Church at Work interview with Daniel Chow

“Most people work just hard enough not to get fired and get paid just enough money not to quit.” – George Carlin

For some, Monday is a tough day. Forcing themselves to get out of bed in the morning takes an immense amount of effort. Getting enough energy together to be present and productive is hard enough, let alone be engaged and excited about their work. A recent Gallup study has concluded that up to 70% of employees are disengaged from their work. They are simply going through the motions and living for the weekend.

Some of this is because the workplace can be a harmful and toxic environment, which is something Daniel Chow is helping to change.

Dan works for The Refinery Leadership Partners in Vancouver. Their office is located on the third floor of a building on Water St. and overlooks the steam clock in Gastown. The Refinery is a leadership development firm, and their website describes them this way.

“We partner with organizations to enhance their people strategy and accelerate the development of the leadership necessary to realize the company vision.”

For those of us not involved in this industry, this sounds a bit vague and hard to understand. Dan described what they do this way.

“The situation which we used to consider our bread and butter is a situation where a very technically proficient individual is recognised as a great engineer or a great person at their job. As a result, they said, ‘Do you want more money? Let’s make you a manager.’ Without any formal training or any insights into what it means to manage people and what that does is it creates a whole slew of issues when a manager is ill equipped to talk to their team.”

Dan works back to back with his wife Mel in a part of the office lovingly dubbed “Chow Central”. They actually met each other at The Refinery and have enjoyed working in the same business for a number of years. They have recently moved into the Fleetwood area and are expecting their first child. This will mark a major transition for them, but is something they are really looking forward to.

Dan’s work is more in support of the consultants who are providing the programing for the clients as he is the Information Technology Manager for the company. He actually began as the receptionist but quickly began to pick up some of the IT work as the company began to grow. His training was originally in this area, so he was a natural pick to move into a full time IT work. As the growth levelled out he has spread out his role again to help cover more of other work, such as accounting and business development.

While it may be tempting to see this work as less important than the consultants who are connecting with the clients directly, he sees his role as really helping them do that well.

“I’ve always tied myself very closely to the people I am helping and to what they are trying to accomplish because I feel like for me to be successful they feel like they can be successful. And that technology is not only not getting in the way, it is actually enabling them to do their work even better.”

This means it is important for him to be able to connect deeply with what the company is trying to do.

“I think it has always been important for me that I can tie myself to an organisation that I can really identify with, and in what they are trying to accomplish.”

Since work has a powerful ability to shape our lives, he loves being able to work for a company that is trying to improve the world of work.

“I’ve been very blessed with my relationship with my manager and my relationship with this company and I know how it is out there with our clients, and with my friends and family that I’ve spoken to with their relationships with their work. I think that it is a relationship that has great potential to be either very fulfilling, or very harmful.”

Most of the problems they help their clients overcome revolve around communication, especially the ability to give and receive feedback.

“We hear a lot of issues around simply not being able to talk to your manager. That can be summed up in one sentence, but it is one of those problems that takes a while to change.”

While there are always issues around dealing with people, Dan has seen some real fruit in the lives of the people they have worked with. This renewal has not been limited to the way people function at work, either.

“It’s not just great relationships between managers and reports. This is about relationships between a man and his wife and sisters and brothers, and someone with their children. Because communication is fundamental, we talk with everyone in our lives and if we have this approach in management, there is a good chance we have this approach in our personal lives as well.”

Much of what The Refinery tries to develop is the ability of managers to treat their reports with respect, dignity, and trust. Essentially, they try to help managers treat their reports as valuable human beings. What they really hope their clients learn is not only that this is the right thing to do, it is also more effective leadership. Treating someone well, actually helps them work better.

Dan sees a parallel between this work and how God’s love renews us as well.

“One of the big reasons I was really drawn to the church after attending and learning more from Mel, was the concept of God’s love that is just there, the undeserved love of God, and how that is filling us with the Holy Spirit and making us his image bearer just because of love. I draw that parallel to people in the world who are doing good things because they are in good spaces, because they are supported by positive influences and positive relationships. It’s that notion of positive reinforcement rather than negative reinforcement. That idea that if you treat people well, they will be well.”

As I walked out of The Refinery, took the elevator back down to the main floor, and walked out onto Water St. I couldn’t help thinking about all the business that were located around me. I started to wonder about the cultures in those workplaces and whether or not people felt valued, and encouraged.

In some ways I hope that things are so good, there is no more need for a company like The Refinery. Knowing what I know about human nature however, I found myself hoping for more companies like theirs to help improve the world of work.

Categories: Church At Work