At Work & Public Square

Beyond Profits: Businesses Thriving by Putting People First

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Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Colossians 3:23-24

Within most companies, you will find three types of people.

The first type are those who are there only for the pay and benefits. To them it’s just a job.

The second type are people who enjoy their coworkers and also enjoy the work. It is “a good place to be.” For many, this is as good as it gets.

The third type, a smaller group, are employees who believe they are contributing to something important. In some significant way, they feel aligned with the mission of the organization and believe their hard work has purpose. They have some level of emotional connection with the work they do.

In a blog post on the Forbes website, sales leadership expert and author Lisa Earle McLeod writes about the importance of this emotional connection:

…people want an emotional connection with their work. In fact, I’ll take it a step further; people are desperate to be part of something bigger than themselves.

In a previous post, I described how profits have been the driving force in business for over 40 years. I suggested that Christians need to reject this self-centered purpose for business because God designed businesses for a higher purpose. Fortunately, there are more and more Christian business owners who are doing just that.

Rethinking Priorities on a Corporate Scale

Not far from the IFWE offices in McLean, VA is a nondescript building that houses the corporate headquarters of Mars, Inc. About ten years ago, this family-owned, $33-billion organization began to seriously consider what it would look like for them to have a “triple” bottom line. Much of what they have done is captured in a new book entitled Completing Capitalism: Heal Business to Heal the World, by Mars, Inc. executives Bruno Roche and Jay Jakub.

In this book, Roche and Jakub lay out a vision of capitalism that focuses on measuring and managing multiple forms of capital, not just money. This is not just a book about a theory; it details how Mars and other organizations have embraced this business model to bring sustainable flourishing not only to their organizations but also to the communities they serve.

In what they call the “economics of mutuality” the focus is on a triple bottom line, which factors in people, planet, and profits. They make a strong argument for a more “complete” model of capitalism that delivers “superior financial performance precisely because it mobilizes and generates human, social, and natural capital, along with financial capital.”

Business Striving for Excellence and Meeting a Local Need

At the other end of the spectrum is a small business called Seat King located in Hutchinson, KS. Seat King mainly manufactures custom-branded seating for commercial turf vehicles and ATVs. Seat King’s manufacturing facility is housed inside the Hutchinson Correctional Facility and employs the inmates who reside there.

Pete Ochs, chairman of the firm investing in Seat King, says his business empowers employees through economic, social, and spiritual capital:

I think there are three things needed for humans to flourish. One is material possessions. The second thing we all need is we need to be in relationships. The third thing we think everyone needs is a moral code by which to live…We’re giving them a skill. We’re training them how to live in society. We’re encouraging them to be the fathers they should be. We’re encouraging them to pay the debt to society that they owe.

On Seat King’s website they show a graphic of the model Ochs developed to run the company and drive their triple bottom line (economic, social, and spiritual outcomes). In the center of the model is a triangle that says “Honor God.” Ochs starts there because he wants everyone to know that, as a Christian, he started his organization and operates it with one thing in mind: to honor God through serving people, pursuing excellence, and stewarding resources. His company’s triple bottom line is measured through:

  • Economic capital: economic benefit for employees, customers, suppliers, and shareholders by being a good steward of resources.
  • Social capital: serving others with excellence, realizing the most valuable things in life cannot be purchased.
  • Spiritual capital: honesty and integrity are absolute values mandated by biblical principles and are essential in business.

Real-World Applications

But what do you do if the company you work for is only focused on increasing shareholder’s value?

First, know that God has you at this job for a season and be diligent at finding out why. There are active steps you can take to discern your calling and improve your job situation. Always work at a level of excellence, remembering what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians, “…work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters…” (Col. 3:22-24).  We know that in this passage, Paul was talking to believers who were slaves. If this advice is valid for slaves in the first century, how much more valid is it for us who have become slaves to Christ?

Finally, we must all remember that whatever work we have been called to do, we too have a triple bottom line: to glorify God, to serve the common good, and to further the kingdom of God in this place at this time.

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