My Experience with Guidepost at RZIM

Over the following days, I plan to share some reflections on RZIM’s Guidepost Assessment. There are many good and important ways that their final report holds RZIM accountable — and I will highlight and celebrate those in coming posts. I’m grateful for how this very imperfect process yielded some valuable insights.

At the same time, there are ways that Guidepost protects itself and minimizes its own problems within the report — and these need to be identified too.

To start, I will share my own experience of talking, at their request, with two Guidepost representatives on May 13, 2021. However, only one of these representatives talked, while the other one almost exclusively observed the discussion.

First, note that in their final report, Guidepost represents that their interviews went well:

From the beginning of our investigation, it was obvious that RZIM employees, former and current, were eager to speak to us. Most of the interviews we conducted were initiated by people who contacted us. In the end, Guidepost interviewed more than 55 individuals, with some key witnesses sitting for multiple interviews lasting hours. In our interviews, we focused more on listening than on asking a long list of questions. We tailored our interview questions to the personal experience of each interviewee, but also included standard questions posed to everyone who had an affiliation with RZIM.

Notably, this section is not forthcoming about the fact that some of their interviews were painful for former RZIM employees — and involved lecturing more than listening. This includes my own experience.

First Problem: Guidepost’s Representative Was Misleading

At the start of the conversation, I asked if RZIM is listening and committed to changing course. Their representative told me:

Our sense is that leadership is committed to hearing what we have to say and acting on it. Let me just say, in all these kinds of cases, nobody does everything we say they should do. 

Of course, it’s understandable that no one follows all the recommendations of their consultants. Still, I think we can reasonably conclude, given that RZIM’s board tried to bury the Guidepost report, has not made the board’s names public, and spun their interpretation of the report, that they were not committed to hearing what Guidepost had to say.

It’s one thing for RZIM’s leaders to mislead me. I’ve come to expect that.

But it was quite sad to experience someone from Guidepost misrepresenting the situation in an attempt to get my compliance in their process.

Second Problem: The Guidepost representative repeatedly contradicted himself.

At one point in the conversation, the representative told me:

We’re not here to investigate here, really, anymore. The investigation is over. We’re here to look at how the organization operates and ways we can improve that. So that these kinds of things are surfaced sooner, dealt with more effectively, that the culture at least has the opportunity to change, and that’s what they’ve hired us to do. To give them that advice. We don’t have any reason to think that they won’t follow it. But as you say, we can’t make them follow it.

I found it incredible that as early as May 13th, a Guidepost representative was telling me that the investigation phase had concluded and that all RZIM wanted was advice on how to help the organization operate better going forward.

Also notice their representative told me again they didn’t have any reason to think that RZIM wouldn’t follow their advice!

But later in the conversation, the Guidepost representative told me they were not looking at current operations, but past actions. He said:

I don’t think, you know, first of all, let me just say, I alone am not in a position to reassure you about RZIM’s current changes. That’s not, we’re not looking into what they are doing today. We’re looking into how these things that we know happened, happened, and what can be done to prevent those kinds of things from happening. Whether they’ve changed in the last two months, you know, you’re a better judge of that than I. And maybe collectively, if our whole team sat down, and we talked about what we’re hearing, we would have an opinion about that, about what they’ve done to change in some way.

Earlier, the representative did reassure me about RZIM’s current changes. But at this point in the conversation, the representative denies that he is able to reassure me.

Earlier, the representative says the investigation is over and they are looking into what RZIM is doing today. Now, the representative says they’re not doing that, but they are still looking into past events.

Third Problem: The Guidepost representative repeatedly pressured me to say “yes” to their process.

For most of our call, I explained in detail that RZIM had promised to provide me severance without an NDA. But then, RZIM’s separation agreement contained aggressive NDA language and referenced another NDA. The Guidepost representative summarized it well:

Well, that’s an interesting thing for us to know. And we will take due account of that. It’s, so, well, first of all, it sounds like you’re subject to an NDA anyways. But they’re trying to reinforce it and basically reestablish it. And that’s, as I say, good for us to know.

As an aside, at no point in the call did I experience the Guidepost representative showing support for the difficult situation I was in. I felt that he accurately summarized the facts that I shared, but he lacked sympathy or even urgency to dig in and understand how and why RZIM was currently attempting to get me to sign an NDA.

For instance, he could have said,

This is quite concerning! Can you please forward these emails to me? And the separation agreement you’ve received? And any communication from their lawyer? We’d be most interested to look into all of this. We can’t negotiate for you, but we would definitely want to have this information as we work on our report.

But that did not happen.

In the conversation, I repeatedly made the point that I did not trust RZIM to make any substantive changes as a result of Guidepost’s process. The reason I gave, in detail, was that at the current moment, I had hired a lawyer to fight their attempt to impose an NDA on me, in violation of their own written promises to not require me to sign an NDA. I made the point clear to Guidepost by reading from emails I had received as well as from specific language in the separation agreement. To my mind, both the attempt to force an NDA and the broken promises were good reasons to not trust RZIM.

I explained that I was willing to help RZIM if they were willing to change. But because I lacked trust in RZIM’s commitment to change, I did not want to invest any more time or emotional energy in the Guidepost process. I explained that I needed to move on and establish a new season of my life.

I plainly told the Guidepost representative, “It’s not something I can commit myself to at this point.”

His response? “That’s very disappointing to us. If you’re committed to helping them change, I would think you would want to talk to us.”

I again explained that my real-time interaction with RZIM was not building my trust. I mentioned the anonymous, secret board. I again declined to participate.

Their representative again said they wanted to receive my information.  

I explained that I had already directly shared a lot of information (referencing multiple blog posts). I explained again that I did not see a commitment to transparency and truthfulness, so I did not see how a few more pages in their report would help.

At this point, the representative started to accuse me, saying,

I think you’re prejudging the results. Our job is to find out how to fix things and make recommendations. What tools they accept and what they don’t. But we haven’t given them that yet and we are not in a position to give that to them yet. And by the time that we are we will no longer need your information. But we might miss something because you haven’t given it to us.

The representative continued to explain why I needed to participate in the process and that it would take time for RZIM to change. He assured me again,

I don’t have any reason to think they won’t follow most of our recommendations. They hired us to do this. We’ve had conversations with the leadership about what they hope to come out this. And what they hope from this is a way forward that works for everyone. And I just hope that if you don’t talk to us, I just hope that we won’t miss something that you would have been able to tell us.

I again declined to participate because I am not an employee, needed to focus on other projects, and didn’t want to invest the time and emotional energy. I said,

I’m sure you understand that. To ask me to participate in a process at such cost to myself when I have no reason to believe that I’m seeing any change in my real-time situation that I’ve already given to you. I hope you can appreciate how significant of an ask that is of me and why I would decline at this stage.

After a pause, their representative said, “I’m sorry to say that I don’t really understand.”

I was surprised, but said, “Ok, I’d love to hear your reasoning.” He said, “I just want to be honest with you.” I said, “Please be honest with me.” And he said,

And that is, I don’t have a stake in this either way, and so, but, I just think that. First of all, your involvement in this, I mean, when we started this conversation, I said it probably won’t take more than an hour. It’s one interview. I don’t know that its going to go much beyond that, for an hour. So this is not an interview followed by multiple document requests, followed by depositions, followed by a big legal process. You’re one interview of dozens. That will be aggregated to get an overall sense of what the concerns were. So I hope, maybe, maybe you’re thinking that the time and emotions that you would have to invest in this is more than it really is, first of all. So I want to weigh in on that side of the scale. 

On the other side of the scale, I understand that you would want to move on and provide for your family and leave this behind. And that you don’t see any evidence of them changing. But I’m not the vehicle for their immediate, their changing tomorrow, for them to negotiate with you. That’s, at least not today, and tomorrow. Maybe once our report comes out and maybe once we have recommendations for them, that’s going to be one of them, and I can’t even guarantee you that. I just hope that you would recognize that an hour interview with us is a small contribution to trying to identify the causes and the potential improvements that can be made to the RZIM culture. 

At this point, I realized that he was not going to accept a no from me, so I told him I’d think about it, said we’d heard each other clearly, and we quickly ended the call.

In Summary

In contradiction to my experience of broken promises and the pressure from RZIM to sign an NDA, a Guidepost representative repeatedly assured me of RZIM’s commitment to change. In the conversation, the representative contradicted himself in a variety of ways. And when I repeatedly declined to participate, the representative repeatedly asked me to do so, even to the point of accusing me of being unreasonable.

As Guidepost wrote in their report,

In fact, as we were writing this report, we have heard that individuals to whom we have specifically granted anonymity have been recording our conversations. While we have at times asked individuals not to record our conversations for a variety of reasons, some of them legal, we have no doubt that some interviewees have ignored our request in an effort to promote specific narratives in the future if our report is publicly released. This is symptomatic of the pervasive lack of trust eating at the heart of RZIM (55-56).

This is accurate to a point. But unfortunately, it was also symptomatic of the lack of trust that some former employees had in Guidepost — in part for the reasons I’ve shared above.

Again, it’s important and good that RZIM was investigated and held accountable.

But precisely because holding organizations like RZIM accountable is important, it is critical that Guidepost and any other, similar organization, operates in a way that is trauma-informed. And what breaks my heart is, without this training and commitment, they will themselves cause harm in their attempt to do what is good.