Saturday, September 5, 2015

Workmanship by Allen Laudenslager and Bryan Neva (2005)

Workmanship

This following article entitled “People are the key value in a business enterprise!” was published from Rimini, Italy in September 2003 about the French entrepreneur François Michelin and the influence of his Christian faith in his business:
François Michelin, for 51 years head of the Michelin Group, highlighted the importance of Catholic culture in valuing the person, who he said is fundamental to success in business.  Addressing last week's "Meeting for Friendship Among Peoples," organized by the Communion and Liberation movement, the French entrepreneur revealed the secrets of his tire-making enterprise, demonstrating that a Christian can successfully apply evangelical teachings in the production process and in the market.  Michelin, now his firm's honorary president, explained that "a true businessman responds to the client, and this is why he is always looking for a product of better quality that can be offered, while controlling the price."  Vital for a well-functioning business is the ability "to bring out into the light the diamond that is in each person," he said.  In this connection, Michelin said that one of the people who contributed most to the development of tires was a worker who had been hired as a printer. Eventually, the personnel office realized that he had many other qualities, such as imagination and the ability to do research.  Referring to the importance of people, Michelin emphasized the specific contribution of Catholic culture and recalled the work of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who valued even the most seemingly miserable life.  "Every human being is unique, irrepeatable," Michelin said.  "Functions and labels don't count, the person does."  "Both in the factory as well as in society, life is possible only if we listen to and understand the other's reasons," he added.  "To love is to see in people what they are."
Christians believe that the ultimate purpose of business is to satisfy the needs of people rather than to increase profit, power, or material possessions for the owners, investors, and managers of a business.  Profit is only a byproduct of a successfully run business.  Part of running a successful business is recognizing the contributions of the employees through effective leadership and management.  But these can only take a company so far; workers must do their part in order for a business to succeed.

Christians believe that honest work gives each of us meaning and purpose in our lives, as we help contribute to God’s continued work of creation.  All of us have a duty to work, as this is how we satisfy our needs and the needs of those dependent on us.  “If anyone will not work, let him not eat,” St. Paul wrote in 2nd Thessalonians 3.10.  Work also gives us honor and glorifies God when we use our gifts and talents to help others.  Work can also be redemptive as we endure the hardships of work throughout our lives it helps build character, and we grow in our love for God, our families, and others.

Work encompasses a large part of our lives, but it’s not the-end-all-and-be-all of our existence.  There’s a cycle to life: a time to be born, to grow, to develop, to learn, to love, to hate, to laugh, to cry, to work, to play, to eat, to sleep, to create, to mature, to rest, and finally to die.  But there are some who believe that life’s a bitch and then we die!  They’ve lost their hope in life, and they take no pleasure in their work.  There are others who believe they work for the weekend!  Rather than trying to live up to their full potential, they work to accumulate material possessions and satisfy their sensual cravings.  In both these cases, work is meaningless and a form of slavery.  But it doesn’t have to be that way. 

Some years back, there was a documentary on public television about people who’d won multi-million dollar lotteries.  After the euphoria was over, they felt something missing in their lives.  Their expensive homes, cars, material possessions, exotic vacations, and country club memberships no longer fulfilled their needs.  One man who’d been a long-haul truck driver before winning the lottery actually wanted to start driving a truck again because he was so bored with his life.

The lives of many popular entertainers are the subject of newspapers, magazines, and television shows, and most of us are shocked by their ostentatious, immoral, and self-indulgent lifestyles.  It’s fairly obvious that their wealth and material possessions have not satisfied their innermost needs for meaning and purpose in their lives.

From these examples we’re reminded that money won’t buy us happiness.  Part of the way we can satisfy our needs for meaning and purpose is through honest work.  Work not only helps meet our physical needs, but it helps meet our emotional, mental, social, and spiritual needs as well.

The world does not owe us a living!  We must take responsibility for earning our own way in life.  But, many workers sabotage their own livelihoods through poor work habits.  Some years back, the major automobile manufacturers in Detroit, Michigan began to hire poor, chronically unemployed people from the inner city to work on their assembly lines.  Most people would have thought the lure of a well paying automobile assembly line job would have motivated these people to get to work on time…unfortunately, it didn’t!  As a result, these companies actually purchased alarm clocks for these people and gave them classes to teach them responsible work habits.  Ultimately, the social experiment failed miserably because many of these workers were unable to learn responsible work habits like simply showing up to work on time. 

Many people who were once good workers end up unemployed due to poor performance and their inability to get along with others.  Some may have had personal setbacks such as a divorce, a death in the family, or a major illness, but others simply got complacent.  Excuses run the gamete why employees don’t put forth their best effort at work, but it really comes down to personal integrity.  If an employer, a colleague, or a customer doesn’t treat us right, it doesn’t excuse poor workmanship.  It’s scandalous and poor stewardship for a manager to cause their employees to be less productive; nevertheless, it’s still wrong for employees not to do their best at work.

If we find ourselves in a difficult working environment, it’s all right to honestly try to improve things or to just quit.  Unfortunately, most people choose instead to silently protest through poor workmanship and passive aggressive behavior.  In his letter to the Ephesians (excerpted from 6.5-9, NIV), St. Paul wrote:

[Workers], obey [those in authority over you] with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.  Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like [workers] of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.  Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does…  And [managers], treat your [workers] in the same way.  Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their [Lord] and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with [God].
Labor or work is a necessary ingredient for producing and selling a product or service.  The other ingredients are: Capital such as money, tools, equipment, vehicles, machinery, buildings, schools, power plants, technology, animals, etcetera; Natural Resources such as land, water, minerals, or anything provided by nature; and Entrepreneurial Know How which is the people who mix these ingredients together to produce a product or service.  Economists call these ingredients or resources of production Labor, Capital, Land, and Entrepreneurship respectively. 

Christians believe that God created the world and all its natural resources for our benefit; then He gave us the job to work and subdue the earth and everything in it.  Consequently, Christians have always believed that human Labor takes precedence over Land and Capital.  Regardless of our position or status in this life, we can all only sell our time and our talents to the marketplace, so no one should be ashamed of how they make a living.  Regardless if we labor in the hot fields harvesting produce, move furniture, sweep floors, dig ditches, design rockets, or perform brain surgery, God commends all honest work.  Since God does not play favorites, we shouldn’t either!

Businesses are challenged to find a balance between the various competing needs of all the stakeholders.  Therefore, all the resources of production—Labor, Capital, Land and Entrepreneurship—must cooperate with one another if they want to produce goods and services.  Yet the needs of workers, or Labor, should always take precedence over Capital, and Land. 

Each ingredient of production cannot produce goods and services by themselves.  How can a carpenter build a house without trees or a saw?  How can a nurse treat the sick without medicine or a hospital?  How can an entrepreneur start a business without money or workers?  Yet, different goods and services require different combinations of these ingredients.  Some businesses are almost all Labor such as a hair salon or a computer software company.  Some businesses are almost all Capital such as a finance company or a steel plant.  And other businesses are almost all Land such as a farm, an oil company, or an iron or coal mine.  But, it’s the Entrepreneur—a person who works or Labors—who combines these ingredients to produce goods or services, which proves that Labor always takes precedence over Capital and Land.

A corollary to this principal of the primacy of work or Labor over the other ingredients of production is our right to own property.  Our basic human right to own Capital or Land is necessary so we can provide for ourselves and those dependent on us.  For example, how could we live without food to eat, clothing to wear, a house to live in, or transportation to get us to work?  Or, how could we be psychologically balanced if we didn’t have pastimes and hobbies?

Our right to own private property also includes technology, skills, know-how, and other intangible assets.  For example, a physician must invest about twelve years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to earn the right to practice medicine and surgery.  Consequently, they should have the right to fully profit from their intellectual investment to practice medicine and surgery.  A person who writes a best selling novel owns the copyright for publishing that book.  They deserve to profit from their intellectual labor for writing that book.  A person who invents a popular device deserves to fully profit from the sales of their invention.  And a movie or record company deserves to profit from the movies or records they produce.

Futurists have predicted that work will eventually evolve into something akin to George Jetson solely arriving at Spacely Sprockets and pushing one button to start the machines and robots that actually do the work of production.  The implication is that technology will eventually displace jobs and cause greater unemployment.  We on the other hand are not inclined to believe this scenario of the future where jobs and careers will disappear.  

Although it’s true that the nature of work has evolved over the centuries and many tasks are now performed more efficiently by technology, it’s not likely that work or labor will ever go away.  For example, fifty years ago office documents were reproduced by dozens of secretaries working in a huge manual typing room.  Today, one administrative assistant can produce as much using a computer word processor, a printer, and a copy machine.  So technology has eliminated some jobs, but it has created even more jobs in engineering, computer programming, manufacturing, and electronic repair.  

Another reason we’re not pessimistic about the future of work is that God established work for our benefit.  Work is sacred.  Although technology has altered the way we work, it has not altered our basic humanity.  Times change, things change, but people basically don’t change.  So as long as there are human needs and wants, there will always be work regardless of the technology that helps to satisfy them.

With the exception of very few people, all of us must work for a living.  Unfortunately, even homeless people have to eke out a meager living for themselves.  All honest work is commendable, and a big part of applying Judeo-Christian business principals is getting up and going to work everyday.  And doing our best at work everyday—despite obstacles and impediments—shows moral maturity and genuine love for God and others.  It’s easy to criticize poor leadership and management; it’s harder to be critical of our own poor workmanship.  Before we criticize others, we should honestly look at our own work habits. 

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