Jeff Haanen

Category

Business

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BusinessEconomyWork

Faith and Entrepreneurship

 

Two weeks ago I shared with our newly formed “Entrepreneur’s Forum,” a quarterly gathering of founders and early stage investors in the Denver area. The topic was faith and entrepreneurship, and I laid out what I thought were three starting points for thinking about entrepreneurship as a Christian: Creation, Fall, and the Great Commandment.

Here’s the audio. Eventually, the audio and the Powerpoint will be available on our new learning platform at Scatter.org.

Enjoy.

 

 

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BusinessCraftsmanship & Manual LaborEconomyWork

The Good Jobs Advantage (Speech Text)

 

Good afternoon. Thanks for joining us to think about good jobs, and how business and nonprofit partnerships are renewing the trades. A particular thank you to our speakers and panelists tonight, and special gratitude to Karla Nugent for hosting us at Weifield Group Electrical Contracting, a fitting location for our topic today. And thank you for allowing a writer, entrepreneur, and former pastor to address you.

Why are we here today?

First, businesses can’t find enough people to work in the trades. Wages are high. Demand is soaring. But we can’t find enough people. The National Association of Homebuilders reported that in July of 2016 there were 225,000 open jobs in homebuilding, the highest level since 2007. Last August, the Associated General Contractors of America found that 85% of Colorado construction companies were having a hard time filling hourly jobs.

What happened? When did working as a carpenter, welder, or electrician drop off the map as a viable option for America’s youth? In this iconic 1932 photo, “Lunch atop a Skyscraper”, the story that Americans largely believed was that these were the people who built America. One question we must ask is, How do we recover the dignity of the trades?

Second, nonprofits are finding that society isn’t working for 2/3 of Americans. America has always prized itself as the land of opportunity. But today, for many that vision is fading.

Nobel Prize winning economist Angus Deaton and his wife, fellow Princeton professor Anne Case, have found that suicide rates have been on a decades long rise. They coined this “deaths of despair,” and found that the “suicide belt” – a run of states in the West with high suicide rates – runs right through Colorado.

Here’s what the stats show: you’re more than twice as likely to kill yourself if you only have a high school degree rather than a college degree.

And only about a third of Americans have a college degree. In short, life is working out pretty well for the college educated, but has steadily deteriorated for those without college degrees.

Nicholas Eberstadt’s book Men Without Work shows that from 1948 to 2015, the percentage of prime age men in the workforce dropped from 85.8% to 68.2%, a rate lower than it was in the 1930s, during the Great Depression. So, people that could be working are choosing not to and are instead dropping out of the workforce.

These growing class divides are causing anger, especially in rural America. The American dream is intact for 1/3 of Americans; and splintering for 2/3s of Americans.

Our nonprofits are seeing this, and trying to move more people into career track jobs. But this is hard work. Housing issues. Racism. Broken Families. Addiction. Mass incarceration. We see huge challenges in American life, especially for our underserved communities. Jobs are there, but our civic fabric has been crumbling.

Third, what binds together businesses and nonprofits today is we share a common belief that a good job is the surest way to get somebody out of poverty, and keep them out of poverty. It’s also the best way to build a sustainable, profitable business.

I’m going to come back to that idea. And I’m also going to kick us off this afternoon with three, very practical tips you can apply to your business tomorrow. But first, by way of trying to solve these problems, let me speak briefly about the stories we tell ourselves about our work, why I believe they’re broken, and why they’re SO critical to workforce development.

A Story about Business

Let me start off by addressing that top 1/3 of America, those with college degrees. These are the people who are leading businesses today, and probably the majority of people in this room.  

In other contexts, I’ve spoken at length why I believe business is inherently good. It provides the goods and services we need, the jobs we depend on, and the wealth needed to afford those goods and services.

Yet as I see it today, the purpose of business has become either “mere profit or my personal success.” It tends to ask only, How can I personally be successful?

The problem is that it tends to look at people, both customers and employees, as a means to the end. It uses people to serve money, rather than uses money to serve people. This gets us stuck. We see people like interchangeable parts of a machine – and so we build systems that move people in and out. High turnover is built into the cost of doing business. It’s because our story about the purpose of business is distorted.

Yet as a person of Christian faith, I believe the purpose of business is linked to the great commandment: to “love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Business is a way to love and provide for our neighbors. The view of business broadens its purpose to serving many stakeholders:  including investors, owners, and customers, but also employees and communities. The key question becomes: how can I serve? And what role can my business play in the broader flourishing of this community?

Faith leads us to a story about business that evolves from serving mere money to serving people. And, when people are served, long term, those companies are more profitable.

A Story about Work

Now let’s talk about the rest of America, the 2/3 of Americans without college degrees. The story about work is very different. It’s not about achievement. It goes like this: work is painful. Work is just something I have to do until I make enough money and don’t have to work anymore.  This is not everybody. But for many Americans, work is more about survival than pleasure, and they’d rather not do it.

The stats bear this out: Gallup says nearly 70% of Americans are disengaged from their jobs.

Where does this idea come from? Take the example of Pandora’s Box, from Greek mythology. The story goes like this: Zeus told Pandora not to open the box, and Pandora was so curious, she stole the key and opened it. And out come sickness, crime, envy, hate, and worry – evil. You know what else came out? Work!  Work was a curse. For the Greeks, the highest life was that of philosophers, who thought about ideas all day. Manual labor was for slaves.

But let me contrast that story with the Hebrew origin story. In this story, God creates the physical world in six days, calls it good, and directly says that it was work. In the book of Hebrews, God is once called an Architect and Builder of the heavenly city. And when the invisible God wanted to show himself to the world, he became a tekton. A craftsman. Jesus was a carpenter, and possibly a stone mason.

One story says manual labor is for slaves. The other says manual labor is the work of the Son of God!

Let me share with you an observation from much of Colorado’s workforce development conversation today. We’re still trying to motivate people with just money. It goes like this: you can make more money than your college-educated peers, so get a job in the trades.

This won’t work.

We all want to know that the work itself we’re doing has worth. We all want to know we’re making a contribution to the human story with our lives.

Justin Hales was an electrician’s apprentice here at Weifield. Here’s how he described his work: “Two years ago, they put me on the platform at Union Station. I would lay out the floors, locate everything, like a switch or outlet on the wall. “When you turn your pipes, make them uniform—that’s art.” He pauses. “It probably goes unnoticed to the average person, but we see it. We take pride in our work.”

The story we tell about the meaning and value of work is critical to renewing the trades.

Now, let me give you three things you can practically use as business leaders who are looking to solve the labor challenges in Colorado’s construction market today.

  1. Attracting talent with just pay is no longer enough. It requires a culture shift toward building companies that benefit all stakeholders.

The labor market is too tight, and everybody is now offering higher paying jobs. This is just enough to get you in the game. But what will distinguish you from your competitors?

Let me use an example not far from home: our friend Karla Nugent, who is hosting us today. Years ago Karla decided to have a community impact with Weifield. They started to give philanthropically to four areas: the less fortunate, women, children, and veterans. They also did staff volunteer days, where her employees would spend time volunteering on the clock. It gave her entire company a sense of ownership, a sense that it’s for employees, that it’s about something bigger than just making money.

They also started working with community nonprofits to fill their own labor shortages, which we’ll hear about later this afternoon.

Businesses need to satisfy investors and customers. But I think employees are the critical element in business success. 

Co-founder of Southwest Airlines Herb Kelleher put it well and simply: “We take great care of our people, they take great care of our customers, and our customers take great care of our shareholders.” Happy employees mean happy customers. This creates happy investors, which means business can create more value for our communities.

People will be attracted to work at a company with a strong sense of mission, purpose, and community good.  Nobody wants to believe that their work is only about making you – or even themselves – money. It must go deeper.

Attracting talent with just pay is no longer enough. It requires a culture-shift toward building companies that benefit all stakeholders.

  1. Attracting the right talent also requires a culture-shift toward designing and investing in good jobs.

Let me share another story with you. I was speaking with a bright woman who does workforce development in Colorado. She expressed to me what fine work they do to prepare people through pre-apprenticeship programs for careers in the trades. Here’s what she told me: 

“The real problem is not in the training, but in the companies that hire them. I’ve seen far too many construction companies treat new employees like just a pair of hands – hours are terrible, there’s no chance for advancement, workplace culture is toxic, and benefits are scarce. We need companies who not just hire people for dead end jobs, but create good jobs where people can find a hope and a future.”

That is, some jobs are actually bad jobs that can hurt, not help, people’s lives!

Wow, strong words. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There’s a new movement afoot. Zeynep Ton’s books The Good Jobs Strategy, Jim Clifton’s The Coming Jobs War, and some of the best research on workforce development put out but the Pinkerton Foundation – which my bright friend Dan Kaskubar at Activate Workforce Solutions alerted me to – points to the companies who are re-thinking how they design work in order attract loyal, high quality talent. The key elements of a good job are:

  • Wages sufficient to reach the middle class
  • Stable, yet flexible schedules
  • Benefits
  • Healthy workplace culture
  • Opportunities for advancement
  • Pride in their work

This is not only a recruiting and placement question: this is a question for the top business minds in America. How do we create profitable models, and win the ever-narrowing war for talent? Job quality matters deeply.  

Some Colorado companies are investing in people only dedicated to supporting their employees

A quick example: This is Adrienne Tafilowski. Her job title is Care Team Culture Director at L&R Pallet, a Pallet company here in NE Denver that employees over 80 refugees from Myanmar. She was brought on by her boss James Ruder originally to support his employees, the majority of whom are Burmese immigrants. She does things like connect employees to services at nonprofits for needs ranging from transportation to financial counseling; when there are family issues she finds support; they even have a staff soccer team.

As a result, L&R Pallet is winning. Their annual retention number dropped from 300%-400% average annual turnover rate – to 30%. Their culture changed from being self-described as “toxic” to “a family.” A good job for frontline employees is intimately connected to the overall health of the business.

  1. Finally, attracting talent requires that we participate in and support the entire workforce development ecosystem. 

An ecosystem is a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment. In short, in ecosystems, each part needs the others. 

The problem is, today we tend to just think about our own needs. We have to think outside of our organizations and strengthen the entire workforce development ecosystem if we’re going to build strong businesses that serve the 2/3 of Americans who are suffering.

Businesses create jobs and the wealth we all need to support our families; governments set the rules of the game, and establish a fair playing field; nonprofits represent the voiceless and connect people to opportunities and critical services; churches deal with the spirit, and the renewed heart. We need each other.

Historically, business and government have a tense working relationship. But right now, we need government to work on issues like the cliff effect in order to support employees inside of businesses that are earning too much to receive government support, but not enough to be self-sufficient.

Nonprofits are often seen as junior partners – or ignored. But they are the key advocates for the poor in American today. If we don’t give a voice to the voiceless, all of our workforce development initiatives will come to naught.

And I even believe religion must have a seat at the table. The Princeton economists I cited who have studied “deaths of despair” said they believe the key driver is a “spiritual and moral crisis,” where people lose the will to live. People are moral and spiritual creatures. If we don’t’ look at core beliefs, core wounds, and deep inner healing, our workforce will always feel less than human while at work. We must allow our churches, mosques, and synagogues a place at the table.

Though we don’t have to become faith-based, assuming everybody shares our believes, I believe we can all become faith-friendly. This means we don’t exclude people’s deepest held beliefs but invites them to the table as a core element of a rich, full life.

Again, I’d like to use our host tonight, Weifield Group Contracting, as an illustration. They have lots of jobs to be filled, but in the last 12 years, they’ve grown from a new company to over 300 employees. Here’s what’s interesting: I see Weifield everywhere in our civic ecosystem – at functions that don’t directly benefit Weifield,  like charity fundraisers, Denver Business Journal events, and Denver Institute gatherings. They actually care about the community for its own sake. And you know what happens, people are attracted to Weifield. A top place to work in Denver is also a top notch company.

Weifield Group is a living example of a rule I’ve found to be just as true in the business sector as in our charitable giving: Give and it shall be given to you.

A brief summary:

  1. Attracting talent with just pay is no longer enough. It requires a culture-shift toward building companies that benefit all stakeholders.
  1. Attracting the right talent also requires a culture-shift toward designing and investing in good jobs.
  1. Finally, attracting talent requires that we participate in and support the entire workforce development ecosystem.

 

This speech was originally given on April 5, 2018 at the Denver Institute event “Good Jobs: How Businesses and Nonprofits are Partnering Together to Renew the Trades.” 

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BusinessWork

Theology for Business (Keynote)

 

On June 15, 2017, I gave a keynote entitled “Theology for Business” at Denver Institute for Faith & Work’s annual business event. Since I’ve come back to this talk several times, both in my writing and speaking, I thought I’d post it here. (Here’s the video.) I hope it helps you as you consider how the gospel might inform the culture of your business. 

Thanks for coming. I’m really looking forward to learning from our panelists today and from all of you.

Theology for business. What do these two worlds – church and business – have to do with each other? Christian theology doesn’t get a lot of air time at Harvard Business Review or even the Denver Business Journal. Neither does marketing, strategy or raising capital get mentioned much at church. But we find ourselves, here, today feeling like something is missing from both our church lives and our business lives.

Here’s what I mean. How would we answer, “What is the purpose of business?” It’s a good place to start, but we find ourselves with less-than-fulfilling answers. (1) Business culture: Famously, Milton Friedman has said that business only has one purpose: maximize share-holder value. That is, the purpose is merely to make profit. But this paradigm is diminishing. Profit is important, but as Max De Pree, the former CEO of Herman Miller, once said, “Profit is like breath. You need to breath to live, but you don’t live to breath.” Companies that are just living for profit don’t live very long.

Across the US today, from Fortune to Forbes, people are searching for deeper purpose for their business. Having a social mission is key to attracting millennial talent. But what is the overarching purpose for business? There are as many answers to this as there are businesses!

Each company defines their own firm’s mission, vision and values, I often find, acts like a religious community! Many companies are more mission-driven and have more rituals and strict practices that require more obedience than most churches I’ve seen! One company in town even makes new employees cross a literal bridge as an expression of loyalty to the company.

Everybody – and every company – is searching for its own purpose, and rarely asking, might there actually be a single, unifying purpose to business overall?

(2) Church: How would most people in church answer the question of purpose in business? Here’s the implicit assumption, “You’re in business, and I work at a church or nonprofit. Your job is to make as much money as you can and give it to us.” Here’s a significant pain point: so many with business-gifting end up feeling like ATM machines around church and nonprofit leaders. If this is you, let me say “I’m sorry.” We can do better.

(3) Conferences Like this often would say the purpose of business is to host a workplace Bible study, and get your co-workers to join you. Now, I’m all for workplace bible studies and evangelism. The challenge with this view is that we’re not really talking about business. It’s simply transporting church activity into a business setting. What about, though, the actual nuts and bolts of business? Supply chain, hiring practices, management. Does theology say anything about that?

Here’s the upshot: we’re here because we often feel lonely. (1) Lonely as one of the few believers in a secular company, (2) Lonely at church, often feeling misunderstood or objectified as a business leader. (3) And sometime lonely even at gatherings like this, hoping to find a vision for business in God’s redemptive story, yet leaving with only workplace bible study materials.

Add to that, we’ve never been taught to think about theology and business leadership together. But today, let me make the case that Christian theology is just as important for your business life as finance, operations or sales, customers or employees.

As we launch into our event, let me frame our discussions this morning with 5 doctrines that I believe can be transformative for our business practices.    

First, the doctrine of CREATION and FALL calls us to THINK THEOLOGICALLY about the purpose of business.

The purpose of business is to provide for the needs of world by serving customers and creating meaningful work, while giving glory to God.

Let’s unpack this. In Genesis, work is a gift from God. God works for 6 days in creation, and then rests for one day. And he gives work to Adam in Genesis 2:15 the work of gardening – taking the raw materials of the world and making them suitable for human flourishing.

So, grain, for instance, by itself isn’t much good. But after work, it becomes bread. Grapes are good, but after a vintner gets ahold of them they become wine. Work bring creation from “good” to “very good.” Martin Luther saw this, and said that work is the way God provides for our needs. My friend Tim Weinhold says it even more boldly, “Business is God’s intended partner in his great work as Provider for all of humankind.”

Houses. Pipes. Sandwiches. Paper. Clothing. Business provides. When I go to King Sooper’s after getting back from the majority world, I’m still astounded at the power of business to provide. As as such, it reflects God’s character, who, in the story of Abraham and Isaac is called “The Lord Provides.” Different kinds of work reflect different aspects of God’s character: in health care, God as a Healer; in law, God as Judge and Advocate; art, God as Creative Artist; in business, God is Provider.

It provides three things:

  • The goods and services we depend on every day.

For example, my friend Dan Dye is the CEO of Ardent Mills, based here in Denver. They’re the largest flour producer in the US. Get this: over 100 million Americans per day eat an Ardent Mills product. He sees his work as nourishing the world. He SERVES.

  • Meaningful work.

For example, my friend Karla Nugent, the chief business development officer at Weifield Group Electrical contracting has over 300 employees. For her, providing work is an opportunity for people to express their God-given talents and skills while contributing to a better world. For many, Weifield is a transformative place of dignity and community engagement. It’s where people bear the image of God, the Creator.

  • The wealth we need to afford those goods and services.

My other friend Barry Rowan, former CFO for Vonage, says this: “Business is only institution that creates wealth; all other institutions distribute it.”  Wealth creation is indeed incredible. Through business, wealth can be created from nothing, allowing abundance and prosperity. We don’t live in a zero sum economy. This is why more theologians need to be talking about “responsible wealth creation”, just as we will over the lunch hour today.

Because of the power of business, many consider business as a “holy calling.” Actually, a book we’re selling today, by Tim Dearborn, goes by that title. It’s a chance to provide for our neighbor’s most basic needs.

Business has an incredible power to provide for our needs through serving customers through quality goods and services, creating meaningful work, and creating the wealth needed to purchase those goods and service. Business is an extension of God’s own CREATION.

But The FALL happened, too. After Adam ate the fruit, sin entered the world, and our work and our business practices. You can see this, epecially the Prophets.  Let me give you an example example:

Micah 6:8: He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Now, we usually stop reading there. But Micah doesn’t.

This is the next verse, which speaks to Israel’s business practices at the time. “Listen! The Lord is calling to the city— … Am I still to forget your ill-gotten treasures, you wicked house, and the short ephah, which is accursed? Shall I acquit someone with dishonest scales, with a bag of false weights?” God saw something: people were engaged not in value creation but value extraction.

The story is this: in the time of the Kings of Israel, its leaders forgot the covenant and the law of God. They ceased worshipping the Lord, and they began to worship false gods. The core evidence of this was that they ceased to practice Sabbath. This is why there are so many calls back to practicing Sabbath in the OT. It was a call back to worship for all of society.

When Israel never stopped from the work, the workers in their households never had a rest, they were commodified for the sake of profit, and oppression spread. Idolatry caused injustice.

In Israel’s history, this idolatry was just as common among judges or priests as it was merchants, but the point is the same: business has a good purpose, yet because of sin, it can become distorted. The hinge between provision and oppression is which God you worship.

The Bible gives us a way to see both the goodness of Creation & distortion of the Fall, which makes business neither savior of the world nor the enemy of the people, but instrument for God’s blessing in the hands of his followers.  For Whose Glory, then, becomes the question in business, which can restore it to it’s good purpose.

The purpose of business is to provide for the needs of world by serving customers and creating meaningful work, while giving glory to God.

Second, the doctrine of the TRINITY calls us to EMBRACE RELATIONSHIPS.

Second, let me get to relationships and business by showing you first a graph. 70% of the American workforce is disengaged from work; 54% experience some kind of sleep interruption due to work; 83% feel stressed at work; 60% are still connected to work on their off time; 51% of you in this room are looking for a job change (I hope that’s not true of my staff!); and only 21% feel their well-managed. Ouch.

Now, take a look at this. Take a look at the top 9 factors that drive employee engagement: Basic Needs: (1) Understand expectations; (2) Have necessary tools and equipment; Individual Needs (3) Opportunity to do best work, (4) Receive recognition and praise for their work, (5) Cared for as a person, (6) Development is encouraged Teamwork Needs: (7) Opinions Count, (8) Understand link to the Mission and organization, (9) Associates committed to good work, (9) Have a friend at work.

The point: America doesn’t broadly want to be working, yet they spend 100,000 hours of their life working. And what drives engagement is heavily relational. Feeling valued.

As it is today, we often discuss employees in terms of human resources, as if they were just one of the many resources needed in a company. But in the creation narrative, people come first, work is second. This makes sense, because God is relationships. Here’s my second point, 2. God is relationship – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and healthy businesses are bound together through healthy relationships based on a foundation of trust.

Even in the digital age, today, because we are made in God’s image, we still long for face-to-face relationships. We want to know others and be known.

Also, we see that the further up we go in an organization, the more important relationships of trust become. When business problems occur, more often than not, there are issues of trust or some kind of relational fracture. When business and economies go well, there is trust is the glue that holds them together. Drew Yancey, who is moderating our panel on entrepreneurship today, has made this point to me several times.

Today we have the privilege of hearing from Steve Reinemund, former PepsiCo CEO and dean of the Babcock School of Management at Wake Forest University. He’s seen this workplace disengagement statistics. But he’s also helped lead transformational efforts to reengage employees at his company. Here’s what he says. “We need people in business that understand business is a noble profession, that makes a difference in the lives of people.”

Core to the idea of faith at work for us at DIFW is the idea of “embrace relationships” because we long for connection, reconciliation, partnership, team – relationship. And business needs people willing to practice self-giving love, like the love inside the Trinity.

THIRD, the doctrine of the RESURRECTION calls us to CREATE GOOD WORK.

Why don’t we talk more about business at church? It forms the fabric of our cities, provides the employment we need, the goods and services we use, and the wealth we spend. I have a theory: we don’t think it’s a part of the gospel, or the “good news.”

The story goes like this: the gospel is that Jesus died for our sins so that after we die we can be with him in heaven. That is, the Bible is about saving souls, not the actual world we live in. AS IS, we struggle to relate faith to work, theology to business.

Let me suggest a broader story. Jesus did die for our sins. But he also rose again on the third day. And here’s what’s interesting about the resurrection story, especially in the gospel of John. It takes place in a garden. Jesus rises not on the last day of the week, but the first day of the week – Sunday. When Christians have traditionally worshipped. John is saying: Look, the world came apart on Good Friday, but the new creation has begun with the resurrection of Christ.

Our daily work matters because God is redeeming not just individual souls but all of creation. Christians look forward to the redemption of all things, in a city of all places. God does not abandon his creation, including our work in business. In 1 Corinthians 15, an entire chapter about the resurrection and death being “swallowed up” by life, Paul concludes: Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” It’s not in vain because the resurrection means the beginning of a new, physical world – one that includes our work in his heavenly city.

The resurrection means every spreadsheet, every transaction, and every dollar and every product is part of the scope of redemption. It also invites us to be imaginative. What might my industry or company look like fully restored?

Our Fellows asked these questions with their final, year-end projects this year. Catherine, who works at a credit union, imagined a “selfless sales” model, rewarding customer satisfaction not only moving more products that often weren’t needed. Christiana, an urban planner in Denver, implemented new training for her to prevent compassion burnout for those often yelled at in city council meetings. Banks, one of our presenters today, brought people from vastly different walks of life – the evangelical community and the gay community, the black community and the white community, republicans and democrats, together for a common meal, to listen, and heal divides.

Instead of looking to purpose for our businesses as merely profit or whatever big company is featured in the latest publication, the resurrection is an enduring fuel of hope and creativity for our work.

  1. The doctrine of VOCATION calls us to SEEK DEEP SPIRITUAL HEALTH.

Let me tell you a story. I have four daughters. And so Saturday’s during the summer we go to swim meets. This last Saturday, I was watching these kids of all ages, race to cheers in the hot summer sun. Some of these kids are like fish – not only the teenagers, but 8, 9 10 year olds blowing through the water. Even many of the 6 year olds are impressive, making it all the way to the end of the pool.

One race of 6 year olds: the buzzer sounds, the kids belly flop off the block into the pool, and start their front crawl. All were doing great: except Reese. Reese jumps in, and immediately, he just tries to make it to the surface, in a panic. He’s gasping for air, grabbing for the buoys, wondering what he’s gotten himself into. It’s too deep. He can’t touch. He can’t go back. Parents cheer! Reese just tries to survive.

I had a revelation at this moment. This is exactly what it feels like to be an entrepreneur. Everybody is cheering, others seem to be excelling, and here you are, flapping around wildly, just trying to survive. And take one stroke, two stokes, toward the other end of the pool.

Today, we’re talking about “Caring for the Soul of Entrepreneurs” – because in the speed and exhilaration of starting and building a business, there’s often fear, chaos, uncertainty. Who are we becoming? In our souls, in the secret place.

Today, we have a panel of VCs and entrepreneurs who will both share war stories, but plunge beneath the surface to ask hard questions about character and entrepreneurship – with honesty and grace.

The doctrine of vocation is not about finding your ideal job. The word vocation comes form the latin root vox, or voice: it’s about responding to the voice of God in the day to day lives, including our business decisions. Traditionally, vocation means first responding to His call to “love the lord your god with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” ­

As it is today, we live in a culture framed by a humanistic story, especially in tech start-up world. And the story is pretty simple. It goes like this: The humanistic story says there is no problem that human beings can’t fix. This story is especially prevalent in the tech sector today. But the reason I know this story isn’t true is that I can’t even fix myself. 

We need others as we learn to respond to God’s call in our hearts and our work lives.

  1. The CROSS calls us to SERVE OTHERS SACRIFICIALLY.

Today more business leaders than ever want to emphasize their social impact and sit on nonprofit boards. And in many circumstances, our secular neighbors are doing good work that Christians can look to as a model and can partner with.

But here’s my question? what about when our public acts don’t pad our resumes, but actually cost us? And are difficult? And not seen by others?

Central to the gospel is that Christ gave his life for ours. He took our punishment on himself; his death brought us life. It’s one thing talk talk about customer service in our business, or even creating a company of “love.” But it’s another to talk about sacrificial love.

The biblical model for the righteous business man is Boaz, found the book of Ruth. Boaz was a land owner, and practiced “gleaning,” which is essentially an old testament law that told land owners not to harvest to the very edges of their fields, but to allow the poor to collect what was left over to provide for their families. That is, he allowed the poor to work in his fields out of obedience to the law, summoned up by “love your neighbor as yourself.” Interestingly enough, this businessman ended up marry Ruth, an immigrant, and through his righteousness, he became the great grandfather of King David, and became part of the Line of the Messiah himself.

Why do I mention this? Work has an incredible power to alleviate poverty today. One of our panel discussions is entitled, “Good Jobs: A Strategy for Profit and Poverty Alleviation.”  We will have the chance to observe something truly unique: a key nonprofit leader, Jason Janz, who is providing top quality job training for men and women in poverty; Helen Hayes, CEO of Activate Workforce Solutions, who is working to place these men and women in good, career level jobs that can break the cycle of poverty, and Michael Coors and Irma Lockridge at Coors Tek, who are hiring the Ruth’s of our day, and providing jobs that complete the transformative cycle. We’ll have a chance to see what I call “the good jobs pipeline” and ask – what might it look like if hundreds of Christian managers and businesses owners saw “love your neighbor” as the motivation behind their HR practices, and did so not to make a name for themselves, but simply because at the cross, I have been so deeply, and perfectly loved?

Moreover, what if another Christian doctrine influenced the workforce development conversation in Colorado: that all people are made in God’s image? Where the hundreds of workforce development programs leave it today is that all people have self-worth and dignity. But the creation story brings a transformative idea to to the table: that human dignity is primarily expressed through work, just as God the Creator works.

THEOLOGY FOR BUSINESS? Yes.

Summary. Here’s my point: Christian theology is fundamental to our business practices. Christian faith calls us to think theologically about the purpose of business, to embrace relationships, to create work in a spirit of hope, to admit our flaw as we seek deep spiritual health, and to serve others sacrificially in our city.  

My prayer is that today you might leave here for your own work and business life. And that the question For Whose Glory? Might be one you take with you today into the office tomorrow.

BusinessCraftsmanship & Manual LaborWork

The Good Jobs Advantage – Keynote

 

In Colorado today, business can’t find enough people to work in the trades, and nonprofits are finding that society isn’t working for about 2/3 of Americans. Yet businesses and nonprofits agree: a good job is the surest way to get somebody out of poverty, and keep them out of poverty.

How do our stories about business and work affect our views about manual labor and the trades? What can business owners do to attract and keep the right talent so that their business – and their community – can flourish?

Recently I gave a keynote entitled “The Good Jobs Advantage,” targeted toward business owners and workforce development professionals who are eager to build healthy businesses and better serve our community’s work force. I begin with framing the cultural problem we find ourselves in. Then I cover how Christian teachings can help correct distorted views about work and business. And I conclude with three practical points with how business can attract and keep the right talent for their companies.

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BusinessWork

Wealth Disparity and Job Creation

 

Perhaps the best response to wealth disparity in America today can be summarized in two words: Karla Nugent.

Karla is the Chief Business Development Officer at Weifield Group Electrical Contracting in Denver. In 2014, she won the Denver Business Journal’s 2014 Corporate Citizen of the year award. Why? Denver’s economy is booming, and as the economy has required more skilled laborers, Weifield has hired more electricians. In the building boom, Karla saw a chance to serve.

Behind Karla’s leadership, Weifield opened up a philanthropic arm that donates to four communities: women & children, head of household, military and “less fortunate.” But they also brought the needs to the community right into their company. She created an apprentice program in partnership with Denver Rescue Mission, Stout Street, and Peer One – local nonprofits that work with the homeless, formerly incarcerated and other at-risk communities.

Weifield hires people coming out of homeless or other at-risk situations to work in a pre-fabrication process. If new trainees can complete the process, Weifield will pay for 100% of their education to become fully certified electricians. Thus far, 43 out of 45 apprentices have made it through the program.  Many have gone from homelessness to making an average of $50,000/yr. Not bad.

After an in-house graduation ceremony for new electricians, a mother approached Karla in tears and said, “Everybody had given up on my son. But you believed in him. You gave him a new life. Thank you.

Fury or Faithfulness?

Debates of wealth disparity in modern American life can generate a lot of fury.

There’s fury over the 1%-ers. How can CEOs make so much money while the wages of lower and middle class Americans stagnate? Isn’t capital bound to accumulate in the 21st century – unless we levy steep taxes on the wealthy?

There’s fury over plans to redistribute wealth. Haven’t government schemes to redistribute wealth trapped people in the welfare system – and been even less effective when given as aid to developing nations? Who is the government play Robin Hood – stealing from the rich and giving to the poor? Doesn’t it do more harm than good?

There’s fury over wasteful consumption. How can we pay so much for new houses, cars, cable TV plans, and trips to Cancun — while racking up ever more debt? Doesn’t our uncontrolled spending ignore the plight of the poor farmer in Nicaragua or the working single mother in Detroit, just looking for a chance to “make it?”

Much of this fury is understandable. I’ve felt it too. But is there a better way to heal the growing economic divide?

After observing people like Karla, I’ve decided to ask a different question: what do my low-income brothers and sisters really want? When we actually ask the poor what they really need, the answer is resoundingly clear: We want a good job.” 

Jim Clifton, the president of Gallup, says in The Coming Jobs War: “Of the 7 billion people in the world, there are 5 billion adults aged 15 and older. Of these 5 billion, 3 billion tell Gallup they desire a full-time job. Only 1.3 billion actually have a good job” (Gallup defines a good job as one with 30+ hours of work a week with a consistent paycheck from an employer.) Which means that 1.7 billion people are just looking for a good job to support their families. 

When it comes to wealth disparity, the biblical testimony clearly has a central role for generosity (Mk. 12:41-44, Js 1.5, Matt. 5: 45, 7:11; Eph. 5:1, 1 Tim 6:6). God himself is generous. He gives freely to us, and we are to imitate his generosity with our time, skills and financial capital.

But the Bible also places an emphasis on allowing the poor the dignity of working to provide for their own needs. 

Take the Old Testament practice of gleaning (Lev. 19:9-10). First, land owners were to leave the margins of their field unharvested. Second, they were not to pick up whatever fell to the ground. And third, they were to harvest their fields only once. Why? To allow the poor and resident aliens (immigrants) the chance to provide for their families through working the field and collecting enough food for their families.

It is not only through charity, but through work, that God had always intended to heal the inequalities of society and provide for the needs of the world.

So what would it look like to do this in modern American life? Let me suggest three ideas:

  1. Create space for both generosity and gleaning in your company. Give generously of your profits. All mature Christian business owners I know do this. But also consider a program like Weifield Group’s apprentice program – whereby you reserve a portion of total new hires for the difficult-to-employ. My friend Wes Gardner also does this at Prime Trailer leasing – to the benefit of both the new employees and existing employees, who are energized by a renewed social mission of their company.
  2. Teach, trust, give time. This the mantra of Julius Walls, former CEO of Greyston Bakery. Greyston provides the fudge brownies for Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream and also practices “open hiring.” Applying the concept of the biblical jubilee, Walls’ employees can be hired no matter their background. How can this work to hire ex-cons and former alcoholics? Teach, trust, give time. Teach them to do the job well; trust that they can do it; and give them time. Trust is key. Walls found that he was often the first person to have ever really trusted them. And the results were transformative.
  3. Think big. John Coors was born wealthy. Heir to the Coors beer fortune, John has often felt a deep obligation to care for the poor, widow, orphan and foreigner (he has 10 kids , 6 adopted.) After seeing many donation-based schemes to help Africa’s poor collapse, he created 1001 Voices, a private equity fund in South Africa investing in high growth potential businesses in South Africa. Their first investment was in RedSun, a South-African raising processing business. It’s expected to create 3,700 jobs in 18 months, and provide workers with an average salary of $4,916/yr, in a municipality where the average household income per year is $2,625.

I can understand all the fury around modern wealth disparities. But instead of stirring up more online ruckus and partisan blame, let’s ask a different question. What would it look like to follow Karla’s lead and give to others the same gift God has given to us: the gift of work?

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BusinessCultureFaith and Work MovementWork

The Internet’s Best Place to Start Learning about Faith & Work

 

Ok, maybe that blog post title is hyperbolic. But it’s not far off from the truth.

For the past four years, Denver Institute has amassed tons of articles, videos, blog posts, curricula and other resources on work, calling, culture and various industries. When our team looked at these, it was kinda overwhelming. Even for us!

So we decided to make our resources easier to navigate, find, and use through our new “Learn” page.

Here’s what we did. (1) We organized the page below into topics/industries. From there, pick something that piques your interest, like calling or health care or business.

(2) Inside of each page, we teed up 2-3 featured blog posts as a great place to start thinking about that industry/topic, along with a couple of recommended videos.

(3) For those with really curious minds, we have our own short courses linked on the bottom of these pages on our (forthcoming) content platform, Scatter.

Of course, I’m biased, but for those who care about what faith means for our work and our world, I think this is one of the internet’s best resources.

(Do you have a killer article, book, or resource we should feature? Send it our way: [email protected])

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BusinessWork

The Four Postures Toward Faith in the Workplace

By Jeff Haanen

How do should I think about the role of faith in my company? How do corporations in America today handle issues surrounding spirituality in the workplace?

I recently had this conversation with David Miller who leads Princeton University’s Faith at Work Initiative and is the author of God at Work: The History and Promise of the Faith at Work Movement (Oxford University Press, 2011). He’s been asking these questions for decades and has worked with everybody from Tyson Foods to, more recently, the executive team at Citigroup. As a trained ethicist, he often is called in to field thorny moral questions among America’s corporate elite (The Banker Turned Seminarian Trying to Save Citigroup’s Soul, Wall Street Journal). But he’s also a trusted voice among Fortune 500 CEOs on the role faith should – and should not – play in the workplace.

David has proposed a simple model that I find incredibly helpful, especially for leaders of publicly traded companies or companies with co-founders or investors who come from different faith backgrounds. In my own work among executives in Denver, I’ve found David’s framework to be a practically helpful tool helping companies create open, non-threatening environments for employees to bring their whole selves to work – including their faith.

There are four main positions that businesses and corporations take when it comes to the role of faith in the workplace.

  1. Faith-avoiding. 

In this framework, a company’s leadership has actively decided to avoid topics related to faith or religion. “That’s not appropriate here,” is the message, either overtly or implicitly. For example, Muslim prayer 5 times a day or Jewish dietary restrictions in the office kitchen are avoided as topics for dialogue. Faith in these contexts is seen as inappropriate for the workplace and best left for the home or a weekend church service. In the “faith avoiding” posture, religious expressions of employees are actively pushed to the margins or seen as irrelevant to the business.

Example: Abercrombie. Samantha Elauf, a Muslim teen, was turned down for a job at Abercrombie because she wore a headscarf. Though this case was a high-profile case of overt religious discrimination, many companies simply avoid the topic and are ill-prepared when issues of faith arise that affect the company. This posture toward faith is prevalent in many universities, governmental institutions and publicly-traded companies. They generally avoid the topic of religion or leave it to the HR department to deal with on an individual basis.

Challenge: On the most extreme side of the “faith avoiding” company, religious employees can fear being fired for expressing their beliefs. They often feel it necessary to hide their church, synagogue or mosque membership because of a perceived bias against them or the concern that they will be passed over for a promotion because of religious belief.

Though many companies default to this position because of not wanting to offend any one particular faith, this overcorrection can even be unconstitutional, as religious expression such as asking a co-worker to accept Jesus as Savior is protected by the first amendment.

Yet for nearly all companies, the problem with this posture toward religion has to do with respecting and embracing a diverse workforce. “Cultural competence is a big buzz word right now,” says  George Bennett, president of the New York based Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding. “But you can’t be culturally competent without understanding something about religion, because religion is the largest component of culture. You have to figure out how to tap into your internal diversity resources.”  Avoiding the core motivations people have about life, meaning, and God prevents the opportunity for a company to harness an employee’s deepest passions and beliefs for the good of the organization.

  1. Faith-tolerant.

More common in corporate America, however, is the second option: faith-tolerant. Here religion is tolerated yet not embraced by a business or corporation. Instead of avoiding the topic, the company allows an employee’s personal beliefs to inform their work and job responsibilities. Faith-tolerant companies will often provide accommodation to employees through the HR department. For example, policies will be made that address harassment on a religious basis, train supervisors in religious accommodation, and adapt for flexible work schedules based on religious holidays or holy days.

Example: Fannie Mae. The home finance giant has worked to include employee needs – including religious ones – into its culture. The diversity office sponsors 16 employee network groups, including five that are religiously affiliated. They also have a multicultural calendar and allow for significant cultural and religious expression, whether that be religious or secular in nature.

The faith-tolerant model provides a limited place for religious observance and practice in the company or organization, yet does not actively host or initiate conversations around faith in the workplace.

Challenge: The greatest challenge with the faith tolerant is that employees want to be more than tolerated by their employers. They want to bring their full selves to work, especially Millennials. “The old paradigm of leaving your beliefs behind when you go to work is no longer satisfying,” says Stew Friedman, professor of management and director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project. “More than ever, people want work that fits in with a larger sense of purpose in life. For many people, that includes a concept of God, or something like it.”  Simply tolerating expressions of faith when then arise falls short of most employee’s hopes to be fully embraced and accepted at the place they work.

  1. Faith-based.

The third option is perhaps the most cited among Christian networks of business leaders: faith- based. In this model, the faith of the founders or owners is woven into the day-to-day operations of the company. This can mean the CEO is overt about his or her own faith in corporate communication, adopts religious symbolism throughout the company’s corporate culture, and will sometimes hold prayer groups, Bible studies, or evangelistic meetings at the workplace. In these contexts, executives have self-consciously woven religious practice into the actual business itself and are overt about their own ultimate beliefs and how they have influenced the company, whether these be Christian, Jewish, Buddhist or secular.

Examples: Chick-Fil-A is the typical example for a faith-based company. Their restaurants are closed on Sunday (the Christian Sabbath day) and contemporary Christian music is played at the restaurants. Yet the ways entrepreneurs and CEOs express their faith is broad and diverse, and span the religious spectrum.

Talia Mashiach, founder of Eved, an e-commerce company gleans wisdom from the Torah for her company; Islamic bank owners follow a unique set of regulations because of the Koran’s prohibition of charging interest; and Whole Foods stocks Shambhala Sun, “today’s best-selling and most widely read Buddhist magazine,” because the founder John Mackey is a practicing Buddhist who spends “morning time with Buddha” and in meditation. Entrepreneurs practice their faiths through their companies. Though not all of these companies would consider themselves necessarily faith-based, these companies strongly favor one religion or set of religious beliefs that affects the entire company.

Challenge: Though this model can work well for privately held companies where the leadership shares a faith, or in smaller businesses where all or nearly all the employees share the same faith, the challenge here is three-fold.

(1) Employees who don’t share the faith of the CEO can feel ostracized or not included among “insiders” in the company because of diverging religious views.

(2) CEOs often underestimate how much power they wield in a company. Without even knowing it, because of their influence their faith-expression can feel paternalistic or even coercive.

(3) It becomes difficult for a CEO to know if a manager or employee is expressing genuine interest in the CEO’s faith, or if that person may be simply doing what it takes to get a promotion or greater work opportunity.

Though this is often the unintended consequence of building a “faith-based” company, genuine space needs to be made in these contexts for those who disagree with the religious views of the owners.

  1. Faith-friendly.

In a faith-friendly business, everybody’s ultimate beliefs (where those be secular, atheistic, Christian or Buddhist) are welcome. Leadership neither avoids topics of faith or merely tolerates religious expression – yet neither does it favor one view over another.

Instead, it actively welcomes conversations about the beliefs, backgrounds, and religious faith that employees hold dear and shape their motivations. Just as a company would welcome conversations about race, sexuality, or gender, so religion has a welcomed place at the table. Employees need not fear being fired for their religious beliefs, yet neither should they assume everybody agrees with them.

This perspective is based on essential commitments to pluralism and freedom of religious expression.

Example: Tyson Foods. “We strive to be a faith-friendly company,” says the Tyson Foods core values statement.  With 113,000 employees and $23.004 billion in assets (2015), Tyson Foods has an enormously diverse workforce. Yet instead of avoiding or merely tolerating faith, they encourage its expression. One practice Tyson Foods has embraced is corporate chaplaincy. They have “the largest known private-sector corporate chaplaincy program,” allowing for a wide variety of faith and personal issues to be brought into the company. David Miller says about John Tyson, the grandson of the company founder (with whom he’s close personal friends), “He wanted people to be able to bring their whole selves to work.” They provide team members at Tyson Foods an opportunity to bring that whole self, including that spiritual side, and not feel like religion must be “checked at the door.”

For those trying to build faith-friendly companies, this is not just a strategy for avoiding PR disasters. (For example, Emma Green at The Atlantic reports, “Cargill Meat Solutions fired roughly 190 Muslim immigrants from Somalia after they protested the company’s break policies.” Wholesale firing of Muslims for practicing their faith was a media disaster, one that other CEOs have sought to avoid.) It’s instead an attempt to welcome faith into the conversation about meaning in life, work and the world we share.

If faith is defined simply as an ultimate set of beliefs, the “faith-friendly” posture need not exclude secular humanists or atheists, as everybody has some set of ultimate beliefs that shape their motivations for work.

For the vast majority of CEOs who lead companies with a wide variety of religions and beliefs, I think the faith-friendly posture is the best option – both for them and for their employees.

As you consider your own leadership, how would you classify your company: faith-avoiding, faith-tolerant, faith-based or faith-friendly? What do you think you’d like to change, and how will you get there?

Photo credit. 

This article first appeared at DenverInstitute.org.

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BusinessCraftsmanship & Manual LaborVocationWork

How Does Your Work Impact Those Down the Line?

 

Have you thought about the people affected by your work who you may never meet? Learn more in this excerpt from the e-book “The Call to Commerce: 6 Ways to Love Your Neighbor Through Business.” Catch the first post here on the blog as well. 

3. Love Your Supply Chains

Months ago, I had a moving conversation with Tim Dearborn, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and former vice president at World Vision International1. He shared the story of visiting a church built on slave forts in Ghana. As he sat in the cathedral, he could almost hear the cries of 19th century slaves echoing below.

I asked him, “What do you think are the modern ‘churches built on slave forts’ today?” That is, what are the systemic injustices that Christians have knowingly – or unknowingly – supported in the modern world?

He replied with two simple words: “Supply chains.”

Rarely do we think about the labor conditions of those who sew our shirts or make components for our iPhones. But even more rarely do we think about the long-term profitability of underpaying laborers or oppressing those in faraway lands. Good business means thinking through where we source our materials, and the conditions for laborers of those we do business with.

William Haughey, 35, is leading the way in “loving your supply chain.” After having been an investment banker at Goldman Sachs for four years, he started Tegu, a toy company that makes simple, magnetic wooden blocks2. The name is derived from a part of their supply chain, located in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Their mission is to responsibly harvest wood from Honduran cooperatives, and to “pay our employees a living wage and prioritize long-term career growth and development rather than simple task-based jobs.” Their goal is to bring world-class employment standards to Central America.

Thinking this through as a consumer can be a stressful affair. Staring at clothes on a department store rack and wondering if sweatshop labor produced my new dress shirt can by paralyzing. Nonetheless, if we have the choice between two suppliers – and one has demonstrably better ratings on glassdoor.com, or, on the other side, has an obviously bad reputation in the industry – let’s choose the former. Even supply chains are made up of people that God so loves (John 3:16).

Though we won’t solve all global issues, we can, and should, follow the advice of American priest Ken Untener when considering who we do business with:

“We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of
liberation in realizing this.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,
a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s
grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the
difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not
messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”3

Verse to post on your desk: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Listen! The Lord is calling to the city — and to fear your name is wisdom…‘Am I still to forget your ill gotten treasures, you wicked house, and the short ephah, which is accursed? Shall I acquit someone with dishonest scales, with a bag of false weights?” –Micah 6:8-11

4. Love Your Communities

Karla Nugent has found that caring for the community gives her company an advantage4. As the Chief Business Development Officer of Weifield Group Electrical Contracting, Nugent has built an industry-leading electrical contracting firm in Denver. Her company has built edifices like the Net Zero, a LEED-Platinum research facility at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, and has been recognized by the Denver Business Journal for its community impact.5

Weifield Group has four main philanthropic areas: Head of Household, Women & Children, Health/The Less Fortunate, and the U.S. Military6. Not only do they give out of corporate profits to local nonprofits serving people in these categories, but the 350 plus employees also volunteer at these organizations on the clock.

Seems expensive – and unprofitable – right? That’s what I thought, too. But dig down, and the culture at Weifield of contributing to the good of communities has significantly impacted their employee retention numbers. Keeping their best employees – who want to be at a company that cares about more than profit – has made Weifield one of Denver’s Top Places to Work7. Which means in hot economy starving for middle and high skilled labor, Weifiled is coming out on top on the war for talent – and has been profitable every single year since their founding 15 years ago.

In fact, Harvard Business School research found that companies with more corporate social responsibility practices and programs significantly outperform their competitors, both in terms of their balance sheet and stock price.8

As it turns out, loving your community is also loving yourself.

Verse to post on your desk: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” -Galatians 6:9-10

 

This is the second of three excerpts that we’ve shared on our blog from the e-book “The Call to Commerce: 6 Ways to Love Your Neighbor Through Business.” Miss the first one? Grab your copy of the full e-book.

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BusinessEconomyWork

The Call to Commerce: 6 Ways to Love Your Neighbor Through Business

 

“And who is my neighbor?”

This question is just as pressing to us in 21st century America as it was 2,000 years ago. A legal expert, “who wanted to justify himself,” posed this question to Jesus. In response, Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Like that expert, we look around the world today and see pressing needs at every turn: self-centered leadership, ignorance, poverty, political instability, disease, and spiritual darkness. Overwhelmed at the needs pouring into our digital devices, we ask “What can I really do?” Our temptation, like that of the Levite and the priest in the parable, is to walk past the needs of others and go about our day.

Yet two surprising twists in Jesus’ parable can give us hope. First, the hero of the story is a Samaritan, a member of a mixed ethnic group despised by the Jews. Though the religious insiders – a Levite and a priest – pass by, it’s the heretic, the outsider, who stops to help. The Samaritan didn’t find a solution to a global crisis. Instead, his single act of mercy for a stranger is the model here. This we can do.

Second, which is perhaps the biggest shock for us today, the hero of this story isn’t a pastor, religious leader, or a nonprofit volunteer. He’s a business person.

There’s a bit of guesswork here, but the Samaritan had the time and excess wealth to serve a need. And in so doing, he fulfilled Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor.” As Margaret Thatcher once said, “No-one would remember the Good Samaritan if he’d only had good intentions; he had money as well.” Might engaging in business be a primary way God intends for us to love our neighbors?

“Business is God’s intended partner in his great work as Provider for all of humankind,” says Tim Weinhold, an entrepreneur I quoted in a recent article for Christianity Today1.  His point is that business is a way God has chosen to both provide the goods and services we all depend on each day and create the wealth we need to be able to afford those goods and services. As a CFO friend of mine says2, “Business is the only institution that creates wealth. Every other institution distributes it.”3 The purpose of business, like the purpose of the church in the world, is to serve (Mark 10:45, John 20:21). Business people are called to use their talents to bless others.

But what about corporate greed? What about scandals like the price fixing scandal at Archer Daniels Midland4, famously portrayed by Matt Damon in the movie The Informant5?  Or the levels of corruption and collusion in the housing market collapse of the mid 2000s (again, portrayed dramatically by Hollywood in “The Big Short?”6) This looks more like plundering your neighbor rather than loving your neighbor.

Business can either plunder our neighbors through low wages, oppressive practices (like the payday loan industry), environmental degradation, and hoarding wealth – or it can be the single greatest instrument for the alleviation of poverty the world has ever seen. (Films such as Poverty, Inc.7 and the article “Towards the End of Poverty”8 in The Economist make compelling cases for the later.) Our work can either destroy or design, plunder or provide, sack or serve.

Yet what would it actually look like to love your neighbor through your own business or work life?

I agree with Robin John, CEO of Eventide Funds9, who recently suggested we need to start with the question of the legal expert: who is my neighbor? Business, he believes, has six neighbors: customers, employees, supply chains, communities, the environment, and society. The best performing businesses over the long haul, he believes, create products and services that serve society and authentic human flourishing, focus on stakeholder value creation, build human-centered operations strategies and create a rich organizational culture. That is, they look carefully at all the “neighbors” a business has and ask how to serve those neighbors well.

Using that framework, here are 6 Ways to Love Your Neighbor Through Business:

1. Love Your Customers

Dan Dye is the CEO of Ardent Mills, America’s largest flour producer 10. Each day, 100 million people eat an Ardent Mills product. It’s likely that the bread products you ate for breakfast this morning came from the flour produced at one of their 42 mills. Dan describes his work as “nourishing the world,” which his company does on a global scale. They continuously innovate the best processes of turning wheat into flour, which is eventually sold to companies like Bimbo bread that are found in America’s grocery stores. And at the end of their global operations and billion dollar balance sheets is a simple commitment to serve the needs of their customers.

When companies prioritize the needs of the customer and create genuine value for them, businesses flourish. For example, Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, leaves a chair empty at corporate meetings to remind them they’re there serve their customers. Creating value for others, in Charles Koch’s language 11, or endeavoring to love your customers as yourselves, is the first pillar of loving your neighbor through business.

Dealing with cranky, irrational, or flippant customers is no fun. But C.S. Lewis reminds us that loving your neighbor has little to do with your feelings.

“The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him… There is, indeed, one exception. If you do him a good turn, not to please God and obey the law of charity, but to show him what a fine forgiving chap you are, and to put him in your debt, and then sit down to wait for his ‘gratitude’, you will probably be disappointed.”

Even if customers don’t show appreciation, business is still filled with opportunities to “love one another as I [Jesus] have loved you.”12  The way we love our neighbors, says Lewis, is by working for their good. Like providing sewage systems, software, lighting, legislation, lesson plans, and, of course, loaves of bread.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This is not just good advice … it’s good business strategy.

Verse to post on your desk: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” -1 John 4:16-18

2. Love Your Employees

Men and women are created to work, and are meant to express the dignity of being God’s image bearers through their creative activity.

This fact is not lost on Wes Gardner, CEO of Prime Trailer Leasing 13. Years ago, Wes had an “aha moment,” where he saw that his business was not just a way to fund ministry, but to do ministry, specifically by caring for his employees. He began hiring women from Hope House, a nonprofit that works with teenage mothers, and providing them a good salary and opportunities for growth – opportunities that would likely not come their way unless Wes was committed to loving his neighbors through his business.

He’s part of a larger movement in Denver to provide good jobs to people with barriers to employment 14. New efforts are afoot to create good jobs for at-risk communities. (A “good job” is loosely defined as a job that provides increasing wages, some flexibility of schedule, benefits, a healthy workplace culture, opportunities for advancement and education, and a sense of pride in the work.)

Yet people from every socioeconomic class long to know their work has deeper value than a paycheck. Dave Kiersznowski, founder of DEMDACO, a business that makes gifts that “lift the spirit,” wants his employees – of all faith backgrounds, races, and ethnicities – to broaden their vision of how their work is contributing to the common good 15. For example, in their headquarters he named meeting spaces after “heroes of the common good,” such as Martin Luther King Jr., William Wilberforce, and Mother Theresa. This reminds employees that their labor matters not just to the company, but to human history. Good thinkers, like Barry Schwartz, professor at Swarthmore College, see that emphasizing the ways our work makes other people’s lives better is key to loving your employees. 16

Caring for your employees begins the virtuous cycle of profitable long term business. “We take great care of our people, they take great care of our customers, and our customers take great care of our shareholders” says Cofounder and former CEO of Southwest Airlines, Herb Kelleher. By providing good jobs, laced with dignity, fair wages, and intrinsic meaning, some are even calling the “good jobs strategy” a game-changer among business leadership in the US. 17

A question to ask to your employees or co-workers: do you have a job or a craft? A job, says Hugh Heclo, is merely a “ miscellaneous piece of work undertaken on order at a stated rate.” 18 However, mechanic and author Michael Crawford defines craftsmanship as “the desire to do something well, for its own sake.” 19 How can business leaders provide not just jobs, but a craft, to their employees? Are there ways all jobs can provide the opportunity for men and women to experience mastery, autonomy and purpose, as Daniel Pink suggests? 20

Work, says playwright and theologian Dorothy Sayers, “should be the full expression of the worker’s faculties, the thing in which he finds spiritual, mental, and bodily satisfaction, and the medium in which he offers himself to God.” What will it look like to create more jobs like this?

Verse to post on your desk: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them…The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” –Genesis 1:27, 2:15

This is an excerpt from the e-book, “The Call to Commerce: 6 Ways to Love Your Neighbor Through Business.” Want more today? Download your copy of the full e-book. Or subscribe to this blog. 

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Making a Permanent Impact on American Society?

 

“Dealmakers: Episode I” – Pete Ochs

I often imagine what collective impact between business leaders, churches, government, nonprofits and ministries might look like. What would it look like for us to partner together to make a permanent, generational impact on American society?

When it comes to work, in many ways, our society is hemorrhaging. The labor participation rate for men age 24-55 is at its lowest point since the Great Depression; 10 million men are either unemployed or looking for work; today there are 70 million Americans with a criminal background, many of whom can’t find a good job due to their past.

What if the Christian business leaders we all know decided to hire the millions of men and women with barriers to employment? Could the Church step up to meet a critical need – and develop the knowledge, best practices, and vision for loving our neighbors through good jobs?

This is a big task – maybe too big. But I feel like things are changing.

TC Johnstone, a friend and filmmaker, has done an incredible new documentary that gives us a beautiful, compelling case for doing just this.

In the first episode of “DealMakers”, a new documentary series, he highlights Pete Ochs, the founder of Capital III an impact investing company “committed to social, spiritual and economic transformation.” The film tells the story of Pete’s journey to starting a manufacturing company…inside a maximum-security prison. Here’s how TC describes the film,

Pete OchsA Triple Bottom Line Business. Pete had a crazy idea. What would happen if we put a manufacturing business inside a maximum-security prison, pay employees fair market wages, and help them find their purpose? What started out as a crazy idea turned into reform, relationships, profit and ultimately transformed lives.”

Though Pete is wonderful in the film, it’s Louie Gutierrez, who spent 25 years behind bars, who really shines. Pete gave Louie another chance through employment; Louie gave Pete a renewed purpose for his own work.

You may want to think about screening the film in your church, business or home. If you’re a leader, you might think about having Pete and Louie come and share at a conference or event. Pete not only hits all the theological essentials in the story, but their story of learning from each other is just as powerful.

This film is an excellent illustration of the real-life impact that all this conversation about faith and work can have on real lives. I commend this film to you and those in your church or business. (For $25 off the price of a screening, use the discount just code: DIFW, and click on this link: https://www.dealmakersfilms.com)

I believe the “good jobs” conversation is the natural intersection between Christians who care about justice and those who care about work in America today.  I also believe stories of redemptive employment can galvanize Christians in positions of influence to have deep spiritual, social and cultural impact on a society in need of grace…especially from the church.

To use Louie’s words: I tell you what, I’m not super religious. But if I were to ever say that I met a Christian in my life, it’s more than definitely Pete.”

Happy watching.

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