At the 2013 Global Leadership Summit, Bill Hybels outlined the journey of transformation to a flourishing culture. Just after the Summit concluded, bulldozers arrived to expand the parking lot because of growing attendance and financial strength. Five years prior, Bill had returned to daily leadership of the church after focusing his time on the Willow Creek Association and training pastors around the world. Colby Burke, Willow’s Human Resources Director, suggested they complete the Best Christian Workplaces employee engagement survey. The first year’s results indicated their culture was just above “toxic.”

To continue the Discovery Phase of the journey, they also conducted focus groups with a majority of their staff. The resulting report revealed the positive core of their culture, on which they built specific improvement themes. These included improved communication, building leadership/management competence, re-recruiting top talent and building trust among the employees.

An early step in the process was the apology Bill made to the employees in an all-staff meeting. The apology was followed by the vision that he wanted Willow to be a fantastic workplace, filled with fantastic staff, serving a fantastic God. The leadership team took the challenge seriously.

Over the next five years, they continued to focus on initiatives to build a healthy, flourishing culture. Each year at the same time, the BCW employee engagement survey was completed and action planning was conducted at the department level. Each year substantial progress was made as they continued to build their culture. Initiatives included: improved communication (staff meetings, intranet, etc.), leadership development, management training, talent process improvements, updated performance management programs and training. One of the key initiatives that built on the successes was the implementation of talent review days every six months.

Bill’s concluding comment at the 2013 Global Leadership Summit was how much more productive the church is with a flourishing culture. In 2013, Willow was recognized as one of the 100 fastest growing churches in addition to being the third largest church in the United States with over 25,000 weekend attenders.