Thursday, March 02, 2006

Joy at Work: Core Values

I have had this book (Joy at Work by Dennis W. Bakke) on my nightstand for several months. I know that at least one of my colleagues has used this book as a text in one of his MBA classes. This is an interesting read because the author proposes some radical ideas about work from a Christian point of view. The most fascinating part of the book to me is the postscript. But before discussing the “philosophical underpinnings” of Joy at Work, I thought we’d take a lightning-fast tour through the book itself. In fact, I only plan to relate to you those items of the book I highlighted as I read.

Here goes.

“My passion is to make work exciting, rewarding, stimulating, and enjoyable, “states the author. Bakke argues that the workplace should be fun (by the way, “fun” is defined to mean rewarding, exciting, creative, and successful) and fulfilling. He also argues that the ultimate aim of any enterprise is not economic success. The primary goal is to work according to “timeless, true, and transcendent values and principles.” Financial goals take a backseat to this. In other words, we do what we do because it is right, not because it works. For example, “There is a real difference between saying to your workers, ‘We care about your welfare because we do,’ and saying, ‘We care about your welfare because that will make you work harder for us.’”

Thus, our motivation(s) come into play. Which reminds me, have you ever noticed how much more difficult the “why” questions are to answer than the “what” and “how” questions? Paul writes in I Corinthians 3:13-15, “…each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss…” What determines the quality of my work or your work in this context? One study Bible I referred to on this passage offers this interpretation: “All that which has been accomplished in His power and for His glory will survive.” That is a humbling thought—and brings me back to the point about motivation.

Why did God call me to start DayStar Consulting, Inc. Why did he call you to start your business or work in your chosen field? What was my motivation then? What is my motivation today? These are convicting questions to me and one that I wrestle with through a non-profit organization I founded (Leaders Serving Beaver County; Having the proper motivation (from God’s point of view) is critical—let’s leave it at that for now.

Bakke’s company (AES) promoted the following values:
• To act with integrity
• To be fair
• To have fun
• To be socially responsible

Now these shared values or core values are, at “face value,” not too different from those I’ve seen promoted within other organizations. However, here is the difference, and I’ll quote from Joy at Work:

“AES believes that earning a fair profit is an important result of providing a quality product to its customers. However, if the Company perceives a conflict between these values and profits, the Company will try to adhere to its values—even though doing so might result in diminished profits or foregone opportunities. Moreover, the Company seeks to adhere to these values not as a means to achieve economic success, but because adherence is a worthwhile goal in and of itself.”

Do you see what he’s saying? Profits are important—but profits do not “trump” our core values. According to the author, the question is not whether we have values, but which values and principles really guide our behavior. Values and principles mean something only when they affect everything we do, every day of the week.

How many organizations do you know that follow their core values—even when doing so harms them economically? How many companies do you know where the core values are more “caught than taught” just by watching the behavior of the owners, executives, managers, supervisors, and individual contributors? In your organization and mine, the shared values are not necessarily what is written on paper, posted on walls and promoted in company speeches. The real core values are demonstrated daily in the behavior of those who manage and run the organization.

Bakke was committed to leading an organization that “walked the talk” of its shared values. That is not an easy thing to do.

Personal Application

Why not take a few minutes this week and take stock of your organization and its core values? Pretend you are an outsider visiting your company. Listen closely. Watch closely. Notice the how and the why behind decisions. How are people interacting with one another? Write down what you observe. At week’s end, review your observations and think about what an outsider would say your company’s shared values are based upon what you have observed and heard. Compare what you’ve written with the official core values of your company? Are there any disconnects? Are there any conflicts?

James 1:7 warns of the result of being a “double minded man”—the result is instability “in all his ways.” I understand that the context requires an interpretation of having one’s mind and heart divided between God and the world. But I also think there is an application that can be made within the context of our discussion on company core values.

Do you?

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