I am a Catholic. I am a business owner. There is a world of difference, however, between a business owner who happens to be Catholic and a Catholic who happens to own a business. I am striving for the latter.
In my journey into business management and ownership I have researched the topic of business management theory, reading many books and articles, and going to several seminars and conferences in order to try to best do my job in this role. From the very beginning I have always been determined to do business the way God wants and as a consequence have found nuggets of truth consistent with my understanding of my faith even in these, for the lack of a better term, “secular” sources. Among my favorite authors are Pat Lencioni, Matthew Kelly and Steven Covey, all of whom turn out to be men who practice some type of faith (two Catholics and a Mormon in these examples). As much of managing a business involves relationships with people, whether customer relations or employee relations, a correct understanding of what it means to be a human person is necessary to being successful in developing an accurate theory of business management. What if we were to use theology and faith as a starting point in developing a coherent theory of business management rather than simply mentioning it in passing, adding some quotes from Mother Teresa or other persons of faith to bolster our ideas, or worse providing faith as gloss over to justify business practices that may in fact even be unjust? Riffing off of Saint Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, I’ll call this the Theology of Business Management. (This is not the first “Theology of” appropriation. You can find Theology of Work, Theology of the Home, Theology of Dance and I’m sure many others.)
Let’s start with the Trinity. Why start with a mystery we can never fully understand? Precisely because it is so fundamental. God is Love. God is infinite. We can think of God the Father loving God the Son so completely that love between them is a third person, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Trinity then is a community of persons in a relationship of love and we who are made in the image and likeness of God are also persons who are created to be in a loving relationship with others. This leads us to the Golden Rule: Love of God and love of others as yourself. The meaning of love, according to St.Thomas Aquinas, is to consistently will and choose the good of the other. Seeing the dignity of the person in our employees and customers leads to good management practices. A corporation then is in fact a community of persons in a relationship that desires the good of others and is focused on a common mission of creating some specific goods and/or services that promote the common good.
In the case of our customers, justice demands that we be fair and honest in all dealings, but beyond that any product or service we provide must meet the criteria of love, it must be a true good for them, something that makes their lives better and in doing so helps ultimately on their journey to God. Marketing methods such as identifying the needs of customers and listening to the voice of the customer take on a deeper meaning as the value we strive to provide is not just material but also eternal (at least indirectly).
In the case of employees, we can see how creating a strong corporate culture is not only very important but consistent with the notion of solidarity as found in Catholic social teaching. Having a mission statement and core values that your employees buy into helps a company become more productive as they align with this mission that is creating good for others. The importance of investing in the training of employees can be seen in light of creating a solid caring culture that is a community of persons working toward a mission that is bringing good in the world and a small part of the great commission Jesus gave to his disciples. Helping employees in developing and representing the company’s core values uses the same or similar methods of developing growth in virtue that can be found, for example, in the teachings of St. Ignatius.
In the case of company organization we can see how subsidiarity, another aspect of Catholic social teaching, plays a role in best organizing a company. Subsidiarity states that decisions should be made at the lowest level possible implying that a flat organizational chart is in general preferred to a more hierarchical one depending on the nature of the work done and the capability of the workers. Training and empowering employees becomes important in creating an effective organization. Creating an agile corporation means treating persons not as cogs in a machine but as part of a living organism capable of growth and able to adapt.
An important part of business management is maintaining and constantly improving processes and procedures. Process improvement, Lean Six Sigma and other organizational management methods can be seen in light of good stewardship of our resources and using the part of creation given to us by God to serve the greater mission of bringing good to others.
One effective tool of strategic planning is known as the SWOT analysis where Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats are identified and analyzed with an eye on how to improve. The internal factors of strengths and weaknesses relate to character formation and can be reformulated into increasing virtues and eliminating vices in our character. Similarly the external factors of opportunities and threats relate back to the graces as well as crosses God gives us in our life. Just as we cannot remove crosses in our life, we accept them and allow God to use them to provide other means of grace we would not have imagined. Competitive threats in business can lead us to find opportunities which will be a gift of grace to us, our employees, customers and the community at large.
Finally I would like to consider the profit motive and suggest that a true Christian business man cannot simply strive to maximize profits (see related post). Profits are essential for the survival of any business but the true parameter to be optimized is Christian Joy. If our generation of profit is due to creating goods and services that are truly “good” then we will indeed increase joy to all and this corporation will truly be a community of persons in loving relation on a shared mission of bringing God’s good to the world.
Addendum: Paraphrasing Jesus’ words can be risky but in the spirit of WWJD here is “The Sermon in the Boardroom” Matthew-ish ~5:21-49 RPV (Revised Paraphrase Version):
You have heard it said: “Maximize profits,” but I say to you maximize joy. Seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness and all will be given you besides. I have come to give you life and give it abundantly.
You have heard it said: “Increase shareholder value,” but I say to you strive for an eternal return on investment. Value lies in people, not things. Remember that what is revenue for you is expense for your customers, and what is an expense for you is revenue for you employees.
You have heard it said: “Minimize waste, increase efficiency,” but I say to you every step you take that does not lead you to God is waste. Do not lead others astray in pursuing false goals but work with others to hasten the kingdom of God.
You have heard it said: “Delight the customer, exceed their needs,” but I say to you help each person find their role in God’s plan, for only then can they have their deepest desires filled.
You have heard it said: “Our people are our greatest asset,” but I say to you each person is made in the image of God and belongs to God. Train your employees in core values that align with truth; make them disciples in a mission that aligns with the good.