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Catholic CEO

How Church teachings can help us build better organizations

       

       

       

 

Christian Progress (#26)

26. There is no doubt that globalization, enhanced communication and financialization can have positive consequences for the human community.  A healthy respect for short-term financial performance can also be positive if it is but one contributor to decision-making rather than being its sole driver.  All these trends, however, need to be guided by ethical social principles, illuminated for Christians by the Gospel and embedded in sound cultural institutions.  Without such a constant influence, they risk being detrimental to “integral human development”.  This is where the social teachings of the Church and our belief in God’s love can offer an authentic perspective, enabling business leaders to fulfil their Christian calling. 

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Commentary:  The Church is always forward-looking, is always promoting progress.  We are all co-creators with God, so developments like globalization, better communication and financialization are to be welcomed and harnessed for good.  Stark's book, The Victory of Reason shows the role the Church played in promoting freedom when human beings were treated as property and capitalism when rulers lived on the rent they forced from their subjects.  How many commentators credit the Church for the role it played establishing capitalism?

Of course, these developments can be used wrongly.  It's our job to define how they can be used to further God's plan.  This job becomes easier as we become more familiar with the Gospel and with the Church's social doctrine.

We fulfill our calling as business leaders when we challenge ourselves and our companies to apply the principles of Catholic social doctrine in our organizations, in a deeply fundamental way.  Doing this will probably cause some pain as we make the transition from our own plan to his.  And if we're not feeling pain, we're probably not digging deeply enough as Pope Francis would remind us.

 

Spirituality at work (#25)

25. Fortunately, new movements and programs have been developed in an effort to take moral and spiritual life more seriously in relation to business.  Faith-and-work groups, spirituality of work programs, business ethics training and social responsibility projects, are all helping business leaders to manage their companies in the spirit of St. Paul’s exhortation: “But test everything; hold fast what is good” (1 Thes 5:21).   Many of these groups and movements are enabling business leaders to recognise their work as a vocation and the role their businesses play in contributing to the common good. 

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Commentary:  There are many ways to express spirituality at work: convening prayer groups, providing a helping hand to those in need, setting aside a quiet place where employees can meditate.  These are all positive, wonderful things to do.

However, if someone returns from a meeting or meditation and reverts to a life of seeing work primarily as a way to accumulate wealth and treating employees as elements of production, then the common good has been ill-served.

The challenge the Church's social doctrine presents is to put the dignity of the human person first in all that we do.  This is very difficult, as we are often managed by metrics and it's difficult to assess dignity on a measurable scale.  It's easy to measure worker productivity or unit profitability, but difficult to ascertain if we have done all we could do to enhance the dignity of our employees and other stakeholders.  Work is for the person, not the person for work, as we are reminded by St John Paul II.  This requires a radical change in how we view people, but once we begin doing that we will begin building a true spirituality at work.

 

Work and Sacrifice (#24)

24. Cultural changes: As already discussed, the impact of new levels of contact between nations through globalization, and between individuals through technology, has resulted in significant cultural change.  For the Christian business leader, two related key cultural changes have been the turn to individualism in the West and higher levels of family breakdown than in the past.  With a strongly utilitarian view of economics and even of society on the rise, whole populations are encouraged to focus on achieving “what works for me”, independently of the effects on others, with results that negatively impact family life. “Values” are seen as relative, measured by their contribution to individual preferences and business gains.  Work becomes simply a means to afford the pleasures of life that each person chooses.  Rights become much more important than duties; sacrifice for a larger good is no longer considered. These attitudes fuel the drive of top management to claim a disproportionate share of the wealth created, for employees to nurture an attitude of entitlement and for customers to expect instant gratification.

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Commentary:  This point asserts that two key cultural changes, individualism and family breakdowns are due to the unstoppable trends of globalization and technology.  Both cultural changes are directly opposed to the principles of Catholic Social Doctrine, and need to be addressed by all of us by speaking to our friends about alternatives that lead us to live happier lives.

I would like to address two topics in particular, whose original meaning has been eroded over the past several decades.  Those topics are work and sacrifice.

As this point describes, work is seen primarily as a means to achieve the pleasures of life: put in your time and then splurge for a new car or a great vacation.  We need to help others see that work is the primary way we increase our personal dignity and grow closer to God.  We can transform a project at work into a gift to God by offering it to him, doing it as well as we can, and completing it on time.  God will notice the effort we are making and bless that work, and our employer will notice that the quality of work has improved.  And those seemingly endless hours at work will suddenly take on a supernatural meaning.

Sacrifice makes sense to people if it leads to some future pleasure: lower weight, stronger abs, enough savings to purchase a home entertainment system.  But sacrifice was defined by Christ on the cross: sacrificing himself for the good of others, sacrificing for love.  We sacrifice for love when we do something purely for the good of another, because we want the best for that person and don’t count the cost ourselves.  

Paradoxically, doing work for another (God) and sacrificing for another (our family, our neighbors) makes us happier, which is what everyone says they want.  But that requires us to stop looking only at ourselves, and begin to incorporate others in the work we do and the sacrifices we make.  Happiness follows.

PROBLEMS WITH FINANCIALIZATION(#23)

23. But despite these positive developments, financialization has contributed to a whole assortment of negative trends and consequences.  We will address only two—commoditization and short-termism. Financialization has tended to completely commoditize businesses, reducing the meaning of this human enterprise to nothing but a price.  In particular, the financial sector has contributed to this commoditization trend by equating the purpose of business to shareholder wealth maximization. Shareholder value has become virtually the sole metric by which business leaders determine their performance and their worth.  In the current climate, the call to “maximize shareholder wealth” remains dominant and is the leading theory taught in many business schools. Along with this commoditization have come short-term mentalities under which leaders are tempted to become fixated on the upside potential for short-term success, and to downplay the consequences of excessive risk-taking and strategic failure. It is not surprising that the opportunity to acquire enormous wealth in relatively short timeframes provides a strong incentive for dysfunctional behaviour. Pope Benedict XVI noted these dangers when he wrote: “Without doubt, one of the greatest risks for businesses is that they are almost exclusively answerable to their investors, thereby limiting their social value.... [I]t is becoming increasingly rare for business enterprises to be in the hands of a stable director who feels responsible in the long term, not just the short term, for the life and results of the company”.

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Commentary:  The financialization of a company focuses everyone's attention on shareholder return.  All that matters is that number.  So what's wrong with that?  There are at least four major problems with this focus:

1)  Catholic social doctrine teaches us that businesses exist to increase the dignity of the people involved with it: employees, customers, suppliers, shareholders, those in the community.  The person should be the purpose of business, not shareholder wealth.  Financialization abandons the person to the metric of shareholder return.  Replacing a person with a number is a violation of the Church's social doctrine, and is at the root of Pope Francis' anger towards modern day capitalism.

2)  "Short term-ism" is the focus of many public companies who are evaluated primarily on the basis of their quarterly financial results.  It is difficult to do long-term planning in this environment because the required investment often reduces reported profits, free cash flow, or ROI and many companies are then punished by the market.

3)  Innovation requires cash that is often invested in financial activities that drive "return on capital employed," rather than in new products or services.  The capital required by a project with a longer term payoff will reduce ROCE.  IBM became a darling of the financialization investment community.  Its stock price has suffered greatly as innovation withered.  

4)  As the financial sector becomes a larger part of the world economy, fewer investor dollars are available to expand companies that actually produce something.  The productive economy continues to shrink, along with the jobs that go with it.

Positive aspects of financialization (#22)

22.  Financialization of the economy

The combination of globalization with its expansion of markets and earnings and new communication technologies has brought the financial sector to great prominence in business.  The term “financialization” describes the shift in the capitalist economy from production to finance.  The revenue and profits of the financial sector have become an increasingly large segment of the world-wide economy.  Its institutions, instruments and motives are having a significant influence on the operations and understanding of business.  While the recent financial crisis has brought about a wave of criticisms of the negative effects of financialization, the financial sector has also: given millions of people easier access to credit for consumption and production; sought to spread risk through derivative instruments; created ways to leverage capital to make it more productive; and more. The financial sector has also produced social or ethical funds allowing investors to apply their values in supporting or avoiding certain industries or certain companies. These funds represent an important and fast-growing development that is set to grow further after some promising results during the financial crisis. Caritas in Veritate points out that ethical investment should be the norm: “Efforts are needed—and it is essential to say this—not only to create ‘ethical’ sectors or segments of the economy or the world of finance, but to ensure that the whole economy—the whole of finance—is ethical, not merely by virtue of an external label, but by its respect for requirements intrinsic to its very nature”.

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Commentary:  This point addresses the positive aspects of financialization; the next point looks at the downside.  So this commentary will be focused accordingly.

The increasing importance of the financial sector of the economy is certainly driven by globalization.  Being able to move money around quickly and safely and to hedge currencies or share risks through derivatives provides more opportunities for businesses to expand in predictive environments.  Without these financial products, goods and services would be more expensive and less available, so we can say that these aspects of financialization are serving the common good.  

We can also observe the rise of microfinance as a component of financialization.  Providing small loans to men and women in developing countries enables them to start small businesses, enhancing both their income and dignity and providing more stability for their families.

Finally, socially responsible or ethical mutual funds are also enabled by financialization.  Investors can now choose funds that refuse to invest in companies providing contraceptives or abortafacients or other morally objectionable products.   

 

Urgent vs. Important (#21)

21. On the negative side, we now live in a world of instant gratification and an overabundance of information.  In such a world, as is commonly noted, ‘the urgent can drive out the important’.  Every message becomes a priority when instant communication insists on our attention.  We seem to have no time for well-studied and thoughtful decisions on complex matters.  Decisions—even important ones—are increasingly made without adequate consideration and with too little shared information.  Faced with more difficulty in preparing for and explaining decisions, leaders rely on their experience.  Thus, their personal values and beliefs become even more critical in framing their decision-making. 

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Commentary:  We all want our decisions to be based on thoughtful considerations of a number of different views.  However, the world of instant communication and the behavior it creates make this more difficult.  Our capabilities to think have not matched the explosion of information that pushes onto our electronic devices, but the pressure to "control our inbox" by replying, forwarding or deleting messages promotes a false sense of considered decision making.  

We need to develop the virtues required to cope with this information explosion:

  • Discernment: the ability to know the difference between the urgent and the important.
  • Thoughtfulness: the discipline not to decide until all the necessary information is presented.
  • Mortification: saying "no" to the temptation to click on an article that may be interesting but has nothing to do with our professional work.

It may only take 10 seconds to read an email and dispose of it, but if we let it interrupt our work, we need to add 2-3 minutes to get our brain back on track.  And remember that research indicates none of us is really able to "multi-process."  We just learn to change our focus quickly which carries with it a penalty to get re-engaged with what is really important, with what our employer pays us to do.

COMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGY AND MANAGEMENT (#20)

20. Communications technology:   The revolution in communications technology brought by the Internet has had significant effects, both positive and negative, upon business management. On the positive side, Internet-based collaboration is developing new products and solutions to age-old problems. Such products and solutions have reduced the costs for people to connect globally. New business models combine collaboration and competition in unique ways to meet needs that previously were inadequately served or left completely unsatisfied. Consumer/stakeholder groups are empowered to apply pressure on global businesses and highlight poor practices in issues ranging from respect for human rights to environmental protection in poorer parts of the world. This activism reduces the cost penalty borne by those companies that have always aimed to behave responsibly in these parts of the world. 

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COMMENTARY:  This point examines the positive impact of communications technology in a business, which are substantial and undeniable.  This reminds us that the Church is a partner in technological development, urging us forward to use our talents to improve the world.  She properly points to any moral dangers we must confront and avoid, but absent these, it's full speed ahead.  God didn't create a perfect Garden of Eden.  He wanted us to till with him, to co-redeem with him, to make the Garden and its inhabitants better.

 

Disconnecting capital from labor (#19)

19. Behind all these changes is the fundamental reality that capital has acquired new freedom: no longer does it have to account to the people in the countries where its profits are made.10  It is as if economic power had acquired an extraterritorial status. Companies are able to react to profit opportunities quite independently of their national authorities—and in so doing they play a key role not only in the organization of the economy but of society.  Thus globalization is modifying the foundations of the economy and the polity, reducing the degrees of freedom of nation-states: the familiar nation-state’s political-economic instruments are tied to a well-defined territory, whereas multinational companies can produce goods in one country, pay taxes in another, and claim assistance and state contributions in yet a third. Business has become much more influential in this changed context and consequently carries the potential for great good or harm.

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COMMENTARY:  As the world has shrunk and capital moves at the speed of light, profits are often produced in one locale and quickly move to another, perhaps where the corporate office is located.  As the document points out, this is neither good nor bad but certainly has the potential for either.

There are certainly a number of potential negative outcomes:

  • Local labor is exploited because it will work for almost any wage, but the profits from that labor are consumed by executives half a world away.
  • Private equity firms buy and sell companies without regard to the local impact, exercising power that used to belong to sovereign states.
  • Sovereigns are pressured to lower business tax rates under the threat that capital will flee to places like Ireland where those rates are lower.

There are some positive possibilities as well:

  • The Internet-enabled reduction in transaction costs are helping to break companies into smaller pieces, creating the potential for small businesses to form where large subsidiaries have been closed or sold off.
  • Companies can more quickly and easily invest their capital in new facilities in areas they may never have considered when capital was created and resided in the same locale.  This may help poorer countries move out of poverty sooner.

The untethering of capital from the work that produced it is a fact, and Catholic businesspeople have to apply the principles of Catholic Social Doctrine to ensure these new realities provide positive outcomes.

Globalization (#18)

18. Globalization: The rise of a global economic order is one of the distinguishing features of our age. The term “globalization” points to a worldwide process of intensification of the movement of both outputs and inputs, especially labor and capital, bringing with it a growing web of social interconnectedness.

            With the end of the Cold War and the opening up of many emerging markets, the marketplace for businesses around the world has expanded enormously. This has created new opportunities and new threats.  Whole peoples who were previously excluded from the world economic system can now participate in and benefit from it.

            Greater efficiencies have made more products and services affordable for more people. At the same time, greater world output has been accompanied by greater inequality in the distribution of income and wealth, both within countries and between them. Regional economic zones, with free movement of goods and even single currencies, encourage trade and stimulate innovation. They are not, however, always accompanied by equally free possibilities for the movement of working people in search of employment.  Especially where there is a single currency, the resulting limitations that national or local governments encounter when trying to promote an effective economic policy, especially during a localized crisis, may put whole political systems under strain.

            At the same time, markets have gone from being relatively homogeneous culturally to highly diverse. This is positive in that it brings different cultures into greater communication with one another.  However, considering the effects of aggressive competition and the global marketing of standardized products, the dangers of cultural imperialism and loss of diversity should be carefully examined. Pope Benedict XVI has summarized these divergent forces by observing that, “as society becomes ever more globalized, it makes us neighbors but does not make us brothers”.

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COMMENTARY:

As the Church points out, globalization is neither good nor bad by itself.  It’s a trend, a capability, that can be used by the world to promote good or bad.  It’s our responsibility as business people to do the former, and to mitigate the latter.

The Eurozone is a good example of the opportunity globalization brings.  Citizens of one country can work in another without a permit, and having a common currency means cash can be sent home or spent locally.  The endemic high unemployment currently plaguing some European nations makes this more difficult but in “normal” times this aspect of globalization is positive for those who need to migrate for better economic opportunities.

In this country we are in the middle of a debate/crisis concerning undocumented workers and children from Mexico and Central America.  It’s a shame this system could not have been made more rational, caught up as it is in acrimonious political debate.  The Church recognizes that a country has a right to control its borders, and that citizens of other countries have a right to migrate to improve their lot in life.  It’s up to us as laypeople to figure out how to better balance those rights for the benefit of all.

Technology is the grease of globalization, and it speeds everything up: goods and services ship faster at a lower cost, information is democratized and is almost free, MOOCs and other educational content are available at no charge, and communication is cheap and instantaneous.  People in emerging economies don’t have the education or training to take advantage of all of this, which is a problem that needs to be solved. 

Four Factors Influencing Business (#16, #17)

16. Christian business leaders must be able to see this world in a way that allows them to make judgments about it, to build up its goodness and truth, to promote the common good, and to confront evil and falsehood. The judge section of this paper offers help in this kind of assessment. Here the aim is to present a short summary of some key factors affecting business activity today, indicating where possible their good, bad, and context-dependent aspects from the perspective of the business leader.

17. Among the many complex factors that influence business locally and globally, there are four which standout as worthy of special mention, having fundamentally changed the context of business over the last quarter-century. The first three are closely related to each other:

(1) globalization, (2) new communication technologies, and (3) the financialization of the economy. The fourth factor, (4) cultural changes—and, in particular, the challenge of individualism and accompanying moral systems of relativism and utilitarianism—may arguably present the greatest dangers to Christian business leaders. There are of course many other factors that have a bearing on business today (state regulation, the role of international authorities, unions, environmental issues, work/family tensions, and more), all of which deserve analysis, but in an effort to be succinct we will only examine these four.

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Commentary:

We will look at each of these factors in the next few points.  But for now, are these the four most important factors in your opinion (globalization, new communication technologies, financialization of the economy, cultural changes)? 

What about the others mentioned?  Regulation, international authorities, unions, environmental issues, work/family tensions? 

And what are some others?  I thought of a few:

·      Demographics.  Birth rates are declining in the industrialized world.  This will affect demand for products and services, reducing profitability and pushing companies out of business.

·      Increasing use of drugs.  Over 30% of those applying for manufacturing jobs in Pennsylvania are ineligible for employment due to drug use.  And this statistic will worsen as states follow Colorado’s lead in legalizing marijuana. 

·      Huge government and corporate debt.  Cheap money has created massive borrowing that may not be repaid (Argentina, Greece).  How are companies positioned for the disruption caused by rising interest rates?

·      Permanent unemployment.  Over 90 million people are not working in this country alone.  In Europe, the unemployment rate for young people is 50% in many countries.  Those young adults may never work full time, shattering their dignity.  Work is an important component of human dignity.

·      Business disruption caused by technology.  Entire business models are being overturned by technology.  This isn’t new, but the impact of poor education and the speed of substitution (e.g. cloud based software versus the client/server model) is leaving millions of people behind.

Perhaps you can think of others.  Please send me an email with your thoughts.

Signs of the Times (#15)

15. The business leader faces a world characterized by a complicated mix of factors. To try to understand them, we need to follow the guidance given in the document Gaudium et Spes of Vatican II; that is, we have the task “of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel”.  Some of these signs point to factors that limit what leaders can do to realise the good by constricting their behaviour and closing down avenues of creativity. Other factors create new opportunities for managers and entrepreneurs to serve the common good and the potential for new circles of solidarity to infuse our social, political and economic life. The world around us, therefore, presents a complex interplay of light and dark, of good and evil, of truth and falsehood, of opportunities and threats.

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Commentary:

Interpreting what’s going on in our society in light of the teachings of the Church is very important.  Without doing that, we’ll use other criteria (personal views, our own comfort, politics, or Hollywood endorsements) to help us form judgments, and we’ll argue with others who have used different criteria.

Once we decide not to do that and to form our judgments by applying Catholic social doctrine (CSD), our life becomes in one way simpler and in another more complex.  Simpler, because we have found one set of principles on which we can always rely.  More complex, because we have to learn more about CSD.

Of course, not all decisions are black and white.  But any decision made after considering the tenets of CSD will be a better decision.  God gave us our intellect and free will which we should treasure and exercise.  And those faculties help us sort through the moral dimensions of a decision should that be necessary. 

Look at the signs of our times: Christians murdered in Nigeria, countries burdened by huge debt loads, outlandish CEO salaries, water turned off to the poor of Detroit, refugees streaming over our borders…  How does the Gospel shed light on these signs?

Seeing, Judging, Acting (#14)

14. An important part of the business leader’s vocation is practising ethical social principles while conducting the normal rhythms of the business world. This entails seeing clearly the situation, judging with principles that foster the integral development of people, and acting in a way that implements these principles in light of one’s unique circumstances and in a manner consistent with the teaching of the Faith.7 The rest of this document is organised accordingly: see, judge, act.

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Commentary:

Observing the principles of Catholic social doctrine necessarily changes how we see, judge and act in our organizations.

We need a pair of glasses with a new set of filters that enables us to see how our policies are affecting the dignity of our employees and other stakeholders.  If we once saw them as mere “inputs” to the work process instead of its central purpose, the adjustment of our vision might be quite substantial.

There is no denying that judging performance using financial metrics is cleaner, and that creating new measures tied to the promotion of human dignity is difficult.  But with some thought, new tools of measurement can be established in conformance of our new understanding of the purpose of work.   We might consider applying for the Fortune 100 Best Places to Work (or its many small business equivalents), or taking an inventory of employees’ skills outside the functional area where he or she works so we can match those skills with the company’s needs, or quantifying the amount of training each employee receives.

Finally, acting on all of this requires fortitude and perseverance.  We’ll be misunderstood.  Senior executives, board members and shareholders won’t understand this at first.  And maybe never.  Nonetheless, we need to act in a way consistent with our faith.  Pope Francis is urging us on, seeing the need to restore capitalism to its dignified foundations.

What type of leader do I want to become? (#13)

13. Well-integrated business leaders can respond to the rigorous demands placed upon them with a servant attitude, recalling Jesus washing the feet of His disciples. Leadership in this servant spirit is different from the authoritarian exercise of power too often present in business organizations. It distinguishes Christian executives and the work environment that they seek to foster. In living business responsibilities in such a manner, in developing true servant leadership, they give freely of their expertise and abilities. In figuratively washing the feet of their collaborators, business leaders more fully realize their noble calling.

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Commentary:

This is one of the most serious challenges we face as business leaders.  The picture of the two types of leaders could not be more distinct: one focused on power and moving the company forward through his own determination and drive, and the other (also moving the company forward) through humility and magnanimity, not as an autocrat but as a servant.

Good to Great by Jim Collins is one of my favorite books.  Collins tells the stories of the greatest CEOs measured by their company’s stock market performance.  The typical “great” company outperformed its peers by a factor of five.  And what about these leaders?  First of all most of us never heard of them: Darwin Smith, Colman Mockler, George Cain.  Second, they were leaders with “personal humility and professional will.”

Being a servant leader does not mean your company will suffer financially.  As Collins demonstrates, leaders like this build companies with extraordinary financial returns. 

Putting God at the center of all we do (#12)

12. The many pressures business leaders face may lead them to forget the Gospel call in their daily professional activities. It may seduce them into believing, falsely, that their professional lives are incompatible with their spiritual lives. It places excessive confidence in material resources and/or worldly success. When this happens, business leaders risk valuing status and fame over lasting accomplishment, and consequently risk losing their good judgment. Business leaders may be tempted, whether from self-centeredness, pride, greed or anxiety, to reduce the purpose of business solely to maximizing profit, to growing market share, or to any other solely economic good. In this way, the good that a market economy may do, for individuals and for society, can be diminished or distorted.

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Commentary:  

We don’t have a professional life, separate from our family life, separate from our spiritual life.  We only have one life.  We have to live a “unity of life” where we lift all our activities up to God, doing them as well as we can, for him. 

Each hour of our professional work can be offered to God, and thus transformed into prayer.  Seeing God as the center of all that we do will protect us from the risks of seeking only “worldly success.”  Seeking status and fame pushes God out of the work that we do, since when we build ourselves up we’re replacing the real God with the false god of money, power, and worldly success.

How silly!  Seeking only his glory in all that we do will make our professional work much more successful than if we relied solely on our own capabilities. 

Golden Calves (#11)

11. Fragmentation of this kind can ultimately lead to idolatry—an all-too-common occupational hazard of business life that threatens both individuals and organizations. It means abandoning one’s call to relationship with a loving Creator, as the Israelites did at the foot of Mount Sinai when they crafted and worshipped a golden calf. The golden calf is a symbol of misplaced devotion, born of a false idea of true success.  There are many surrogates for the golden calf in modern life. They emerge when “the sole criterion for action in business is thought to be the maximization of profit”; when technology is pursued for its own sake; when personal wealth or political influence fails to serve the common good; or when utilitarian or consequential reasoning becomes dominant. Each of these “golden calves” amounts to a kind of fixation, usually accompanied by rationalization. Each has the capacity to “entrance” us as Pope Benedict XVI says in his social encyclical Caritas in Veritate,  and business leaders must pay careful attention to avoid the lure of idolatry.

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Commentary: At the end of last week Pope Francis continued his challenging words to business leaders.  Though the right and left quickly jumped on board with political statements (“Pope Francis is a socialist” “Pope Francis endorses income redistribution”) he is never that simple.  But he surely believes businesses are not doing enough to relieve the sufferings of the poor, and that we need to live the principle of the universal destination of goods, recognizing we are stewards of our financial success but that all God’s children have a right to the surpluses our businesses create. 

Our fixation as business leaders has to be the person, not just the profit.  The common good demands that we reach out to those on the margins and help them.  A government doesn’t “love,” and a government handout does not address the dignity of the poor.  We have work to determine how best to share our success with the poorest in our society, to take care of their material needs, but mostly to love them as they are ipse Christus, Christ himself.

Living a Unity of Life (#10)

10. Chief among these obstacles at a personal level is a divided life, or what Vatican II described as “the split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives”. The Second Vatican Council saw this split as “one of the more serious errors of our age”.  Dividing the demands of one’s faith from one’s work in business is a fundamental error that contributes to much of the damage done by businesses in our world today, including overwork to the detriment of family or spiritual life, an unhealthy attachment to power to the detriment of one’s own good, and the abuse of economic power in order to make even greater economic gains. In this regard, the Church remains mindful of the words of Jesus himself: “No one can be the slave of two masters. He will either hate the first and love the second or be attached to the first and despise the second. You cannot love both God and money” (Mt 6:24). Business leaders who do not see themselves serving others and God in their working lives will fill the void of purpose with a less worthy substitute. The divided life is not unified or integrated: it is fundamentally disordered, and thus fails to live up to God’s call.

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Commentary:  We object to the person who says he is morally opposed to abortion, but doesn’t want to push his views on others. That person lives a divided life.

But as this point demonstrates, many of us live a divided life between what we profess morally, and how we behave professionally: we give lip service to God, but really serve mammon. 

We need to learn to live a unity of life, where we offer everything we do to God, putting him at the summit of our lives.  Then we will ask him how we should operate our business and how we should integrate it with the key principles of Catholic social doctrine: dignity of the human person, solidarity, subsidiarity, and the universal destinations of goods.  What we do will then be united to what we believe, and that coherence will give us the peace that we’re seeking.

Serving God means serving our neighbor.  God points us to those who need it the most.  We cannot say we’re serving God if we are ignoring the poorest and most excluded among us.  We have a positive duty to share what we have with those desperate for the scraps that fall from our table.  And if that individual lacks a name and a face, he’s a theory, not a person.

Overcoming obstacles in our business (#9)

9. Businesses certainly have the potential to be a force for great good in any society, and many do live up to their moral and economic promise.  Numerous obstacles, however, may stand in the way of realizing this potential. Some of these obstacles are external to the business and its leaders usually have a limited capacity to influence them, such as the absence of the rule of law or international regulations, corruption, destructive competition, crony capitalism, excessive state intervention, or a culture hostile to entrepreneurship in one or more of its forms. Others are internal, such as treating employees as mere “resources”, treating the business itself as no more than a commodity, rejecting a proper role for government regulation of the market place, making money out of products which are not truly good, or services which do not truly serve, or exploiting natural and human resources in a destructive way.

Commentary:  This is a rich paragraph, with two major themes:

1.    External obstacles that may prevent a business from becoming a “force for great good.”  

2.    Internal obstacles.

EXTERNAL OBSTACLES

The external obstacles listed are worth considering as perhaps we have more influence on them than we think.

·      Absence of rule of law (probably doesn’t affect most of us)

·      Corruption.  Do our companies have a firm policy against bribery?  Is there any chance we’re looking the other way?

·      Destructive competition, such as lowering prices to eliminate a competitor.  Or promoting false statements about another company.

·      Crony capitalism.  Do we contribute to political campaigns with the clear understanding that our companies will benefit?

·      Excessive state intervention.  Are we participating in lobbying and trade association activities that push back against this intervention?

·      Culture hostile to entrepreneurship.  Are we fighting against government policies that inhibit entrepreneurship (excessive taxes, policies that make investment difficult, etc)?

INTERNAL OBSTACLES

·      Treating employees as resources.  We can’t “use” people as we use other resources in our business.  People are the purpose of business, and we have to do what we can to help them grow in their dignity as children of God.

·      Treating business as a commodity.  Our companies are where God intends us to grow in holiness, by offering our work.  It’s his garden, not a commodity.

·      Rejecting a role for regulation.  We might not like regulation, but unfortunately it’s necessary as some would plunder the environment to make a dollar. 

·      Selling products that are inferior or serve no useful purpose.  We should examine ourselves about our attitude about the tradeoff between cost and quality, and convince ourselves that the world is a better place with our product or service.  Could we change it to make it more useful?

·      Exploiting natural and human resources.  The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church has a whole chapter on the Church’s defense of the environment.  It’s worth reading.

Being a steward in the work of the Creator (#8)

8. Building a productive organization is a primary way in which businesspeople can share in the unfolding of the work of creation. When they realize that they are participating in the work of the Creator through their stewardship of productive organizations, they may begin to realize the grandeur and awesome responsibility of their vocation.

Commentary:  Think of how Christ behaved when he came into the temple and viewed the local businesspeople changing money and selling animals for sacrifice.  He upended their tables and drove them from the Temple.  They were not sharing in the work of creation; they were defiling the house of the Father. 

We need to challenge ourselves to be sure that our organizations are sharing in the creative work of God.  How do we do that?  By being sure we are serving all those who work with us, not just our shareholders.  As John Paul II said, “Work was made for man, not man for work.”  Work enhances the dignity of each of us, and that should be the goal of our stewardship.

Partnering with God in the advancement of creation (#7)

7. Business leaders have a special role to play in the unfolding of creation—they not only provide goods and services and constantly improve them through innovating and harnessing science and technology, but they also help to shape organizations that will extend this work into the future. Blessed John Paul II reminded us in Laborem Exercens: “Man, created in the image of God, shares by his work in the activity of the Creator and that, within the limits of his own human capabilities, man in a sense continues to develop that activity and perfects it as he advances further and further in the discovery of the resources and values contained in the whole of creation”.2

Commentary:  In Genesis 2:15 we are told:  “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”  God created the garden but asked Adam to work in it and make it better.  And note that this occurred before the fall: work was not a punishment, but rather a vocation.  God told Adam that he would perfect himself through the work he would do.  Now after the fall, work is more difficult but its basic role as a vocation has not changed.  Here the Church reminds us that we are partnering with God to improve creation, and that the goods and services our businesses provide are part of that advancement of society.  What a noble calling! 

The Incredible Importance of Business (#6)

6. The vocation of the businessperson is a genuine human and Christian calling. Its importance in the life of the Church and in the world economy can hardly be overstated. Business leaders are called to conceive of and develop goods and services for customers and communities through a form of market economy. For such economies to achieve their goal, that is, the promotion of the common good, they should be structured on ideas based on truth, fidelity to commitments, freedom, and creativity.

Commentary:  Where in the media have you seen or read that the Church thinks that the importance of business “can hardly be overstated?”  The Church correctly identifies the role of business in providing goods and services needed by people, through a market economy that must be based on the common good.  Human dignity is promoted by the work that we do, and so providing a means to help our employees grow in dignity is another important function of business.  And that’s what makes the present high unemployment rate in most countries such a problem.  Being on the sidelines waiting for work is not dignified.  And businesses that promote profits by refusing to hire are betraying the proper order of a market economy established for the good of all.