At Work

Mops, People & the ‘Soul’ of Your Firm

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What does a mop have to do with valuing people, making a profit and living out your faith at work? Well, actually, everything. Let’s explore how an $8 billion NYSE firm lived out the answer based upon deploying faith at work.

Doesn’t your day go better when the tools you use everyday work well? If the “e” key on your 8-year-old computer was broken, it would be a tough day being productive. Yet as to our employees, we often allow them to work with mediocre, old, broken tools. The startling truth is that there is a link between profitability and the way things happen at the front-line level of our firm.

In their fine work “The Service Profit Chain,” authors James L. Heskett, Leonard A. Schlesinger and W. Earl Sasser Jr., of the Harvard Business School uncover the linkage between employees, customers and profits.

As leaders we can’t teach excellence and then welcome a new team member on their first day of work by giving them the last employee’s uniform, which is one size too big, with stains on it, while assigning them a work truck with a crack in the windshield.

In the employee’s mind, the analogy breaks down. In effect, we’ve said we care about excellence with customers and profit for our firm, but not about our employee as a person. There’s a link between valuing people and achieving profit.

At ServiceMaster, where I was greatly privileged to work for 20 years, we built an $8 billion firm on the basis of ascribing dignity and worth to service workers. At the same time we cared deeply for achieving organizational excellence and growing profitably. The principles that fueled ServiceMaster are based in biblical truth: honoring God, helping people, pursuing excellence and growing profitably.

How are you investing in your people? Have you “walked in their shoes” lately? I’ve spent time walking in the shoes of service workers who were cleaning hospitals. After the 10th person walks by you while you’re on your hands and knees scrubbing the floor, and they say, “You missed a spot!” you understand that certain work categories are not valued.

So in my days at ServiceMaster, we took the standard cotton mop on a wooden handle and transformed it into a fantastic cleaning tool that employees appreciated. The wooden handle was replaced with a hollow fiberglass core that made it lighter, stronger, easier to grip and more flexible; thus, less fatigue sets in per day and the handle is break-resistant. Next, we coated the handle with a safety yellow paint so it was visible and could be used to block off wet floor areas. And finally, we put a rubber grip on the end so holding the mop was less tiring.

Why did we bother investing research dollars to create a better mop? Because at our core, we believed people were created in the image of God and therefore people have value. Since God is creative, the people he creates are creative, and we should value their input into their work. Since God intensely values each person, we should serve the people we lead, seeing them as ends, not means, in accomplishing work. We can use the vehicle of work as a development tool.

At Convene Corporation, where I am now privileged to lead the firm as CEO, we help Christian CEOs help each other as peers as they lead high-performing business on a biblical blueprint. All of us at Convene believe that business, from the smallest mom-and-pop operation to the largest global conglomerate, is about leaders, women and men, living in community, making culture better, so humans can flourish. When that happens, workers, customers and vendors have the curtains pulled back on the meaning and purpose of life. When that happens, entire companies, communities and countries are changed as they move toward their God-ordained purposes.

Maybe it all begins with a mop, or with the tools that fuel your firm, because that’s where the world is: at work Monday to Friday, waiting for us to love them well.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in “Faith at Work: Individual Purpose, Flourishing Communities,” a special report released by IFWE and the Washington Times. Reprinted with permission.

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