January 22, 2024

2023 Was a Year of Learning to Truly Flourish

Alexis, our Director of Operations, summed up 2023 best at our fourth quarter planning session: “This will be the first year in ten years that we did not grow. But, this will year will also go down in history as the year we grew the most.”

In January 2023, we unveiled our annual primary objective for the year. This annual primary objective (APO) is part of our annual strategic planning rhythms for creating clarity and focus for our team. Every year, it becomes a rallying cry and a guiding light for an entire year.

For 2023, our annual primary objective was the acronym FLOURISH. We borrowed the acronym from the Best Christian Workplaces Institute:

Fantastic teams
Life-giving work
Outstanding talent
Uplifting growth
Rewarding compensation
Inspirational leadership
Sustainable strategy
Healthy communication

Every time we set our APO for the year, we never know exactly how it will play out. We often experience big surprises as we pursue, unpack, and experience all that our APO holds for us. This year was no exception.

A Journey Towards Healing

2023 was our ten-year anniversary at PHOS. We needed to go big. My conviction for the year was that we needed to return to our founding organizational philosophy (Jim Collins would call this our Hedgehog Concept). At the ten-year mark, I understood the need to reinvent ourselves, but I also wanted to reinvest ourselves in the areas that have contributed to our growth and sustainability: organizational health.

When I first presented this idea to some of my business colleagues, they laughed at me: “Why would you spend an entire year investing time and resources into something you are already strong at?” Valid question. I think people who ask it:

  1. Probably don’t have it
  2. Probably don’t understand how hard it is to maintain

Organizational health takes so much work to create and guard. To help us chase our FLOURISH objective, we created a six-month flourishing program that focused on six areas of wellness in our people:

  1. Emotional
  2. Financial
  3. Physical
  4. Spiritual
  5. Intellectual
  6. Relational

Our activities each month included lunch and learns, team walks, a PHive K, pickleball nights, a murder mystery night, book studies, team prayer events, volunteer events, game nights, the Global Leadership Summit, and a guide we created for retreating.

Right in the middle of the wellness program, we hosted our 10-year anniversary (PHOSversary) in Kissimmee, FL. We spent three days retreating, reflecting, and celebrating. On the final day, we had a two-hour meeting in the living room of the house we rented, and I asked everyone to come prepared to share their favorite PHOS memories.

With tears in our eyes, we cried and laughed as each member vulnerably shared about the impact that PHOS has had in their lives. As I reflected on all that was shared, one word stood out to me as a theme: healing.

Team members shared about how our culture, our purpose, and our people were healing for them: healing from past work trauma and healing during difficult personal seasons of life. They were describing a very unique business model:

Work as healing.

Those words make no sense in the traditional business space. Zero. That’s not the purpose of business, right?

I was beginning to see, right in the middle of our party, right in the middle of our year, what true flourishing at work really means. Then, we premiered a brand new video to our team.

A Clarified Purpose

For the past six years, our mission statement has been a constant for our team:

To be a company that team members never want to leave, clients can’t do without, and the world is better for and, in so doing, exemplify the love of Jesus Christ.

The more we’ve reflected on that mission, the season it came from, and all that we’ve learned about what matters most to our team, the more we’ve seen a growing gap between our stated mission and our daily passion.

We developed that mission statement after the worst year of team member turnover we have ever experienced. My business coach at the time was hounding me to write a new mission statement, and after a year, I still wasn’t able to pen one. Then a leadership speaker I follow asked a life-changing question at a conference I attended: “What breaks your heart? Purpose is found at the intersection of a broken heart, opportunity, and skill.”

What broke my heart was people leaving.

That’s where our mission came from. And we have run with all our strength the past six years after that mission. But this year, we learned where that passion really comes from.

Our passion isn’t just about creating a PHOS that people don’t want to leave but creating an environment in which people can truly flourish. We realized at the end of 2023 that FLOURISH wasn’t meant to be just a one-year objective for us, but was the best word we had to say what our mission really was. So, in addition to all our learning lessons in 2023, last year came with a new mission statement we rolled out this month to our team:

To cultivate true flourishing in people and organizations while reflecting the love of Jesus to the world.

It’s shorter. It’s our heart for our team, the leaders we serve, and the businesses we partner with. It’s global. It’s business as a ministry. It’s us.

Flourishing Where It Matters Most

After ten years in business, we finally had our first year where we didn’t grow topline revenue. Those who have been in business for longer than us are saying right now, “Get over yourself… welcome to the club!” But, this is how we learn.

Even with our topline revenue down a little over 6%, we nearly matched our net profit with last year, increased our average base salaries by 15.5%, started a brand new profit-sharing program, and gave away more money to our team and the world than we ever have. We hosted a vision trip to Guatemala with Compassion International to learn about their care centers, then funded the start of six care centers in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Colombia that serve over 1,000 women and children in extreme poverty.

I was being reminded all year long that:

Organizational flourishing isn’t always revenue related.
Organizational flourishing isn’t always financially focused.
Organizational flourishing isn’t always materially measured.

2023 deepened my understanding of what it means to truly flourish.

True flourishing, as we learned so acutely last year, is about people and organizations becoming, growing, healing, and thriving.

I know this, but there is nothing like a downturn to test your heart and your motives.
Leader, where are you measuring the wrong things? Where have you wrongly attached your sense of worth, success, and identity? Would a third-party audit of your profit and loss statement prove your people-first positioning a liar?

I read Ecclesiastes 3 recently, and I was reminded of the various seasons we walk through in life and leadership. There is a time for everything:

“a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh…
a time for war, and a time for peace.” Ecclesiastes 3:2–8 (ESV)

What 2023 taught me best, though, is that in the middle of every season, whether it is loss or plenty, striving or striding, we can flourish in them all. But only if we know what it means to truly flourish.

Brandon West

Brandon West founded PHOS Creative at the age of 26 out of his home office. A strategy-first digital marketing agency headquartered in Florida, PHOS’ growth and culture have been highlighted in the Inc. 5000, Gator100, Florida Trend Magazine, and the Best Christian Workplaces Institute.

Author of It Is Not Your Business to Succeed, Brandon has shared his insights on over seventy stages, addressing topics such as purpose-driven leadership, people-first culture, business as a ministry, authentic branding, and inbound marketing.

Away from his desk, Brandon enjoys dating his wife, mostly losing to his sons at board games, playing guitar and piano, exploring underwater caverns, and pastoring leaders at Salt Church and in the marketplace.