Look Back and Learn: Investing in Wisdom Equity

In researching and working on some leadership development material for an ongoing writing project, I came across the following:

Christianity is a religion of change. Jesus’ call in Mark 1:15 (the kingdom of God is at hand) was a call to change – change of mind and heart, of conduct and character, of self and society. By its very nature Christianity is a religion for a changing world and has always had its greatest opportunity during times of upheaval.

The Christian leader has no option; he must face a changing world. If the leader is to render maximum service, he must both adjust himself to the phenomena of change and address himself passionately to the business of producing and guiding change. Here are some elements that constitute the changed world in which the Christian leader today is called to fulfill his ministry.

Changed world outlook

Changed economic philosophy

Changed social consciousness

Changed family life

Changed community conditions

Changed moral standards

Changed religious viewpoints

Changed conceptions of the church

Changed media for molding public opinion

Changed demands made upon the leader

Pretty good list, right? Dead on. Taken from today’s headlines.


courtesy the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

courtesy the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

The author was Gaines S. Dobbins, distinguished professor of Religious Education at my alma mater, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Louisville KY.

Written in 1947.

As the introduction to the book “Building Better Churches: A Guide to Pastoral Ministry.”

Dr. Dobbins retired before I was born, but while in seminary in the early eighties I had the privilege of sitting under a couple of professors who were students of Dr. Dobbins. When I came across this book in a used bookstore, I bought it on impulse. After flipping through it, I realized it was a treasure of leadership wisdom.

At Auxano, we talk about a concept called “vision equity.” It’s realizing that the history of a church is a rich resource for helping rediscover what kinds of vision language past generations have used. That language is very useful for anticipating and illustrating God’s better intermediate future.

As I read Dr. Dobbin’s book, I think there is also a concept called “wisdom equity.” It’s realizing that there have been some great leaders and deep thinkers over the past decades and centuries whose collective wisdom would be a great place to start as we struggle with the new realities that face us every day.

It’s why I love history – I see it not as an anchor that holds us to the past, but as a foundation to build a bridge to the future.

Go ahead – look back and learn.

Altitude Affects Attitude

Take a drive through the beautiful Western North Carolina mountains, especially around Asheville, and you will see why the city has used the above saying as their tagline.


Chamber of Commerce thinking aside, being aware of your altitude also helps when reviewing your priorities in order to get things done. In order to fully understand your priorities, you need to know what your work is. Using an aerospace analogy by management consultant David Allen in his book Getting Things Done, the conversations you need to be having have a lot to do with altitude:

50,000 feet: Life – this is the “biggest picture” view you can have. Why does your organization exist? The primary purpose for anything provides a core definition of what its “work” really is. All goals, visions, objectives, projects, and actions both derive from this, and lead toward it.

40,000 feet: Three to Five Year Vision – projecting three to five years into the future generates thinking about big categories like organization strategies, trends, and transition circumstances. Decisions at this altitude could easily change what your work might look like on many levels.

30,000 feet: One to Two Year Goals – One to two-year goals add a new dimension to defining your work. Meeting goals and objectives often require a shift in emphasis of your job focus.

20,000 feet: Areas of Responsibility – You create or accept most of your projects because of your responsibilities, which for most people can be defined in ten to fifteen categories. These are key areas in which you want to achieve results and maintain standards. Listing and reviewing these responsibilities gives a more comprehensive framework for evaluating your inventory of projects.

10,000 feet: Current Projects – Creating many of the actions that you currently have in front of you are the thirty to one hundred projects on your plate. These are relatively short term outcomes you want to achieve.

Runway: Current Actions – this is the accumulated list of all the actions you need to take – phone calls to make, emails to respond to, errands you need to run, and the agendas you want to communicate to your boss or team.

Though these altitude analogies are somewhat arbitrary, they provide a useful framework to remind you of the multi-layered nature of your “job” and the resulting commitments and tasks it demands.

Mastering the flow of work at all the “altitudes” you experience provides a “flight plan” that will help you accomplish a great deal and feel good in the process.

Fasten your seat belts and make sure your tray tables are in the upright and locked position -

…it’s time for your framework for decision-making to take flight.

Guest Experiences Focus on People

No matter how you look at Guest Experiences in a church setting, the people element is first and foremost.

A person or persons come to your place because they were invited, or just curious, or they are in a crisis in their own lives.

This person or persons encounter people at your place who extend to them a genuine, warm welcome.

Everything in the previous nine posts of this series is important, but in a true “saving the best for last,” people hold the key to Guest Experiences.

>> Your Guests

Creating personas and taking them through your Guest journey map is an important part of creating a WOW! Guest Experience, but never forget that the Guest who comes to your church is a real person with real feelings and emotions. Their perceptions are their reality. The Guest Experience you are creating will be their first impression of your church. It will also be a lasting impression.

>> Your Leaders

WOW! Guest Experiences will be achieved best when a compassionate leader with a passion for creating an extraordinary experience is tasked with leading all Guest experience efforts across the entire organization. The Guest Experience leader is a catalyst who will ignite the various components (people, place, and process) into a unified whole that will strive for consistent delivery of a WOW! Guest experience. The Guest Experience Leader is a 360-degree individual, exerting influence above, around, and below.

>> Your Teams

What kind of person serves on a Guest Services team?

Danny Meyer, founder and co-owner of eleven successful restaurants in New York City, writes the following about his staff:

The idea of someone giving 110 percent is about as realistic as working to achieve the twenty-six hour day. At our restaurants, we are hoping to develop 100 percent employees whose skills are divided 51-49 between emotional hospitality and technical excellence. These are 51 percenters.

A 51 percenter has five core emotional skills. If your team has these skills, you can be champions at the team sport of Guest Experiences. They are:

  • Optimistic warmth – genuine kindness, thoughtfulness, and a sense that the glass is always at least half full
  • Intelligence – not just “smarts”, but rather an insatiable curiosity to learn for the sake of learning
  • Work ethic – a natural tendency to do something as well as it can possibly be done
  • Empathy – an awareness of, care for, and connection to how others feel and how your actions make others feel
  • Self-awareness and integrity – an understanding of what makes you tick and a natural inclination to be accountable for doing the right thing with honesty and superb judgment

Your Guest Experience team members may not operate under the same pressures as the staff in a highly regarded restaurant. But if the CEO of a restaurant recognizes that the human beings who animate his restaurants have far more impact on whether they succeed than the food, the decor, or the location, I would say that is a lesson worth learning – and applying – at your church.

That’s a quick review of the People part of the Guest Experience at your church.

Bottom line: when in doubt, always default to people.

Outside In has been a great source of inspiration for my personal passion of Guest Experiences in ChurchWorld. Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine and the great team at Forrester Research are to be commended for their ongoing excellence in the world of customer experience.

However, this series has just been an introduction to their concepts as translated to ChurchWorld. I plan to revisit the 6 Disciplines of Guest Experiences in depth very soon!


Part 10 of a series based on the book Outside In

Outside In

These posts “translate” the world of customer experience to the language and setting of Guest Experiences in the church.

Guest Experience Transformation Priorities

In the prior 8 posts of this series, I have been “translating” the work of Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine’s book “Outside In” from the business world of customer experience to the church world of Guest Experiences.

Along the way, I hope you have seen that this is not a one-shot quick-fix deal, but a journey to excellence. The key element – the 6 disciplines of Guest Experiences – must be embedded in all your Guest experience practices.

The decision you face next is what to tackle first, second, or third, not what to do or not to do.trash can

Transformation of any type is not as simple as a one-size-fits-all prescription. I’ve found that the only place one-size-fits-all is the trashcan!

Instead, here are two overarching approaches for setting priorities. The first is to build out one or more disciplines where you’re already strong, and the second is to shore up the disciplines where you’re weakest.

Build on Strengths

When deciding to build on strengths, realize that “strengths” is a relative term. Because each of the 6 disciplines consists of multiple practices, it’s unlikely that you’re systematic or even repeatable (remember the 4 adoption levels?) at every practice in any discipline. But if you see that you are systematic – or close to it – for most of the practices in a discipline, you have an opportunity: Press into that discipline and master it, and then use it as a lever to move your organization toward adoption of the other disciplines.

Shore Up Weaknesses

Instead of capitalizing on one or two relatively mature disciplines, you may choose to develop one or two exceptionally week ( or non-existent) disciplines that hold back your other efforts.

Even a single weak discipline can hold you back because there are natural dependencies among the disciplines. For example, Guest experience strategy sets the overall direction for everything else you do. If you’re at the Missing or Ad Hoc levels for the four practices in the strategy discipline, you’re just wasting effort everywhere else.

Transforming your organization from its current level to one of WOW! Guest Experiences is a major undertaking. It will take a long time to reach the Sustain phase – and even then, you’re not “finished”. As shown in the Reinvent phase, improving Guest experiences is a constant journey, not a project. The people you are trying to reach – your Guests – are a work in process, and they are constantly changing as well.

Moving to WOW! Guest Experiences at your church is a journey that has a beginning but not an end.

That journey is made possible by the last post of this series – the people you have serving on your teams.


Part 9 of a series based on the book Outside In

Outside In

These posts “translate” the world of customer experience to the language and setting of Guest Experiences in the church.

>> Part 8

The 4 Adoption Levels of Guest Experience Disciplines

To proceed up the levels of Guest Experience maturity without mishaps, you need to understand your starting point. Specifically, you need a realistic assessment of your current adoption level of reach of the Guest experience disciplines.

You can think of adoption levels this way: the phases of maturity (Improve, Transform, Sustain, Reinvent) are like grade levels in school. Guest experience disciplines are like the courses you have to master in order to advance to the next grade, and adoption levels are like the marks you get for each of those courses.

It’s a rough analogy because your adoption level is a measure of how consistently you perform each discipline, not necessarily how well you perform it. To gauge how consistently your organization performs each practice on a continuum from not at all to all of the time, you’ll need to determine whether each discipline is Missing, Ad Hoc, Repeatable, or Systematic.

  • Missing – your organization doesn’t perform this discipline at all. If a practice is at this level it’s either because not enough people considered it important enough to do or no one thought of doing it in the first place. Regardless – it’s just not happening.
  • Ad Hoc – your organization performs this discipline sporadically. There is no defined process that specifies when it should be performed, how, or by whom. If you see the discipline performed, it’s because some people realize that it’s important enough to do at least some of the time.
  • Repeatable – your organization has a defined process that specifies when this discipline should be performed, how, and by whom. Your organization even follows the process most of the time. That means that people in your organization could perform the discipline consistently all of the time – they just don’t.
  • Systematic – your organization has a defined process that specifies when this practice should be performed, how, and by whom. The organization follows that process all of the time. There are some things that organizations do the same way every time to produce consistently high-quality results – just not very often in the realm of Guest experiences. You can get to this level with your Guest experience disciplines – you just have to want it badly enough.

Once you understand the four levels above, you need to establish your baseline level of adoption for each of the six disciplines. You’ve got two options for determining your adoption levels. You can take a top-down approach by conducting interviews and fact-finding workshops with the people who should be performing the disciplines. Or you can take a bottom-up approach by surveying your organization and asking their opinions on adoption levels. The top-down approach will give you more actionable results, but will also cost you more in time and money (assuming you use outside help – which you should).

Ultimately you want your entire organization to perform the same disciplines, the same way, every time. But when you first “grade” your adoption level you should do it by function – and when you get the results, expect to find that different areas of your organization will be at different levels of maturity.

Whatever you find when you determine your baseline levels of adoption, you’ll be able to set your priorities for moving forward – which is what the next post is all about.

Part 8 of a multi-part series based on the book Outside In

Outside In

These posts “translate” the world of customer experience to the language and setting of Guest Experiences in the church.

>> Part 7

The Path to Guest Experience Maturity

It’s not enough to be passionate about satisfying or delighting your customers. Your good intentions can just as easily send you down the wrong path as the right one. You need more than passion – you need a plan.

Harley Manning & Kerry Bodine, Outside In

Based on their research for over a decade, Manning and Bodine have seen that organizations that pursue customer experience as a business strategy follow similar paths of evolution. The path passes through three phases: Improve, Transform, and Sustain.

As in all the posts in this series, I am taking the work that Manning and Bodine developed for customer experience and translating it into the world of Guest Experiences for the church. In this case, I have added a fourth phase: Reinvent.

Phase One: Improve

In this first phase, organizations focus on finding and fixing Guest experience problems. Done right, the Improve phase is a great starting point because it produces steady, incremental advances to the Guest experience over time. As one small success of your Guest team leads to another, the rest of your organization can become excited about Guest experiences which in turn helps build support for progressively larger efforts.

Start with a small task, make it a big win, and then move on to the next, bigger task with the positive vibe of the small win under your belt.

However, you can’t stop there. Even though the Improve Phase can be very effective at producing results, organizations won’t fully realize the power of a great Guest experience unless they move beyond this phase. A typical find-and-fix, reactive approach attacks problems as they arise. Meanwhile, your organization will keep creating new problems by operating in the same ways that created the old problems.

Phase Two: Transform

In this phase, organizations focus on adopting the six disciplines of Guest experience (see an introduction to these disciplines here). Their goal is to stamp out the root causes of Guest experience problems by changing the way they operate. According to Megan Burns, Forrester’s lead analyst on customer experience maturity, “The point of the Transform Phase is to create an environment in which mistakes don’t happen in the first place.”

Transformation is the price of admission if you want the opportunity to differentiate among your “competition” (remember, this is not other churches – it’s whatever “experiences” your Guests encounter in their daily lives). Many organizations are hesitant to commit the resources needed for that type of transformation – until it becomes painfully obvious that they must.

Phase Three: Sustain

As you begin to routinely perform the practices in the six disciplines, you’ll consistently deliver the Guest experience you want to deliver. Maintaining the practices of the disciplines will require the same level of effort as maintaining any sound organizational practice. It won’t be a small matter, but it will be less than what you’ll go through adopting them in the first place.

The obvious benefits of the Sustain Phase will help you retain support for Guest experience across your entire culture – even when outside conditions change. Guests will experience fewer problems, they will be more likely to return, and their positive word of mouth to others will bring more opportunities to reach new people.

Phase Four: Reinvent

After studying the three phases developed by Manning and Bodine, I shared my work with Jon Langford, a friend and Cast Member at Disney World in Orlando FL. Jon has worked in many areas at WDW, most of them involved in some form of Guest Services (actually, all 67,000+ Cast Members at Walt Disney World work in Guest Services, but that’s another story!). Jon affirmed the idea of phases, but suggested I add a fourth: Reinvent.

Disney Cast Member 2013

He gave me a phrase that is used in Disney training: All training has an expiration date. He then went on to explain that the Disney organization is always in the process of reinventing experiences on a large scale (think the new Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom or the upcoming Avatar and Star Wars themed lands in Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, respectively). But they also constantly work on experiences on the personal scale as well: the parks use a multi-tiered approach in training, and the fourth tier is on-the-job training. According to  Doug Lipp (former head of Disney University at the corporate headquarters of The Walt Disney Company and author of Disney U), continuous development of Cast Members keeps them fresh, engaged, and enthusiastic. The Cast Members know that regardless of their role, they can make or break the Guests’ experience.

The four phases of Guest experience maturity are important to understand, but to help your organization get there, you must also understand the four levels of adoption for Guest experience practices – which is the subject of the next post in this series.

Part 7 of a multi-part series based on the book Outside In

Outside In

These posts “translate” the world of customer experience to the language and setting of Guest Experiences in the church.

>> Part 6

The Six Disciplines of Guest Experiences

Organizations that want to produce a high-quality Guest experience need to perform a set of sound, standard practices. Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine, in their book Outside In, have developed six high-level disciplines which can be translated into Guest experiences: strategy, Guest understanding, design, measurement, governance, and culture.

The distance between dreams and

These disciplines represent the areas where organizations that are consistently great at Guest experiences excel. If you want to deliver a great Guest Experience, these disciplines are where you need to focus, too. Listed below are brief explanation of each of the six disciplines; a full post on each discipline will follow at the end of this series.


This is your game plan. It’s a set of practices for crafting a Guest experience strategy, aligning it with the organization’s overall attributes and brand attributes, and then sharing that strategy with team members to guide decision-making and prioritization across the organization. The strategy discipline is critical because it provides the blueprint for the experience you design, deliver, manage, and measure.

Guest Understanding

You need a set of practices that create a consistent shared understanding of who Guests are, what they want and need, and how they perceive the interactions they’re having with your organization today. This discipline includes research practices, analyzing the information you’ve collected, and documenting your findings. Guest Understanding provides a foundational level of insight that guides the rest of the disciplines.


Design isn’t just choosing the right images and fonts for your next website revision. It’s a problem-solving process that incorporates the needs of Guests, team members, and partners in your mission. It’s a way of working that creates and refines real-world situations.

Design is the secret weapon of organizations that gives them a strategic advantage in figuring out what services their Guests need and in defining the exact characteristics of every Guest interaction. Design helps you understand how a Guest accesses your website, what a Guest is likely to do as they approach your campus, and gives you clues about creating a welcoming environment.

Design is the most important discipline that you’ve probably never heard of.

The human-centered design process starts with research to understand Guest needs and motivations. It’s all those activities in the discipline of Guest Understanding. Analysis is next – synthesizing the data into useful forms. The next phase is ideation, which is just what it sounds like – coming up with ideas. After that, it’s time to prototype – ranging from a simple redesigned Guest survey to a full-scale mock-up of your typical Guest experience on the weekend. Next, these prototypes are put into action with real people while you observe the results. Finally, you must document the features of the resulting product or service that has evolved.


As the saying goes, “What gets measured matters.” Measurement practices take the guesswork out of managing your Guest Experience. It does this by capturing  data about what actually happens in a Guest Experience, how the Guest felt during the interaction, and whether the Guest is willing to recommend your organization to others afterward. Measurements tell your team what’s going right (or wrong), what, if anything to do about it, and what impact your organization can expect as a result.


The word governance may bring to mind images of executives in closed-door meetings talking about compliance. Senior decision makers are important part of governance at many organizations, but governance isn’t about a committee that hands out edicts from the top floor.

In reality, governance models are as varied as the organizations they support.  Governance practices will help you drive accountability by assigning specific Guest Experience management tasks to specific people within your organization.

You need to use your insights and metrics to identify Guest Experience improvement opportunities and, as you put new programs into place, keep tabs on the progress of those initiatives.


Now matter how solid your strategy is or how carefully you design your Guest Experience, it’s simply impossible to plan for every single Guest interaction at every last touchpoint. At some point, you need to put your trust in your organization’s most valuable resource – your team members – to do the right thing for Guests.

Building a Guest-centric culture is critical to your success.

How exactly to you get to this level of a Guest-centric culture? First, you overhaul your recruiting practices so that you get Guest-obsessed people on the front lines. Second, you need to socialize the importance of Guest-centricity through storytelling, rituals, and training. Third, you’ve got to reinforce new values and behaviors through informal and formal rewards. Finally, tie it all together with a steady cadence of communication that never lets team members forget why they’re doing all of this in the first place.

Mastering the six essential disciplines of Guest Experience takes time and effort but it’s something you have to do.

If you want to succeed – today and in the immediate future – you have to decide – right here, right now – to roll up your sleeves and do the work of building competence in these six disciplines. While that may scare you, what should scare you more is the thought of becoming irrelevant to your Guests.

If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less. General Eric Shinseki, retired Chief of Staff, US Army

Part 6 of a multi-part series based on the book Outside In

Outside In

These posts “translate” the world of customer experience to the language and setting of Guest Experiences in the church.

>> Part 5