Jeff Haanen

Category

Economy

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Economy

Vocation: The Holy Grail of Corporate America

 

Five hundred billion dollars. That’s how much economists estimate the US economy loses every year due to employee disengagement.

A recent Gallup poll showed that 70% of Americans are disengaged from their work – either simply punching in and punching out each day, or actually working to sabotage the company they work for.

Globally it’s worse: recently Harvard Business Review noted that 80% of the global workforce is disengaged – 10% worse than America. And the numbers aren’t getting better. Back in 2007-2008, the Global Workforce Survey conducted by Towers Perrin (now Towers Watson) polled 90,000 workers in 18 countries. Five years ago, 79% were disengaged worldwide. That’s one percentage point better, showing the world has lost ground in the past 5 years.

Imagine a global economy of Dilberts, wandering in a forest of cubicle boredom– and a sea of managers doing little to stem the tide of corporate ennui. If images of The Office are popping into your head (without the entertaining antics of Michael Scott), you wouldn’t be far from the truth.

But why hasn’t this question garnered more of our attention?  Employee disengagement costs not only the US economy, but it dearly costs businesses, both large and small, in annual revenue and profits. And if these numbers are accurate for Christians as well as people of other faiths, that means that 4/5ths of the Body of Christ would rather be playing Angry Birds, checking Facebook posts from high school buddies, or taking naps under their desks than actually working.

Considering we live in an economy ever more dependent on creativity and innovation, we have to ask the question: How did the modern world become so disengaged from work, and what can be done about it?

Gary Hamel, named by the Wall Street Journal as the world’s foremost business strategist, tried to tackle this question in his book The Future of Management. He introduced a simple framework for ranking employee engagement, which he called “A Hierarchy of Human Capabilities at Work.”

A Hierarchy of Human Capabilities at Work

Level 6: Passion

Level 5: Creativity

Level 4: Initiative

_____________________

Level 3: Expertise

Level 2: Diligence

Level 1: Obedience

At the bottom is obedience – employees who show up each day and follow the rules and procedures. Obedience is necessary for large-scale organizations, but people on Level 1 simply do what they’re told. Next is diligence. These employees stay until the job is done and take personal responsibility for their work. They’re hard workers, and want to do a good job. Level 3 is expertise, or personal competence. They’re not only hard workers, but they’re good at what they do. They’re well-trained, many have great skills, and they’re eager to learn more.

Here’s the problem, however, with Levels 1-3. “Trouble is, obedience, diligence and competence are becoming global commodities,” writes Hamel, in his new book What Matters Now. “You can buy these human capabilities just about anywhere in the world, and in places like India and China, they can be bought for next to nothing.” And corporations have realized this, which is why millions of jobs have been outsourced from American and Europe to the Far East. If you’re an employee under the line in Hamel’s Hierarchy of Human Capabilities at Work (Levels 1-3), it’s likely that sooner or later, you’ll be looking for a job.

What, then, of the higher levels? Beyond expertise is initiative. These are employees who see problems or opportunities, and don’t wait to be told what to do. They’re proactive, and find ways to initiate new projects that create value for their company.

Level 5 is creativity. Here, “employees are eager to challenge conventional wisdom and are always hunting for great ideas that can be imported from other industries.” They challenge tired industry norms, pay attention to emerging trends, leverage existing skills and assets, and meet needs that customers didn’t know they yet had. For example, the creatives at Apple weren’t the first to invent a smart phone, but they did combine the idea of a smart phone with web browsing, a music player, email, alarm clock, calendar and an ecosystem of other apps. Level 5 employees are culture-makers – they create new ways of doing and thinking, and in the process shift companies, and occasionally industries.

Yet the apex of Hamel’s Hierarchy is what he simply calls “passion.” Hear how he defines passion: “[These are] employees who see their work as a calling, as a way to make a positive difference in the world. For these ardent souls, the dividing line between vocation and avocation is indistinct at best…While other employees are merely present, they are engaged.” Vocation – a deep sense of calling, a zeal to work for a purpose beyond oneself – is the single greatest need for corporations across the globe. In a creative economy, audacity, imagination and passion create the most long-term value.

But Hamel sees a problem: “[Here’s] the rub. These higher order human capabilities are gifts; they cannot be commanded. You can’t tell someone to be passionate or creative. Well, you can, of course, but it won’t do much good.”

Let’s take a step back and summarize. Most of the world can’t stand their work. It costs the economy and businesses billions of dollars, and it costs individuals of a sense of purpose. The world’s best business thinker sees this problem and crafts  a hierarchy that puts action, creativity, and, of all things, vocation, at the top of his list of most valuable assets. But the problem is that these traits can only be gifts. That is, they must be given.

 You can probably see where I’m going here.

It’s one thing to say that we ought to think about how to live out our faith in the business world. It’s another thing to say that the most desperate need the world – and our companies – has is people who are called to initiate and to create, both activities that have their very foundation in God himself (bara is the Hebrew word for “create” or “initiate”, used to describe God’s activity in creating the universe in Genesis 1).

What’s the takeaway? One of the wisest use of resources for any company is to help people discover their vocation, and then create fertile environments whereby employees can use their gifts to grow, create, and make a difference.

I’d also say that it would be fiscally wise for corporate leaders to leave space for honest expressions of faith, recognizing that you can’t give your employees creativity or passion. But perhaps Another can.

This post first appeared on the Denver Institute Blog.

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Economy

Dishing Up Dignity

 

Today Christianity Today published my essay on two Denver-based restaurants: Café 180 and SAME (So All May Eat) Café. These restaurants, however, are not your typical lunch cafes. They both run on a pay-what-you-can model. That means customers are asked to donate either money or volunteer time for a meal. The effect of this model is, I believe, nothing short of revolutionary.

Several months ago I ate lunch with both Libby Burky, the Director of SAME Café, and Cathy Mathews, the Co-Founder of Café 180. Libby opened SAME Café in 2006 after working several years at a food shelf. She became frustrated by the poor quality of food at the food kitchen, and came to the conclusion that poor food, as well as simple hand- outs, rob people of their dignity. So she opened SAME Café off of historic Colfax Avenue on a new model. Serve organic food, cooked using clean energy, and make it available to all regardless of ability to pay. If they can’t pay, then customers are asked to volunteer one hour for a meal. Working for your meals restores to the unemployed or homeless the dignity of earning your keep.

Cathy Mathews, who I focused on for the article, has a similar story. With some help from Libby, she opened Café 180 in Englewood in 2010. Cathy’s story, however, flows out of the desire for community. She lives in Cherry Hills Village, and realized she knew very few of her poorer neighbors in Englewood. She desired a solution that would go beyond charity – a way to share not just money or food, but our lives with one another. And Café 180 has become just that – a community of rich and poor, secular and Christian, Republican and Democrat, all eating around a common table.

As I spent time with Libby and Cathy, what began to impress me was the way these restaurants can bring together people from drastically different walks of life. Both those who believe in the mission (the wealthy) and those who need a meal (the poor) volunteer in the kitchen. In doing so, they share their lives. Also, because the food is amazing, those who can pay full price arrive come faithfully for lunch. And those who haven’t had a great meal in a while, they too can each Mediterranean pizza or French Dip sandwiches.

The past two decades have led to the drastic gentrification – wealthy people moving into historically poor neighborhoods – of cities across the US. This can often cause class and racial tensions because when property values rise through redevelopment, the poor often must leave their neighborhoods for the cheaper suburbs. But pay-what-you-can restaurants have the potential to bring together these two wary neighbors around a good meal and a mission based on justice and hope.

Cathy Mathews shared with me that the desire to open Café 18o came from an extended time of prayer and silence. She felt “prompted” to see if she could assume the lease. Although Cathy is extremely humble about her faith, Cafe 180 is a great example how an individual put her faith into action at work.

So, I have a host of questions for discussion:

(1) What do you think about pay-what-you-can restaurants? Do you think this business model could work in other sectors?

(2) How can businesses make social good the primary bottom line? Do products and services you offer lend themselves toward building community and bringing people from different walks of life together?

(3) Could a pay-what-you-can restaurant work in your neighborhood? Why or why not?

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