution can’t really engage the challenges that we’re facing whether that be ecology, whether that be poverty, whether that be conflicts and whether that be economics. And so I think the erosion of trust in some of the institutions also, is the, signals an erosion to trust in the larger story and the narrative of us. And so as you talked about, I think that was striking to me as you talked about Blink and incorporating people into the new narrative. I’m a part of the story, I’m a Blinker. That’s both a sense of identity, personal identity and a sense of corporate identity. And I think it’s become harder for us to trust joining things to take on the corporate identity of institutions. We no longer trust. So it feels like a challenging moment in that regard. But some of the issue of mask wearing and not mask wearing or safety vs unsafety has to do with larger issues of anxiety that have been happening probably for years that I think the pandemic accelerated. We were forced into facing some things. And the question is: Can we recover from the level of trust as it drops? Or can we recover from a lack of a common story? Can we recover from being fragmented into hyper individuals who then want something from every institution in a hyper individual sort of way, but not in submitting into a corporate culture or [yes] collective culture way. So those are some real challenges I think we face. And why your work at Blink is fascinating in that regard.

Linda: Yeah, I guess we have permission to do things that churches don’t because we are an employer. So we can hold our employees up to standards, and if they don’t meet them– it doesn’t happen very often because we’re good at hiring– but we can let people go in a way that churches don’t do on purpose. This question of what you measure is important, you know. So I always thought, I was always discouraged when churches counted their success by how many members they had. Because it’s easy to measure. Let’s be honest, it’s, it’s one of the reasons finances get so much attention. It’s easy to measure. We got numbers. All right. So it’s trickier sometimes to measure, you know, how much good have we created. How do you measure something like that? But, so, or how, there’s some things we do, we measure, I trust leadership to do what’s right. It’s not perfect, but at least you’re asking the question which raises it then as something that you realize is important. So, you know, I’m wondering, how often do churches ask their congregation: do you trust the leadership of this church to do what is right? Do you feel like your pastors care about your personal development? That’s another question we asked. Your personal and professional development. Do you feel like you’re seen and invested in, those are questions that come naturally to us, might not come quite so naturally to church leadership. 

Derek: And I would say schools as well. 

Linda: And schools. Yeah.

Kate: And I think both schools and churches have the, what you start with the employer benefit of being able to ask your staff for something. Our students, I mean, I’m also a student and I view my course surveys as optional and certainly would with a church too. There’s not the same weight on an ask from a church as there is on an ask from your boss. And good questions. I’m totally with you on, we need better metrics for engagement and spiritual development than. I know my denomination– the difference between being a mission or having full congregation status is your attendance and your donations. And again, things that they’re super easy to measure. People are measuring them anyway. But the grace is, it shapes the role of a pastor to be about getting those things when it really wasn’t the intent of the job description or the training for that role.

Derek: And I too I hear in Blink, we’re we’re not just meeting their financial goals for an employee who are meeting the developmental goals, we’re meeting their need to belong to something that’s meaningful that has a larger purpose than just the individual. And so there’s a number of layers of needs being met in the assessment, cause I think in a culture,, academics has become a culture of assessment to some degree. But the assessment, [yes], doesn’t always move us as much as we have to respond to it. It becomes a thing I have to do as opposed to, it really defines and shapes and nurtures the sort of cultural life. So I think I want to–that distinction and the sort of nurturing the cultural life of us collectively still seems more challenging than only measuring. It’s measuring the things we care about, the things that I want us to do, the things that I want to be a part of. And then the question is, how do we keep refining them so that we keep doing them? Because I think we all need reminders, if you will. We forget and we can get off into tangents, but the reminders of the assessment feel very important.

Linda: Yeah. It’s that initial conversation even defining what are the things that are important that so difficult and important. That’s where you gotta start. These are the things that are important to us. And then the other stuff about how do we measure them, how do we train to them? How do we lead to them, can follow, but you can’t do it until you’ve had that first. You know as you were talking, I was thinking about this other really interesting shift in corporate life that I think is behind some of our success, which is we no longer have this public-private split at work. Have you seen the show Severance? Yeah. <laugh> a

Kate: Wrap. But I’ve seen the trailer. Yeah, it’s enough in some ways.

Linda: Exactly. It’s the most extreme version of that that you don’t even remember your private life when you’re at work and vice versa. Well we’ve gone under the assumption that that’s not true any longer. We’re all about you bring your whole self to work. And that was absolutely critical in the pandemic when now we’re seeing people work from their kitchens with their kids and their cats and their, right, and everything on the wall. And it makes sense. We went through that whole thing in the sixties and the seventies, again, the cultural anthropology piece about the fragment itself and all of the different, and this comes back to your original question, Kate, about individual identity and organizational identity. You – fragmentation is not healthy. And so we actively encourage people to be who they are. And in some ways we give ourselves permission to, not to violate that boundary, but to at least push up against it and see if we’re invited in. And I think that’s important for the church as well. Really important for the church because there, the mission of the church is really so much about this link between the personal and the corporate,

Kate: I’m watching our time and where we have to wrap up soon. The trouble with you is we could talk to you all day, and have talked to you all day, but we can’t get – our listeners want stick around for it,I mean they might. I can’t resist going back to– as people bring their full selves to work. And that question of political diversity, especially that we touched on earlier, do you have guidelines or something, advice that you give for managers who struggle with sitting with someone or having someone on their team who has a political view that’s very different from their own? [Yeah.] How do you as an organization hold or even invite? There’s some spectrum there. Political difference, particularly cause I know it’s just such a struggle for so many leaders.

Linda: It is. Yeah. We’ve had this oh, there’s some things I can’t talk about. I’d love to give you some examples, but it would really not be appropriate. But, it happens between people who care about each other. So you have to start with a mutual respect and trust, and then the dialogue can happen. We’ve had a couple of times where people put up something in their personal space that was offensive to somebody from another, could be offensive to someone. And we’ve had to say, you have to take this down. You have to be respectful of a variety of beliefs here. We’ve had other things where people’s political beliefs were brought into promotional decisions. That’s where HR becomes very important. This is not legitimate. [Yes.] reason any more than gender or race or sexual orientation. There is no room for that to have a bearing on these decisions. So sometimes HR has to step into some of those things. But I’ve seen, because if you start from trust and respect, is really formation, really the biggest foundation tolerance, just point people back to those values that they have and then they’re more open to having those discussions. When we do our unconscious bias training, the follow-up discussions, I bring up personal examples and other examples that kind of set the tone for a, first of all, we can talk about these things, these differences, and then we can move ourselves towards greater acceptance. I think that’s how we work with that. Yeah. Remind, reminder: we want diversity. Remember, let’s start there. Yes. This is a form of diversity that’s harder for us than others. Yes.

Kate: That is a, yeah, call people back to the ideal they already hold.

Linda: Yes, exactly. Thank you for succinctly saying that <laugh>.

Kate: So as we got into the long way around to get there.

Linda: Yeah. Thank you.

Kate: Well, it’s so good talking with you. I have six more follow-up questions that I’ll resist asking and we’ll find other spaces for those. But do wanna end with our concluding, concluding question segment we call “engagement with a cause”. As a way of honoring and showing gratitude for the time that you’ve spent with us, we want to end with giving you space to give a shout out to an organization that you see doing good work in the world. And we’ll make a donation to them, encourage our listeners to donate as well or to get involved with them in a way that’s appropriate. What’s an organization that you’ve been enjoying lately?

Linda: Well I’ve really been mostly invested recently in supporting organizations that are doing really important things around climate change. And one of those is US Fish and Wildlife, who they manage all our wildlife preserves, which are under huge threat from the changes in our climate. And they’re working very hard to develop ways to keep these important areas of our country viable and thriving ecosystems. So US Fish and Wildlife is my choice for today.

Kate: Thank you.

Linda: Thank you for doing that. I really appreciate it.

Kate: Oh, of course. Thanks for choosing an organization. That’s so great. Yes. Such big implications, especially for this era and such a diverse–there was projects for good work for the benefit of all. So we’re very happy to make a donation to them and we’ll put a link to their organization in our show notes for listeners who wanna learn more about their work. Linda, thank you.

Linda: That’s always a pleasure. 

Derek: Oh, our pleasure. 

Linda: Love you guys. 

Derek: Thank you. Love you too. 

Linda: Let’s talk again soon, okay?

Derek: Okay. 

Kate: Yes please. Thank you.