Organizational Identity with Rick Beaton | Podcast Season 03, Episode 04

by Feb 7, 2023Transforming Engagement: the Podcast

When you set out to determine your organization’s identity, there are a few key questions to ask yourself that go beyond your mission or vision statements. This week, we’re joined by CEO and founder of Motis, Rick Beaton, PhD. Rick brings his expertise in people, culture, leadership and management, corporate identity, belief systems, and social psychology to provide a framework for taking an honest look at your organization to discover its internal and external identity.

Each week, we ask our guests to highlight an organization that is doing good in the world. Rick calls our attention to West Texas Counseling & Guidance, a group that provides mental health services to underprivileged people at scale in northwest Texas and into New Mexico. You can learn more about supporting their work here: 

About our guest:

Rick Beaton, PhD, is the founder and CEO of Motis, an organization that utilizes research in solving businesses’ most complex people problems. Their software application, Motis Grow, reimagines corporate learning and enables managers to embed learning and upskilling in the day-to-day activities of their direct reports in a hybrid context.

Rick holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge and draws on his academic interests and broad life experience in people, culture, leadership/management, corporate identity, belief systems, and social psychology to design new ways of working and organizing in this changing context. An inveterate explorer, Rick has built an eclectic career. He has functioned as a senior leader, a university professor and administrator, and business entrepreneur. He has worked internationally advising owners, senior leaders, and boards in various industry verticals, helping them build the advanced people systems essential to their business strategy.

Originally from British Columbia, his interests include mountain climbing, back-country skiing, sailing, cheese making, and exploring sustainable living on seven acres on an island near Seattle.

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 host conversations about changes that serve the common good and a higher good. Today Derek and I are joined by Dr. Rick Beaton, the founder and CEO of Motis. Welcome Rick.

Rick: Thank you. Good delight to be with you.

Kate: Pleased to have you. So we wanted to – oh, Derek, go ahead

Derek: Well, I wanna full just, it’s lovely, because Rick and I haven’t seen each other for a while and certainly in person and was lovely a number of years ago to have him teach theology courses at the school and the students loved him because he could bring both the sort of integrative approaches around theology and psychology and working – doing theology with psychology students – which is kind of a unique niche if you will. And I think the same reason we invited you on this conversation, that sort of uniqueness of knowing how to think about business and think about theology, and this sort of need to integrate for us to come to some different and new solutions. So thank you. Thank you again for participating with us.

Rick: Yeah, it’s a pleasure. I love the dialogue with your students simply just cause it gets at some of the hard problems that we all confront. And so these complex deep topics are often fun to talk about. So delight – it’s a pleasure to be here.

Kate: Yeah. No one ever accuses us of being overly simple as we define anything. Which is maybe a good segue into just our topic this season is organizational identity. And as I’ve talked to people about that, the first question I usually get is, what do you mean? What is that? So wanted to open with hearing how you understand organizational identity and what it means to find or shape that.

Rick: I mean I tend to go with three simple questions. The first question is: Who do we understand ourselves to be? Which typically focuses on, I mean in a traditional business context they’ll say mission and vision. This is who we are as a people or a corporate entity. And then what do we seek to accomplish in the world? Sort of our mission. And then the third part of that, often, and I think it’s a mistake, but they spend a lot of time talking about values, which tends to be, it’s sort of virtue language, it’s aspirational, it’s abstract. The second question that needs to be asked, I think in the context, is who does the other think that I am? And that, that’s an important question because it blends the internal dialogue with the external reality of our presence in the world. Then there’s a third question that I think is also really, really important is, what is it that I think that the other actually thinks about me, which is the internal subjective dialogue, and they’re all different. And so in a business versus a faith community or various things like that, that’s going to be represented differently and we can begin to put specifics around that. But it sort of gets at it, it’s like who do we think we are? What is it that matters to us? What are we trying to do in the world and all that. And often there’s statements and elements that go along with that, but then what does the community think about us? Those two elements I think are really, really profoundly important.

Derek: Oh yeah. I like the way you’ve rooted it in – not the entity is something abstractly floating – but the relationship with, cause inherently if you get into the second set of who do you think we are and who do we think you think we are, it gets into again, credibility of relationship. It’s the who are we in an interactive way, in a sense, as opposed to an abstract and written mission statement, and we think this is what we’re going to do in the world. And that’s kind of a co-regulating, I’ll say it that way. In other words, it’s a back and forth, are we actually able to do the things you’re wanting us to do in terms of who you need us to be? I mean gets into that sort of relationship. So I like the way you pulled that organizational identity in much more of an interactive quality than an abstract quality. Yeah, that’s good.

Rick: Yeah,

Kate: I love that third question. I could hear myself thinking, trying to answer the questions for our organization as you were asking them, just to ground myself in it. And when you asked the third question, I realized, oh my answer, the second question doesn’t count. Like the third question highlights. It can’t just be what you think people think about you. You have to actually go talk to them and hear what they say and really be open to taking in something that might disagree with that third answer, it might be they might think something different of you, positive or negative than you anticipated.

Rick:  Yeah, we all live with this. Every organization, at least that I’ve been a part of, there’s that internal dialogue that we’re X and we have this reputation and the development office or marketing office, everyone’s always putting a message out, this is who we are, this is who we are. And then we kind of start to drink our own Kool-Aid to where we start thinking, well everyone else must think that too.

Kate: That is actually who we are, right.

Rick: It is who we are. I’m sure that’s what they think. How could they not?

Derek: Well it, it’s funny cause it’s not funny. It’s funny cause it’s not funny. I mean I’m sitting here this week probably spending a couple conversations with that same question, who do we think we are, and how distorted is that thinking? And it’s hard to tell without conversations with people outside of your realm. And that’s the challenge I think, when we’re thinking about, hey, what’s our vision in the world? And this is our 25th anniversary year and there’s a certain pressure on the president to figure out: what’s your vision? What’s the next 25 years going to be? And there’s some part of me wants to go out in the streets and say, what do you think we should be doing? Which that’s inappropriate to do, but I mean there’s some part of me it feels pulled to that to say, what will you need us to be in the next 25 years? And I need to hear from you not to simply anticipate what I think you’re going to say. And that’s very different in terms of thinking about when we think about the stability of something we don’t think of it as being that dynamic or interactive. We want it to be something like the rock and where have I moved the rock? Will that be helpful? And this is more like, no, this is not sand, but it certainly is a sort of more pliable sort of thing that I’m trying to join you with and be relevant in terms of my joining, not just simply in my abstraction or my steadiness that’s beyond movable. So this is a different way of thinking about organizational identity than we talk about, but it feels very much alive in terms of an organization having purpose. And again, we’ve talked about mission and vision, but I think we’re talking about now about belonging and purpose. Yeah

Rick:  Yeah, we really are. And that there, there’s a tendency I think as well that I’m pushing back a bit against, Derek, that it’s almost as though, with the emphasis on branding and marketing, I’ve often likened – people confuse organizational identity, I think, with putting on a good suit, you know. Like I totally dig Tom Ford, or whatever, and it’s like you put on a good suit and you think, dang I look good. But you forget that the suit isn’t you. [Derek: Yeah.] The suit is something that we’ve, a social construct that we wrap around ourselves, and what the question you’re asking about, organizational identity is something deeper: it’s that core part of who you are and the essence of who you are and how that’s represented in behaviors and various things like that. And I think part of the reason I enjoy the work so much is because it’s the most complex work that you can do with an organization because it gets at the very essence of why they exist, what they’re trying to accomplish in the world, who they want to be in the world and various things like that. So.

Derek: Maybe it might be helpful to share a little bit more of what you do and what your company does and

Rick:  Well, what we’ve done in the past, as with our other company, Marigold Associates, we would work with organizations in helping build out the human systems. So the alignment with who they wanted to be as an organization, how they build culture, how they construct leadership and management to match that, and then see that pushed into the business units. And then so from the board to the C-suite all the way through the organization to create alignment within the organization to help them become higher performing. My new gig is based on that. We created a software application that streamlines and integrates talent development, particular leadership and high potential development roundup skilling. But it’s all grounded in solid research so that it actually works. So it’s fun, it’s a cool thing. But yeah,

Derek:  I can get a little plug in here. Yeah,

Rick: Very. Oh, something new. You may have known this Kate, but Derek and I used to have lunches on a fairly regular basis and it was always a delight cause he’d push back and ask questions and provided the sort of thoughtful dialogue to someone that was slightly outside my system. So this reminds me of that.

Kate:  Those feel like– pieces are just true to Derek’s identity, the curiosity and pushing.

Rick:  Yeah,

Derek:  I’m glad I didn’t move into the annoying pushing category, but more the curious category. But I enjoy the conversations for the same reason: they were explore, exploring and they were always, there was a sense of, oh we’re going to come on something new and it’s not just something new for new sake.

Rick:  Yeah,

Derek:  It is more and which maybe I’m kind of echoing the same sense of identity, of the identity of organization, the edge, you know, talked about hey Marigold and then to move into this new organization, the sort of movement that meets the needs and certainly there’s a, hey, what do we want to do and what’s more effective and maybe even more economically better for us. But you were following needs.

Rick:  Yeah.

Derek: And that sense of – so our conversations to me where I knew we would come upon something different or would take us in a different place, it’s like, oh okay, hadn’t thought about that in that way. And I would love organizations as well, in terms of their identity, to have that sort of space to say: Hey, how are we growing? One, what’s our relationship with? And then how are we growing? What’s the fruit of our work that we’re learning? So that can equate that with our conversations as well. 

Kate:  That’s maybe a good segue into – so I think a lot of us do think about identity work as – I like your metaphor of the suit and you can put on the suit, but it doesn’t mean that the suit is true or aligned with your identity. For an organization who wants to start to articulate what their identity is through this more relational lens, this who do you say that I am lens, what does that look like? How would they go about learning that about themselves?

Rick:  Yeah, that’s interesting. The difficulty I think of a lot of organizations is they’re so distracted and, for good reason, with what we wanna accomplish in the world that it tends to be pragmatically focused on accomplishing the aims of the organization, which is why we organize in the first place at least. So every organization is, depending on the sector, will be different. So it’s really hard to help people understand. But for example, I don’t like the use of family metaphor in a work context because as an organization that seeks to efficiently provide services for their customer, it’s a different construct and a different type of relationship than a family religious institution or various things like that. So I think the first question is what type of an organization is it and what are you think to accomplish together? And then the one difference for example between faith communities particularly say the big three, a Abrahamic phase versus an organization which is inherently secular if you wanna use that language, the question is what forms the basis for the relational piece of it. So that in itself becomes your own construct. It’s like – cause all of us bring pieces to that equation. So often one of the early exercises that we’ll do with an organization is have them as a leadership group begin to say what are the basic social commitments we want make to each other? So our statement of how we’re interdependently related. So we’re committed to each other’s wellbeing, for example. We’re committed to provocatively encouraging excellence. We’re committed to – and these are sort of like nine or 10 basic commitments that we have to each other that are aligned with who we want to construct and grow together as. But then also – facilit – help us facilitate what we want to accomplish as an organization. But I prefer to begin there rather than just saying what is our mission and vision, right. So, and mission and vision are really, really important of course, that’s why you get together, why you’re organizing what you seek to accomplish in the world. But the second part of that is this deep interrelatedness that allows – we work with and through people and that dialogue that goes and occurs between people and the human system that we’re constructing is what facilitates and helps us accomplish our mission. So that’s, those elements I think are where you actually begin to construct it. But.

Kate:  That language of commitments, I’m hearing as a contrast to values, which you said earlier you don’t like, it has a much firmer – a value. We can value wellbeing and do very little about it. But if you’re committed to your employee’s wellbeing, it has a lot more practice orientation to it.

Rick:  Yeah, because, at some point I – this is an interesting thing – every business I go into, they tend to put their values up on the wall and it kind of drives me crazy because <laugh> committed to the same, you pick the top 20, they’re going to have five of the top 20. All of them. I went into one place and they had trust number one. And privately I ask all the senior vice presidents, do you trust the owner? And not one of them did, not one <laugh>. But in the meetings when they’re talking about trust, oh yeah, we trust each other. Then you realize the hypocrisy of a lot of it, because of the power dynamic and the expectations. So I much prefer to talk about behaviors that are correlated to performance, correlated to human function, high human functioning. Love, love to talk about aspirational values but it doesn’t often translate sadly.

Derek:  Yeah. Well I’m struck by one, how hard it is to shift language from say values to commitments. And people don’t almost like the values, if I can at least name the three things we value, I’ve passed the test whether I’m able to live them out or not or whether we live them out collectively or not or how we struggle with them. I think the language occasionally we’ll use here is convictions, for the same reason, that kind of sense of commitments. And how do we hold to our commitments. We just worked on this past year on a thing called discourse statement and it’s an attempt to say, hey, we’re very diverse community, how do we manage that diversity? And we want to be collaborative as a value, but the truth is we’re going to have to talk to each other if we’re going to actually work this out. That’s the behavior – we’re going to have to be in conversation and negotiating with each other and disagreeing with each other. [Rick: Exactly.] And it’s, it’s more frightening. I find myself saying: Hey, did we do that with the Board? Did we ask the Board to talk about these things? Do I ask my leadership team to struggle with these things and how much time do we spend, is looking – like we passed that, tag, we did that, or do we actually keep coming back to it? And I think there’s a part of me as a leader that gets frightened that you’ll get tired of this commitment Because I think I wonder about us as and commitments these days, I mean our commitments are a little bit less stable. We’re more inclined to say: well that didn’t work. And the sort of, will that same thing happen in the company or the organization where I don’t like the way you all are doing so and so. And how do you, again, this goes back to belonging for me. How do you dig deeper into the sense of we want to live into our commitments as an organization with each other, not just as a set of abstract things on the wall.

Rick: Yeah, no that’s exactly right, Derek. I think where it also shows up, I mean love the fact you brought up the topic of diversity, for example, the chief diversity officer has the highest burnout rate of almost any of the corporate roles and we all kind of know that. And one of the questions is why, and I, I’ve come to the point where it’s like let’s stop talking about hiring for diversity and actually move and change and talk about how do we shape our organizations in a way that show evidence of a commitment to creating an inclusive environment where everybody – we’ve created in a sense the guardrails for human behavior so that everybody can feel like there’s equity and fairness and I belong and I’m part of it. [Kate: Yes.] Now we’re having a fundamental conversation about diversity rather than just let’s see how many different people we can get in the room, if it’s toxic, everyone’s gone, everyone leaves.

Derek:  Which is what happens. Which is what happens. 

Rick: Which is what happens continually. And this language of, in a sense, seeing culture as behavioral guardrails that help us be our best self and not our worst self, so that the other, however expressed, can feel like they too belong, that they’re is home for them, that they’re part of us and we’re committed to being that kind of a community. Well now we’re talking about organizational identity cause we’re getting at that sort of core element of as a leader, I can say this is my organization, I’m committed to this and it may be difficult but we are going to retain that commitment, and we are going to work it out. And here the behavioral expectations of my leaders, the behavioral expectations of my team, this is an important value to us.

Kate:  That translation into behavior I think is what often is missing in these diversity conversations. Diversity stays one of those aspirational values on the wall and largely means representation. Like, oh, well we allow those people to be hired, we allow them to be in the doors to work here. And that’s not the same as us all acknowledging the diversity that exists, that’s maybe less visible, and being curious about that and accepting that with each other, that translation into behavior shifts it from, oh, that person who represents this thing to us as present and therefore we’re nice people into something I have to do in order to live into that organizational. 

Rick: Exactly.

Derek:  And truthfully this, that’s what I will feel as a person of color. It is again another sort of check the box. We’ve got a few. We can’t have one anymore. We at least know we can’t be token in that regard, but we’ve got a few and it relieves a certain amount of pressure that belies the communal shift. And so what you’re talking about really is: can we cultivate a space for, use a plant metaphor. where these plants can grow in and be nurtured as opposed to we just get a plant, we’ve got a plant. Yeah we’ve got one of those and whatever soil we plant it in, we’re not concerned about that as much as we got a plant. That’s a very kind of a rough metaphor but at times it feels as objective as that. We’ve got a few and not a relational sense of what sort of community are we building now that we’ve added difference. [Rick: Yes.] And can we cultivate the sense of expand – it has to expand me. I don’t know how you invite anybody into your household without expanding you in a certain type of way as opposed to something marking off as we did it. And that expansion means we’ll all change, we’ll all have to be changed in that process. Yeah. Yeah. That’s good.

Rick:  Yeah.

Kate:  You said a few minutes ago that part of the shaping of identity depends on what type of organization it is and what it’s seeking to do or be in the world. And obviously you’ve spent some time with corporations, you’ve also spent quite a bit of time in Christian community and church world. And wondering if you would speak a bit to how developing organizational identity is different between those two spaces and what congregations might even have to learn about developing their organizational identity from corporate spaces?

Rick: Yeah, that’s a big topic. Yeah.

Kate:  Just in three or four minutes. Yeah.

Derek:  <laugh>

Rick: What’s interesting – we can talk about, I think this is true for all communities of faith but we can talk about the Christian one as well. The starting point is in some way different. You could talk about like a corporate entity exists to produce a customer, sell a product, and be profitable and grow. A community of faith is, it has this longevity and tradition and history. Aand it’s also the starting point is that people in that sense. But it’s also a book with that’s part of a people and it’s about, it’s a bit like the constitution in right now in the constitutional dialogue we’re having with the Supreme Court. And whether you read it literally or try to reinterpret it for a modern time, you put a sacred document in the middle of it and it provides, is meant to provide, part of the anchor that gives the direction for it. So then you’re caught up in the language of how do you read it? Do you read it literally? Do you read it in light of its context? What is the nature of the people? What is the role of this people vis-a-vis the state in society? So for me it ends up a little bit more complicated cause we’re not really talking about an abstract entity or something that just was created. Something that’s part of has a long history. And

Kate: Through that lens, even a brand new church plant has to reckon with 2000 years more, if you go Judeo-Christian arc, there almost is no new church.

Rick:  No.

Kate:  If they’re really taking the identity work seriously.

Rick:  Exactly. And the other part of it is in the community, you have to ask the second question, who did they think that we are? Who do they think we are? So right now, for example, and I don’t know what this, I’ve been out of this game for a while, but the statistics at least are 50 to 60% of people that would claim to be part of the faith aren’t attending congregations. And there’s a reason for that. And that they’re, when you start asking around say Seattle and just ask anybody, so what do you think it is to be Christian? You’re going to get some pretty frosty answers right, right now. So there’s that sense of behavior and this place in the community and how do you shape a community in light of all of that. But the starting point I think is to say how does the community live in a way that is congruent with what the community has been in the past and translate that into the current time. So in reading text, just think of an example of that. Say if you take the Hebrew text and the Christian texts, they represent one way of reading it which was popular, and I still think it’s true, is a bit like jazz improvisation or Shakespearean play. You have in the text encoded the history of a people trying to live out and be a witness to the presence of God and a good life in light of their cultural circumstances that they find themselves in. And up until the end of text you have in a sense the four parts of a five part play. What we live in is another time now that we’re expected to improvise in light of everything that’s happened in the past. So it’s an improvisational exercise. So the current issues that we’re confronting were meant to be creatively doing theology, if you will, to give expression to that in the midst of the current. What we tend to find is a group of people that are wanting to read this without any context and read it literally and try to apply it in the current. And you end up with these really at times harsh sounding, mean-spirited stuff that frankly, we’re like tone deaf to what’s really happening. And there ought to be this sort of grappling with the culture and engagement with the culture in to provide expression for what does it mean to live good life? What does it mean to be Christian or Jewish in light of our current circumstances? And that’s the hard part of the identity. It’s like who were we in the past? What does that mean to who we currently are trying to be and struggling? And then who will we be in the future? And I frankly have to admit as an out person watching, I don’t see a lot of super creative things happening in that space today. They seem to be caught up in the whole exercise. So,

Derek:  Well it just reminds me of when we get frightened, that we lose some creative capacity and we hunker down and we hold to what was true to us. It doesn’t have to be true in capital T as much as true to us. And I think we’re so pervaded with fear, anxiety, worries of annihilation at some level, that I think the church communities are struggling with their survival and which puts them in a threat mode, in a pull back mode than a creative space. And this is probably the time when we have to be creative and we seem to have the least amount of emotional energy to do so. So it’s like, well that did work. Why can’t we go back to that? And, it takes away the sense of dynamic quality you’re talking about such when you’re talking about interpreting and dynamic quality of the times, and what does that mean and how do you do theology, if you will, in a dynamic context, in a dynamic sort of way as opposed to, well let’s just kind of bring back what we memorized. [Rick: Yeah.] And, cause I can still remember it, and I can’t take in any new data. Well that that’s a frightening, frightening sort of piece for the church. But yet, at the same time, I’m also fighting my own fear that, I mean, this is me looking across, what’s happening. And I kind of work with my own fear as not to get stuck in an oppositional fear, and also stay creative and not create enemies, if you will. So it becomes very challenging in that regard of managing our safety and sense of threat and stimulating each other’s creativity and faith, I’ll say that, faith and hope. Kate sent me an article about, I would say a social innovator, who’s saying, let’s not do hope. I’m like, how do you do this without hope? 

Rick: Yeah. Yeah.

Derek:  Because it’s dynamic. I can’t – I have to, in some ways have trust that the future will offer something that the present may not. And that’s a dynamic quality that I don’t know how to do it without a sense of hope, and not delusional, but in some ways [Kate: Not optimism.] Yeah, not optimism, not what I can see, but certainly in a possibility that something can emerge that I can’t control or may not come from me.

Rick:  There are a few points that you’ve brought out, Derek, that are I think really interesting in that regard. One is, sort of the linkage of, there’s, and I’ll use this really loosely cause it doesn’t give adequate weight to the robustness of the theory, but just playing with it, the difference between a bounded set and a centered set, right. And so, when you’re under fear and you’re afraid of the circumstances, the bounded set of having really clear defined fence around you and it allows, it allows ’em to define who the insiders and outsiders are, who’s acceptable, the threat of the other. And during times of pain and turbulence and various things like that, it’s so easy to flip into the bounded set versus a centered set model, which is – here are our core commitments, which is kind of the way that I work in a corporate setting, because we have so many people coming from so many different and varied backgrounds. Quite frankly, I want people that are really good at what they do, and they have the expertise. There’s a lot I just don’t care about. I don’t want to know. You come to work but we have to be able to say to work together, we have these core commitments that everybody is going to affirm in my organization. We believe in clarity, we believe in inclusive behaviors, we believe in excellence, we believe in transfer, all of the equity and fairness. Those are our core commitments. And if you embrace those core commitments and want to live according to them, you can be in the organization. I think too often the faith communities have become so bounded. In my dad’s generation, it was: you don’t chew, you don’t smoke, you don’t drink, you don’t dance, you don’t go to the theater, and you certainly don’t hang around with girls or boys that do. And that’s somehow, that’s just like, that somehow made you part of the people of faith, and it’s like it has nothing to do with it much, but that that’s the way they defined it. And it’s just.

Kate:  Yeah, I think as you’re describing corporation, you get the really talented people and then invite them into these commitments with you. I feel like, some churches do the opposite: here are commitments and if you believe all of them accept all them, then you’re in. And we don’t care how talented or not you are, which is something nice lovely about that. There’s also – maybe this is more liberal mainline churches which are like, well we have to accept, we want to accept everyone. And that’s often really difficult people, people with mental health issues, people with severe trauma, people who can’t function in society for a lot of different reasons. And then we hope to someday form them towards some commitments that we may or may not name explicitly but it’s a much more open set. And I’m thinking about Derek’s like – safety – in some ways it’s automatically a less safe community because you’re inviting in people of wildly different competencies without that clear goal to work towards together.

Derek:  And it’s interesting cause it’s, it’s not boundary-less, but we’re, the core is what draws. It’s like we drawn into the core, and we, our commitment, to something, creates some degree of boundaries. It’s not a set of abs – again, I’m kind of railing against abstraction for whatever reason today. [Rick: Yeah.] It’s not like, oh it’s out there. If you cross that line, you’re chewing gum or you’re smoking, my goodness gracious. And it doesn’t really indicate anything in terms of relationship. It’s just some behavior that we couldn’t identify easily. And again, it’s identified easily. It’s not even behaviors that you don’t know I’m doing, it’s just the behaviors you can identify easily. And that then gives us some sense of okay, you have constrained to the cultural rules and boundary. I think because we have such a diverse culture we’re living in – this is the contextual piece – that there are no markers like that hold anymore. I mean they’re useless to hold those markers cause what do those markers mean anymore? They may have meant something for my father, but they don’t mean anything in the same way now. The institution – there’s no institutions that uphold them in the same way now. And so they have less meaning. And so I think we actually have to go to the commitments, to say, hey, what draws us, what holds me from the center to the center, as opposed to what am I going to not do? And which no longer, I think, particularly in generations that I think we’re teaching, I don’t even think they think consequences to these things. There’s no consequences. So what’s the point of holding that boundary, external or outward set of boundaries, as opposed to what do we call them to live into? Which is what I hear you saying. And I think that may be necessary for us at least forward in a very complex and diverse environment to call people to live into something forward that binds me to you. I’m bound to you because of the thing I commit myself to as opposed to I’m bounded by set that’s external.

Rick:  Yeah.

Kate:  This is maybe where values begin to make sense to me as something useful is – in a community across time, they can provide the thing that is consistent. So when you’re anxious about all the change, well we still have this value and that used to look like this behavior, but now it looks like this other behavior. So the value of inclusion maybe once looks like inviting in our neighbors who have a different skin tone than us. Now a value of inclusion looks like going to the protests or advocating for rights for immigrants or the same value could be used to give a sense of continuity while the behavioral commitments change with the context.

Rick:  Yeah. No, I know. I think that’s true. I think that’s true, Kate. But there’s the reason, it’s funny, the reason, part of the reason I think I’ve shifted to more behavior. One is the influence of our friend, Linda, and pushing behavioral commitments and away from trying to determine understanding the interior motive of another individual. So the difference on a personal level that occurs as a result of our neurobiology, our life experience, the exposure into various communities, the regions we’re raised, all of that, just this radical difference on a personal level and the inability to completely understand the essence of what that person is, what their journey has been, why they have done the things that they’ve done or not done, the things they’ve done, what they’ve accomplished. There’s that part and the behaviors allow for us to have meaningful conversation, I think. The second part of that is, say like a book like Matthew versus, which is much more grounded in behavior and practice, rather than the tendency of some that have wanted to focus more on the ecstatic or the spirit or various things like that which tend to be less focused on behaviors that are very consistent. So as we talk about organizational identity and what binds us together, if we take the metaphor of a people and a people trying, living out your life and trying to grow, no one’s going to be perfect, right? So all of a sudden say, well are we a redemptive community and are we going to be a community that includes the other or excludes, or it’s really clear both in say if we just take say Christianity. Christianity has always been and meant to be an inclusive, the whole point is gathering the nations. So then the question then is if we’re committed to that, there’s one thing we should be really, really, really good at. And that is the inclusion of the other, diversity, that should be our strength. And off be honest, it seems to be one of the things that the community actually seems to be the worst, that time, I just find it kind of shocking.

Kate: Yeah. 

Rick: So I think we need a different way of being to use that language, a different understanding of what it means to be a community, to live life together, to walk together, to have commitments and understand that they’re going to be ups and downs and it’s like, are we committed to the people and relationships in the middle of this, or are we just going to be committed to certain aspirational commitments and shun and exclude and divide based on that? And if there’s some of that, that’s sort of the core of how we construct and build our communities, I think.

Derek:  It drifts into using Christ as a totem, a marker for what the boundaries are. You’re outside you don’t, and we affirm you’re outside because, you’re not with us. And I think this is always humanly possible. I think in terms of identity, the sort of drawbacks of identity are some degree of tribe. And I think that the tension of working, what does that tribe boundary mean? And, we as humans seem to be given towards tribe or comfort, safety. I want to go towards a pact that allows me to feel the safest. And if that becomes unchallenged, then I think the thing that makes us safe, even in the middle of the tribe, is the totem, the sense of, he reaffirms us and we, you’re outsider. And so I kind of read that Luke Four text of “The Spirit of Lord is upon me” to in some ways, to bring outsiders in. Whether they be blind, lamed, imprisoned, hungry. And that’s the good news. As you’re saying, we should be some degree practicing what it means to bring in from the outside. And I think when Christ is used as a totem, protection, you know, amulet if you will, it’s a thing I hang around my neck to protect me, can then speak to our own or also our needs to protect ourselves and hold unpure things out or unsafe things out. That’s it, that feels like I know I need a certain dynamic relationship to remind me you’re holding Christ as totem or amulet as opposed to expansive. That I’m being pulled in to engage people who I don’t know who are unfamiliar to me. I’m not drawn to that. I may be drawn towards that. I wanna just the coven that I know. And so that seems to be a dynamic tension. Also too, in terms of identity I think, I think of it personally, I’m probably trained to think about identity personally before I thought of it corporately. And I think we forget that we are social creatures as much as we are. I know my skin and I know my body even though it’s changing. I have some familiarity with its constancy even though it’s not the same. And I think of it as constant as I would identity, my identity is the same. The truth is I’m not the same, but I’m being altered by the social relationships that I’m engaging in. And I think the same thing for organizations that you’ve been talking about is, we are our commitments to each other. It’s not just a commitment to a “value,” but a commitment to a, relating in a certain type of way and being with in a certain type of way. And it extends beyond the value. But I’m struck by the tension, that tension of there’s a part of me that wants to hunker down and be safe cause it’s scary. Yeah, it’s a scary world right now. And that’s making Jesus a bit more of an amulet or totem. It’s not so much that’s not a function, but if I focus on that and excluding, to exclude risky things, I’m not going to explore, I’m not going to be open. I’m going to in some ways say it’s this and can’t be that. And that seems the way, what we’re drifting into at different moments, kind of culturally.

Rick:  No, I think that that’s exactly right, Derek. To pull it back to something Kate said early on the sense of senior leaders having a responsibility in this regard. I agree with that and it is true. But then there’s also the profound sense in which as an organization, culture, if you will, which I define differently than a lot of people, but it’s this sense of identity that that’s at the core of us, has to be communicated returned to and reminded in by everybody stratified throughout the community. It can’t just be me as the CEO for example, it has to be my senior team, the managers under them. Because we we’re always going through this element that, this is something that’s socially constructed and it has to be maintained. And a lot of senior business leaders don’t get this part. They think if we do mission, vision, values, put it up on the wall, put it in a book and on our website and go back to it once a year, then somehow it’s going to work. Even if you do the whole organization, most of them have like 30% people out of their organization. So if you have this 30% turnover within a couple years, you got 50 to 60% of your employees weren’t there two years ago when you did your mission vision values thing. And they’ve brought all the baggage from their other organizations, right. And so there’s that lack of consistency. So there’s a disciplined consistent practice and communication about this is who we are, these are the core elements. And that’s the part that I think most people forget about. We just think that because we talked about it last year and everybody must have this of course, and frankly they don’t.

Kate: I think it’s the combination of yeah, we did that. So that’s done, mark it off. And also the number of times need to repeat something for it to be taken in, the number of times a leader needs to model a behavior for enough people to see it that you reached some tipping point, like you just get so bored. Yeah.

Rick, Derek: Yeah

Kate: You’re always saying those same three, these are the three things that we’re committed to them, we’re doing them but it takes that broken record quality, that it’s almost a perseverance trait that leadership requires.

Rick:  But that’s the point. I think you’re right, Kate. But then I think there are moments that we need to highlight as leaders and even just people who aren’t to say, here’s the situation that arose. It was really difficult, here’s the decision that was made and it was made because of this. Right, right. And here’s the role that commitment played, even though it was hard to do, right? Yes. And so often I’ll hear people talk, empathy is the new cool thing, right. So they used the language of empathy and you can tell everyone got the memo to use the language empathy, but the actual decision that was made had was some of the least empathic decisions that you could ever see. And you wonder how can we have both of those things? What I’d like to see is someone say, here’s the decision we made. It was hard and here’s how we balanced it and here’s how empathy actually functioned in the organization as part of who we want to become. Right? 

Derek:  I also think that clearly the sense of when you, Rick, you’ve mentioned, hey, here’s this situation and here’s where the empathy showed up. I think of this different lessons in some ways. I can learn how two plus two equals four, but when I’m counting my money or I’m counting some set of things and I’m trying to make two plus two equal four, it puts me in a different realm. And I find that listing the values is not enough because it hasn’t been contextually applied. And so the problems, Kate, to me are opportunities to apply. Okay, this is why we actually have these sort of sets of commitments, if you will. And here’s what it looks like in this situation. And most of us, including me, will violate the commitments that I think are really important. I will violate them. And I think we each have to hold each other– I hate the word accountability in that sense cause it tends to be kind of a rule quality as opposed to a learning. Can you see in that situation how we didn’t really connect with our commitments or our convictions and how do we, like I’m really mad, how do you live into your convictions when you’re really, really angry or really upset or really, or it’s them and how come they’re not living into the commitment? Usually it’s much easier for people to see how they’re not living into them than how in the moment they’re talking to you, it’s like, but you’re not, in this moment, you’re missing something too. So I think that rehearsal, and I’ll call it rehearsal, learning rehearsal, is necessary in different context to learn the application in different context. And actually it’s a lovely sort of training for an unpredictable future. It’s like the thing, the commitment, won’t come up the same way each time. It’ll be nuanced in a certain type of way and what’s the learning in that? And so I have developed a patience that we need more than one way to learn. Conceptually is in fact the map. But how I walk the map and how if I take the right turn and get in a ditch over here or I take the left turn next time, I think we’ll have opportunities to take different turns. But the lesson isn’t fully learned until I have, at least a set, and it’s not going to be a complete set, but a set enough to say, hey, you know, maybe there’s something in this, in my body not just in my head. So that’s the challenge of the patience of for me of “Didn’t we talk about this? Didn’t we talk about this?” <laugh>. [Rick: Exactly.] And the kind of walking through and saying, well here’s what it looks like in this situation, or here’s what we missed. And I do think in terms of leadership, for me a lot is to be repeated. I think I’m repeating things I’ve said five years ago or saying, “I said that five years ago.” And I have to be careful of my own sort of parental angst of what judgment. Lik, what’s wrong with you people, you, did you not listen to me then? Which is kind of an arrogant sort of assumption, is that, yes, but we didn’t hear you or we didn’t hear it in a certain way.

And it needs to be repeated and I need things repeated. Anybody that lives with me knows I need things repeated. And probably more than like, yeah, yeah, yeah, I don’t wanna hear it again. But I don’t know how you build culture otherwise. Rick, it raises a question for me of when the way we think about institutions, and this is where I like the softness of institutions versus the granite building on the corner institution notion, where we think about institutions as the interactions of people who find themselves with a set of roles and rules that they want to live into as opposed to the staid concretized set of policies, et cetera, et cetera. And for me, what I hear in my translation is how do we renew our institutions? How do we renew the relating, the commitments we’ve made to each other, which then creates roles we have with each other.

I don’t think of any organization you work in that you don’t experience how roles matter. And then not just simply the CEO down, if you will, but the roles across which matter maybe even more. But that’s how I’m beginning to talk about institutions as opposed to these concrete things. And again, the sort of metaphor of an institution not being people – people think institutions are people too. And I was like, yeah, not just people, but they’re people interacting, people who found the role with each other, people who found rules with each other, people who have found a way to belong to each other. That’s institutional life. But I think we’ve, it’s gotten rigid, the rules and rules get rigid, and we tend to think of the rigidness of them as opposed to the I know how to interact with you because we have a role with each other.

Rick: I like that a lot, Derek. I think that’s exactly right. The sad part, I think, tied to the rigidity, I mean there’s a long history of why institutions have been dissolving around us. It sort of goes back to the deconstruction of the eighties and before that. But I think I do think, I get the sense that, and I feel it, I see to myself as well, there’s a sense in which it becomes rigid and almost as though there’s a separation from power and individuals that are in that position and the broader community. And so what it comes across as this deep hypocrisy that the institution is somehow not living up to the elements that we aspire to. And you see that in politics right now. You see it with, sadly, the church, synagogue, you see it with, it’s a lot of these broader institutional elements and the one abiding term that is just this sort of deep hypocrisy, that somehow there’s a set of expectations and this aspirational tone, and everyone just sort of looks at it and goes, but it’s not delivering.[Kate: Yeah.] Right. And that part is the part I think that the softening of it, and I like the language you’re using, that it’s renewing the dialogue and mitigating the impact of power and the way we use power and aspiration and ambition to say these things exist in part because we wanna participate, we, there’s a communality to it rather than this individualistic pursuit. 

Derek:  No, yeah, no. That’s lovely.

Rick: But it’s a problem.

Derek: Yeah. And I think you’re right it for that reason, when people say, Hey, institutions serve themselves and I think yes, they really are not being dynamic. They’re being repetitive. And the rule, there is no learning that is– learning has been shut off for protective reasons or stabilizing reasons and it become repetitive as opposed to dynamic and interactive. And it’s the interactive piece. So it’s interesting, I find myself saying, hey, it’s not, we do need to burn some of our institutions down, but we should not devalue the need for us to find roles and rules with each other to live, live by. And that means we’ve gotta recreate and repair some others, and, so that we don’t get into a blanket, so that we don’t need them. And cause I don’t know if I have no role or rule, that’s also part of identity. I find who I am in those pieces

Kate: As both we’ve been talking about that, the roles, rules, the interactions, and thinking about that, the decision, and here’s how the decision was made in light of our commitments, is, I just keep, it feels very loud for me that the process matters more than the outcomes, the process of how we do those decisions. Like I think a perfect example is The Seattle School’s recent rollout of the discourse statement, which took a long time. And I think there were people in the building who were like, well, why can’t you just, you’re the president, just decide that’s what it is. And then it is. Well, you can’t just talk a trap.

Derek: What a trap, by the way, right?

Kate:  <laugh>Like, well, we do discourse now, we value discourse. Everyone get on board. You have to model the commitment in the process of, and so it took a lot of discourse, a lot of conversations to get to, say, yes, we actually do value this because we’ve been doing it for two years to even get to the point where we can all get behind having this be a public statement of ours. And that alignment between process and outcome, I think often gets, we get outcome-oriented for the sake of efficiencies. But I’m hearing commitment says every decision, every process you do has to have those in mind.

Derek: Again, could I agree with you, and I think what Rick was saying earlier is that I want us to have this be our commitment to each other, not just simply the president’s edict.

Kate: Yes.

Derek: I think then the vulnerability for it becoming something I protect against it. So I check off the boxes cause the president wants it. I protect against power. So power is not dispersed. We are not able to be agents with each other in a certain way. I’ve got to be agents to serve something that’s been handed down to me. I think the vulnerability for it becoming more rigid is evident in that, because I can’t think of any boss I’ve ever worked for. I haven’t found a way to try to find a way to defend myself from that boss. Whether it be managing upward, which is probably the best, or collaboration or avoiding or, so all of us manage power in a certain type of way. And I think the more it comes just from one direction or at least loudly from one direction, I think it pushes for an unsafety and a rigidity that eventually takes hold. So it took time, I’m not sure if I wanted to take two years, but I felt like if it, it’s got to be owned by more than the President. We’ve gotta see it as part of us, our identity as we’ve been talking, part of our cultural commitment as opposed to something we were supposed to do.

Rick:  And so the one – couple comments on, I think that’s fantastic, the, what you showed in doing that as a leader is that you, and this is something I don’t hear very much and I keep pushing, is that I think one of the biggest skills for a leader is to understand context and learn how to read the context in which they live, which is social anthropology, it’s broader social psych, it’s sort of theology history, all of that. And we don’t train our leaders well enough to be able to read the context that they’re in in order to make the types of decisions. And so like a process, Kate, you’re right. That process like that does take a long time because it’s foundational. It’s almost like a new marker for your corporate identity. It doesn’t have to stay in that collaborative phase. Once you’ve defined it, then the question is for the onboarding, for all the new students that come in for the new staff that comes in, then it becomes informational. This is who we are, this is how we conduct ourselves, these are the parameters for behavior. These are the metrics that we use to mark, whether we’re living up to the commitments that we actually have, and we’re going to continue to measure this stuff because it matters to us. And then it becomes more efficient, and someone can still put up their hand and say, so why that? And why not this? And you go, that’s a good question. You’ve pushed us in a new direction, we can modify it. But you still have that core sort of, this is who we are, and that’s what I was talking about the beginning part – is that re-articulation of anybody that comes into the community. I know you’re going to wanna push this and this and this way, trust, this is who we are. And if you wanna go that other way, you can go somewhere else.

Kate: You actually need to have enough of that core for someone to engage with and fight on, even for it to be moved. If you don’t have that, it’s just anything. Yeah. Well, I want to respect our time boundaries and we’re coming up on it, but my last question’s always the same question we call Engagement with a Cause. We are so grateful for you spending time with us and we want to end with space for you to give some words about an organization that you see us doing good work and we’ll make a donation to them and encourage our listeners to donate or engage with them in ways that make sense for them as well.

Rick:  Well, I thought that there were two that I’ve worked with this year and I thought, well, which one of those two <laugh> 

Kate: Who’s my favorite?

Rick:  Well, not, no, I was thinking timely for you and your audience. There’s a group of friends in northwest Texas that have a group called the West Texas Counseling and Guidance and they’re an interesting bunch because they have provided mental health services to underprivileged people at scale in northwest Texas and into New Mexico. They were first on the scene in Uvalde when the crisis happened. They have about, I think they’re up to 70 therapists now, as part of their group. Wow. So they’re a big group. They do fantastic work. I’m so proud of them. So.


Kate:  Give us the organization name one more time. 

Rick: West Texas Counseling and Guidance. W T C G. Yeah.

Kate: West Texas Counseling and Guidance. Thank you. 

Rick:  Yeah, they’re in San Angelo, Texas.

Kate:  We will put a link to them in our show notes, encourage all listeners to go check them out, and we’ll go do the same. 

Rick: Likewise. 

Kate: Thank you so much for your time with us.

Rick: It’s such a pleasure. It’s so fun. You’re such articulate, smart people. It’s always fun to talk a lot with you all.

Derek:  Well, thank you. And again, it is a gift for you to do this with us and look forward to continuing our dialogue, our running conversation.

Rick:  Likewise. Yeah. I’ve missed it. So yeah.

Derek: As well as well.