The New Missional Paradigm - Part 2: Rethinking Business Management


This post is the second in a 3-part article called "The New Missional Paradigm"; it's something of a manifesto on the intersection of church, community and business management. Please see the first part for a thorough introduction. In this second part, we will examine some radical experiments in business management, some of them are old, and some and very new. I'll be drawing from a number of business experts and what I've seen from my own experience. These will form the basis for an examination of church and the new missional paradigm in the final part. In writing this I stand on the shoulders of countless business & marketing gurus, genius authors and other spiritual giants so I’ve done my best to footnote sources where possible. If I've written about your ideas and not sourced you, please let me know and I'll rectify it.

Part 2: Rethinking Business Management

For a long time there has been tension regarding the corporatizing of the church. Research would suggest that common church practices absorbed far too much Greek and Roman tradition [1], and it didn’t stop there. Many traditional Western churches are almost indistinguishable from businesses, with CEOs, Boards of Directors, and so on. With that being said, I’m going to highlight 3 game-changing initiatives in business management that I believe are shockingly relevant to discovering true spiritual community, and to undoing the mass corporatization of the Western church.

But first, a little history. Think back to your high school days, and you should recall being taught about the first major human societal revolution, the Neolithic Revolution. It was characterized by a wide-scale shift from hunter-gatherer societies into farming, agriculture and domestication. A thousand years later the Romans constructed cities and empires on a massive scale, and gave birth to the concept of a corporation, as separate from an individual identity. Fast forward some 10 centuries and we experienced the Renaissance, a rapid period of expansion in science, art, warfare and law. Churches and governments incorporated themselves for the first time. For the next 400 years the British Agricultural revolution broke the power of famines in the modern world and taught us to more effectively create food on a massive scale. Countless empires were born, European populations boomed, and inflation was discovered! Just a few years later, steam-power changed the world yet again. The Industrial Revolutions gave rise to significant personal wealth creation on a near-global scale, and with it, the creation of large corporations employing thousands of people. Management theory was born, thanks to people like Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, and Henry R. Towne. Finally, in the late 19th century, the first business schools were opened in the United States, and Peter Drucker invented modern business management. As the pace of scientific growth and the dissemination of knowledge continued to increase, we raced through the Atomic Age, the Jet Age, and the Space Age, bringing us to today’s Digital Revolution in only some 70 years.

The rate of change that humanity is experiencing is absolutely unprecedented, and is still ever increasing. Companies that defined their industries even 10 years ago are already irrelevant. Business rules and monetization models that drove sales a decade ago are being left in the dust today. I would argue that the structure of power in most businesses (which is replicated in many churches) is simply too new to be free of critique and yet already too old to be trusted today. This means, categorically, that we have permission to re-think business management and how it works. Let’s get started.

Radical Empowerment

Radical employee empowerment is the move away from the common hierarchies of authority, chains of command, etc. to decentralized power that is invested in the employees themselves. In his brilliantly solution-focussed article titled “First, Let’s Fire all the Managers,” Gary Hamel introduced the world to the Morning Star Company,[2] the world’s leading tomato ingredient processor.  Morning Star is based in California, and is the foremost example of companies that have embraced radical empowerment, and completely decentralized their power structure. Here’s what I’m talking about:

  • No one has a boss

  • No one has a job description

  • There are no titles or promotions

  • Everyone can spend the company’s money

  • Each individual is responsible for acquiring the tools they need to get their work done

  • Compensation decisions are made by a group of peers.

Sound crazy? We've barely scratched the surface! At Morning Star, all work between people is governed by a CLOU, a Colleague Letter of Understanding[3]. A CLOU would be agreed upon by Jim and Jane to govern the deliverables they have to one another, the ways that they’ll work together, and the stepping stones necessary to meet those commitments. CLOU-like agreements are also written up between teams and major business units. Since there are no job descriptions, colleagues work together to figure out what needs to be done, and then are free to do it... or to do something else. One of the driving philosophies at Morning Star is that when people are free, they will be drawn to what they really like doing, and they’ll be more enthused about doing it. Those staff with longer work experience naturally earn more respect, but since there is no hierarchy, there are no promotions and there’s no ladder to climb. Internal competition is thus focused on who can contribute the most, who honours their CLOUs consistently, who serves the company vision. Since your compensation is agreed upon by a group of your peers, becoming worthy of real respect becomes a driving motivator. Rather than be appointed to a higher office or role, experienced team members help to coach others and drive ongoing success. (And by the way, by avoiding the “management tax” Morning Star employees are also paid 10% to 15% more than their counterparts across the industry.)

Morning Star operates very transparently: every team has a P&L sheet, and cross-company information is available to everyone, all the time. No one questions your need to know, and anyone has the right to suggest improvements anywhere. As the open source software community has shown, having many eyes on software code means more bugs get found. At Morning Star, problems get noticed very quickly, far more quickly than they would with a hierarchy of managers. If you perceive a staffing shortage, then its your responsibility to build the case & pitch it to the team. Major decisions might involve discussion with many staff in different teams, but the buck doesn't stop with any one person.

It’s probably worth saying again that Morning Star is the world leader in tomato processing. They have over 400 employees across 23 business units in 3 locations. If you live in North America, you’re likely eating their products every week. In 2010 they turned over $700 million in revenue, and are growing leaps and bounds ahead of their industry. Chris Rufer founded the company over 20 years ago, and quickly decided to make the mission of processing tomatoes, the boss. They make that a reality through clarity of purpose, ongoing staff training & investment, and true rhetoric-free empowerment. This is no flash-in-the-pan ideal for them, they've been making it work for 2 decades, and are a very successful company.


The New Rules of Marketing

A few years ago, Seth Godin taught us that invasive, interruptive marketing was bad[4]. (Think about traditional TV ads that interrupt what you’re watching to try and sell you a product.) As Seth's been championing permission marketing, the social web revolution has swept the world, while smartphones have become ubiquitous. These two recent developments are forcing huge change in the way that companies market themselves, and Seth’s insights from 1999 are more true now than ever before. The new marketing exists on the premise that you must earn respect by being remarkable; and you are invited to tell us stories of your remarkable-ness.

Good storytelling has always been the cornerstone of any kind of successful outreach. That fact has only become more important, but the ways and the frequency with which we tell stories are changing dramatically. The social web has brought this all to fore, because there are a billion voices now communicating a message, who don’t necessarily have a vested interest in that message. There is an inherent trust present in me telling you that Goodfella is the best shaving experience you’ll ever have, that Goodfella can't ever capture by telling you that themselves[5]. Walter Naeslund founded an ad agency called Honesty, built on the premise that you can no longer market a lie. He speaks and blogs about communicative truth, that there is an underlying truer message to any obvious message you are communicating, and that there must be something true about you that sets you apart and makes you gossip worthy.[6]

In a socially connected world, your own marketing efforts are a drop in the bucket compared the communicative power of the entire world. A world that trusts each other as humans, more than they’ll ever trust you as a corporation. And a world that you cannot control, a world that will spread its own message about your brand.

This means 3 things:

  • Your business needs to be more human

  • You need to be telling stories faster & responding faster

  • You need to get the world telling stories about you; you need to be infectious

Audi’s video on the Le Mans race is a brilliant example of the power of communicative truth[7]. Everything in that video is true, and you leave it with the immediate impression of “Wow, those drivers are tough!” And the likelihood is that you’ll tell your friends; you’ll share the video, but you’ll also talk about it in offline-world conversation. Audi have offered you some genuinely useful things here: new practical knowledge, an interesting conversation piece, and an expanded emotional perspective on a sport that may have just been fast cars before. Underpinning all that, is your new subconscious assurance that Audi provides useful information to the public, and makes really awesome, fast cars that surely win races. That's communicative truth.

The proliferation of smartphones plays equally into this new world. Any event can instantly become a story, becoming a conversation, which might become infectious. Citizens are now empowered to make the news and spread it themselves. The massive newspaper printing press  is outgunned by the device in your pocket. Smartphones are also nothing without the myriad of apps available for them, and appstores have brought the acceptable price of software down to a radical new low. You can buy Adobe Photoshop for your computer for over $500 (or Photoshop Elements for around $80) or grab Photoshop Express for your iOS device, for free. Regardless of the dangers, everyone has to reorient themselves to a world that is not willing to pay any price for admission. To smart companies, this equates to embracing generosity. In the marketing context: old school invasive marketing didn’t give anyone anything useful, but permission-based, truthful marketing can offer us something that is useful to us in some way.

All of this has a profound effect on how stories are told. Mark Cameron beautifully highlighted this in a blog post titled “The age of the big idea is over”[8]. Coca Cola has grasped this new marketing dynamic, and in the spirit of the times have released a video explaining their new efforts. (The very act of releasing the video is in itself, of course, part of the plan.)

From Coca Cola’s “Content 2020” video:

  1. We have observed a distribution of creativity. We must fuel both of the following truths: - No one has the smarts anymore. - Consumer generated stories outnumber Coca Cola generated stories on most of our brands.

  2. We have observed a distribution of technology. There is greater connectivity and consumer empowerment than ever before. This drives an on-demand culture, where consumers can turn their demands on 24-hours a day.

  3. With this in mind, we need to focus on the evolution of storytelling. - We need to move from one-way storytelling, to dynamic storytelling. Dynamic storytelling is the development of incremental elements of a brand idea that get dispersed systematically across multiple channels of conversation, for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated brand experience.[9] - We will move from creative excellence, to content excellence. The purpose of content excellence is to create ideas so contagious they cannot be controlled.

  4. Through the stories we tell, we will provoke conversations and earn a disproportionate share of popular culture. The conversation model we have developed begins with brand stories: - These brand stories create contagious ideas - These ideas provoke conversation - Then we need to act and react, to those conversations, 365 days a year.

  5. Every contact point with a customer should tell an emotional story. Our brand stories must show commitment to making the world a better place; enter our new “live positively” story. - We need to decide what part of the live positively story will apply to the brand story, and what part of this story we should tell to consumers. - The exciting thing about “live positively” in storytelling is that it’s a huge creative opportunity.

  6. For the Coca Cola company, our powerful position in the world affords us both the opportunity and the responsibility to create significant positive change in the world. - Every employee needs to help ensure that our brands succeed in a way that makes the world a better place. - The live positively principles must be applied to our own daily lives, activities and operations.

Let me remind you that this is from Coca Cola... the makers of a carbonated beverage.  “No matter what you are selling, the consumers of your messages are people, and people need to be engaged at an emotional and intellectual level.” - Mark R. Cameron.

The Economics of Trust

Stephen M. R Covey (the younger Covey) writes in his book “The Speed of Trust”, that the ability to establish, grow, extend and restore trust with all stakeholders (employees, suppliers and customers) is the key leadership competency of the new, global economy.[10]

Have you ever had a relationship where you can say the wrong thing, but people still understand what you were trying to say? That’s likely a high-trust relationship. Conversely, when your precise, exact messages are consistently misinterpreted, you've probably got a trust-issue on your hands. Low trust, whether in personal affairs or in business, enforces a significant tax on all that you would try to accomplish. High trust, on the other hand, allows you to reap remarkable dividends that would otherwise be impossible. As trust goes down, cost increases while speed decreases, (as can be seen with the post 9/11 “airport security theatre” that we deal with today).

As trust goes up, speed goes up and cost comes down.

In its essence, trust is confidence, and it comes in 5 waves, that ripple out from one another, each dependant on the other waves to sustain them.

Self Trust Self trust encompasses how individuals trust you, and how you trust yourself. It’s manifested in 4 streams: integrity, intent, capabilities, and results.  Those streams can be further expanded to commitments, transparency, motives, agenda, behaviour, strengths, relevance, direction, responsibility, expectations and completion. Working all of these aspects into who you are will drive a level of well-founded confidence in yourself, and will inspire the confidence of others in you.

Relationship Trust Relationship trust is achieved or destroyed through consistent or inconsistent behaviour, respectively. The 13 behaviors of high trust leaders loosely correlate to the streams of self-trust: Talk Straight, Demonstrate Respect, Create Transparency, Right Wrongs, Show Loyalty, Deliver Results, Get Better, Confront Reality, Clarify Expectations, Practice Accountability, Listen First, Keep Commitments, Extend Trust. These 13 behaviours are tools to help you build consistency, which in relationships, equals trust.

Organizational Trust An organization that exhibits distrust, which most of our organizations do, is typically one whose leaders are focused on problem symptoms, rather than on the principles that promote trust. This misalignment manifests in subconscious messages sent out to staff, family, and the wider organizations of our lives. What does the 100 page employee manual, or the strict curfew communicate? A message of distrust. There can be also be positive symbols, however, when leaders return to the core streams developed in Self Trust, and communicate out of that alignment; picture the executive who declines a pay raise after laying-off staff. Yang Yuanqing, the CEO of Lenovo recently divied up $3,000,000 of his annual bonus to lower level employees.

Market Trust & Societal Trust Brand reputation, and overall contribution make up the final waves of trust. Taxes or dividends are executed against you based on your personal, corporate, or even national brand identity and reputation. On the broadest scale, a reputation for generosity and responsibility has long reaching effects with the capability to influence massive demographic swaths. Remember the abuse Apple received when Greenpeace accused them of being one of the worst technology polluters? Or how about the trust tax levied against Chinese manufacturing for the suicides at a Foxcon factory?

Covey opines that nothing is as fast as the speed of trust, and that organizations defined by high trust are 3 times more profitable than their peers. Global citizenship, and the flattening of the world make this no longer a luxury, but a necessity.

I’d argue that one of the manifestations of trust that’s slowly gaining steam is the unlimited vacation policy. Netflix made big waves in 2010 when they announced that all their staff have an unlimited vacation allowance, and when IBM said they’d already been doing the same since 2003, people started to take note. I bring it up here, because unlimited vacation requires intrinsic trust. It's also an incredible provocateur for any trust issues you might have.

Some questions worth asking yourself:

  • Adults know how to prioritize their time. Are you hiring adults?

  • Adults are responsible for ten-thousand dollar cars and hundred-thousand dollar homes. How much responsibility are you giving them at work?

  • If your staff would abuse unlimited vacation, what are they already abusing that you can’t easily see?

  • Why would you hire anyone not 100% devoted to what you do?

  • What is your current measure of success?

With companies as large and as varied as IBM, Best Buy, Red Frog, Hulu, Miles Advisory Group, and RL Solutions adopting unlimited or incredibly flexible holiday policies, it looks like trust is on the menu.

If you’re a leader in any organization in any capacity, then I give you permission to re-think the way you approach your business. The zeitgeist is that "culture is the key": in a rapidly-changing, flat world, culture is your company’s one defining facet, its one big competitive advantage. Through empowering and trusting your employees you can turn them into true advocates, who will share the awesomeness of your organization with others. Infectiously happy employees generate the  communicative truth to customers that your brand actually is awesome, which creates infectiously happy customers. Happy, digitally connected customers spread the story of your awesomeness around the world. Which will generate as yet untold profits and revenue streams for your business. Simple.  ;)

This is the second part in a three part series called "The New Missional Paradigm". In the next and final part, we’ll look at what the above shifts in business teach us about the Body of Christ and about true spiritual community, and we’ll dream together about the incredible opportunities represented for missional organizations in this brave new world. If you'd like to be notified by email when the next parts in the series are available, look for the "Subscribe to email" block below and to the right of this post.


[1] Numerous theologians and authors have recently spent time uncovering the levels to which modern Christianity is influenced by Greco Roman philosophy, culture and ideals. As time has passed Christianity has also taken on medieval and other pagan influences. See especially Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna.

[2] This article was published in the Harvard Business Review in December 2011 and is available here: I have paraphrased and summarized heavily from Gary’s piece. You should really read it in its entirety, it’s brilliant.

[3] Described well in this video:

[4] See his book, Permission Marketing.

[5] Incidentally, for men, Goodfella IS the best shaver you will ever use.

[6] I’ve been reading Walter’s blog for a few years. He’s very smart!

[7] Available here:

[8]His post is here:

[9] In human language, that means you need to spread little ideas, “story elements” if you will, Seth Godin calls this drip marketing. And you need to spread these story elements across all the mediums of communication: print, TV, web, social media, word-of-mouth etc.

[10] “The Speed of Trust” is an exhaustive (and exhausting) book. I’m paraphrasing an Executive Book Summary for most of this section.


The image of people standing on a parking lot is from:

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