That Would Never Happen Here

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One of the great blessings of my life is knowing W. Clark Randall. Before his retirement, Clark spent his professional career as a senior executive with Hallmark Cards in Kansas City. Clark is gracious, wise, and, when necessary, can speak the truth with utmost understanding and love.

I came to learn quickly that what shaped the Hallmark workplace culture was not written in any personnel manuals. It was an ethos of powerful, usually unspoken, shared basic assumptions about how people relate to others.

Clark was chair of the board of trustees at a seminary where I served for many years. Often I met with him at the Hallmark headquarters. Noticing how courteous and helpful everyone I met there was, I asked Clark one day, “Where do you find such wonderful staff?” Clark replied, “They did not all start out that way.”

I came to learn quickly that what shaped the Hallmark workplace culture was not written in any personnel manuals. It was an ethos of powerful, usually unspoken, shared basic assumptions about how people relate to others. “Hallmarkers,” as they are called, would no more shout at one another than come to work wearing no clothes. It was not because they had been told not to do so but because, quickly upon arrival, they figured out “that would never happen here.”

Once Clark and I were attending a church meeting together. During a particularly heated discussion of the agenda items, two professional colleagues exchanged sharp words. One accused the other, without directly saying so, of not telling the truth. During the next break, Clark remarked to me, “That would never happen at Hallmark. And if it did, the meeting would stop and someone would say to the offending parties, ‘We need to talk.’”

Jim and Jennifer Cowart tell about their church where they have a “we don’t do that here” list that includes such things as gossip, talking badly about other churches, whining, being mean, and allowing non-tithers to handle church money.” (Start This, Stop That, Abingdon, 2012) What’s on your church’s list? What should be there?

Church leaders shape those things that “would never happen here.” You do it by:

  • Affirmation — “I’m so proud to be part of a church where we can disagree in love.”
  • Teaching — “One thing you will discover about our church is that we do not belittle other churches or religions.”
  • Modeling — Making sure your behavior matches what you want to see from others.
  • Rebuke when necessary — “Sam, I understand your concern, but here we make it a practice to go directly to the person with whom you have a concern before talking with others about it.”

People actually do respond to those unspoken standards. An office worker was unpredictable and often rude when dealing with coworkers and the public. Her actions often called attention to herself and reflected badly on the organization. She had worked there for a number of years, and everyone, including her supervisors, permitted the behavior, assuming “That’s just how she is.” One day another worker told the supervisor, “She doesn’t act that way at Sears.” It turns out that the troublesome employee worked weekends at a checkout stand at Sears. “I shop there regularly,” the worker told the supervisor, “and she is gracious and professional to a fault.” Expectations do make a difference.

Pay attention to what “would never happen here.” Your church’s credibility is at stake.


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About Author

Dr. Lovett H. Weems, Jr.

Lovett H. Weems Jr. is senior consultant at the Lewis Center for Church Leadership, distinguished professor of church leadership emeritus at Wesley Theological Seminary, and author of several books on leadership.


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