Management in Light of the Supremacy of GodHow Should Christians Think About Management?

Christians should care about whether the organizations they work in are managed well and, if they are managers themselves, they should manage well.[1] This is first of all because, as Patrick Lencioni points out, management is a form of ministry. Lencioni writes:

I have always thought it was a shame that more people don’t go into “giving” professions. In fact, I have occasionally felt pangs of guilt that I didn’t choose a career that was completely focused on serving others. I have deep admiration for dedicated and hard-working clergy, social workers, or missionaries, and I wonder why I haven’t abandoned my career and moved into one of those kinds of jobs.

While I have not completely abandoned the idea of one day doing that, I have come to the realization that all managers can — and really should — view their work as a ministry. A service to others.

By helping people find fulfillment in their work, and helping them succeed in whatever they’re doing, a manager can have a profound impact on the emotional, financial, physical, and spiritual health of workers and their families. They can also create an environment where employees do the same for their peers, giving them a sort of ministry all their own. All of which is nothing short of a gift from God.

And, second of all, this is because an organization will be exponentially more effective in accomplishing its mission if it is well managed.

But what does it mean to manage well? Interestingly, effective management is not first about the nuts and bolts, or the details that most people would find un-interesting. Effective management, above all, means managing from a well thought point of view that is based upon how humans are created and has the supremacy of God as its ultimate aim. This kind of management is anything but boring.

What are the components of an effective management philosophy that is based upon the fact that humans are in the image of God and that the glory of God is the goal of all things? I am going to outline eleven.

1. The guiding principle of management is respect for the individual, who is in the image of God.

The fact that we are in the image of God means that treating people well is at the heart of good management. I don’t mean this in a sentimental sense. Rather, I mean it in the sense of the second part of the great commandment.

Making God Supreme in Management Means Affirming The Centrality of the Great Commandment to Management

The first part of the great commandment is that we love God with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength. The second part follows from it: to love your neighbor as yourself. The second commandment is an implication of the first: if we are to love God, and people are in the image of God, then we ought to love people as well.

This is how a passion for the supremacy of God relates to management: passion for the supremacy of God implies radical love for people, because people are in God’s image. This is the tie between the first and second parts of the great commandment.[2]

This reality does not go out of existence when enter the walls of your organization. It does not suddenly become irrelevant and out of scope when we begin dealing with the realm of managing people. Rather, it remains fundamental and essential because it is a matter of Christian ethics. Every management approach, therefore, must have the great commandment at its core.

The following 10 principles are my attempt to flesh out a bit what it means to have the second part of the great commandment at the core of our management approach. They attempt to flesh out what it means to “treat people well” (as you would want to be treated) within the context of a realm (management) that has specific purposes and skills that are necessary for its proper functioning. In other words, in applying the second commandment to management, we cannot just come in and make this application without regard for the nature of management. We need to understand what management is in order to know how the second commandment applies in this context.[3] Otherwise we will end up undermining both the meaning of “love your neighbor” and the role of management.

But before moving on, let me outline three more reasons why this is important.

Three Reasons it Is Important to Orient Management Around the Great Commandment

First, as we have seen, this is right. We don’t have an option regarding whether to manage in light of the great commandment. The question is how we do this and what this means, not whether we should do it.

Second, it serves people better. I would argue that “treating people well” means, fundamentally, treating them as people rather than cogs or machines. So the issue in management is really “what does it mean to manage for the human side, to treat people as people rather than mechanisms or means?” When people are treated as people, they are more effective, they grow as individuals, and these positive effects spill over in to the rest of their lives.

Third, it serves the organization. Managing in a way that respects people also increases the effectiveness of the organization. This is important because the purpose of any organization is to produce results (defined by the mission). Organizations are not social clubs and they don’t exist as make-work institutions. They have a real purpose and real results that they are aiming to achieve. Hence, it is right and necessary that they be managed in a way to achieve those results.

The good news is that there is not a conflict between treating people right and accomplishing the results of the organization. Rather, it is when we treat people right that the organization accomplishes better results. We see this theme over and over again through the following principles.

Before moving on, let’s look at one more aspect of this — namely, two specific things that it means to “treat people well” in relation to management.

Two Specific Implications of Respect for the Individual in Management

First, respect for the individual implies that individuality must be respected. Everyone has been created differently and gifted differently, and this is a good thing. For example, among Christians Paul teaches that “as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function” (Romans 12:4). This ought to be respected in management — we ought not to try to force someone into a role or position that does not align with how God has gifted and wired them to work.[4]

This is contrary to the more traditional management practice that seeks to standardize every role very highly, thus treating people like interchangeable parts. There is a place for standardization; but our disposition needs to be towards tapping the unique gifts of the individual and creating roles in a way that unleashes this rather than runs over it with a one-size-fits-all approach to the role.

This also accords with good management practice when you understand the real nature of management. As we will see in the next point, in fact, unleashing individuality is actually at the heart of management.

Second, respect for the individual also implies that we ought to respect people’s freedom and autonomy, treating them as self-governing individuals who don’t need control, but rather clear expectations and helpful structures and systems.[5]

Related to this: One’s view of people has significant implications for how they manage. If we think that people inherently dislike work and seek to avoid responsibility (McGregor’s “Theory X”), for example, then we will view the purpose of management as being to control people. If people aren’t naturally inclined to want to perform and do a good job, then of course if we don’t closely supervise and control people, the work won’t get done.

But if we believe that work is as natural as play and rest, and that most people naturally want to do good work and seek out more responsibility (McGregor’s “Theory Y” and which, I would argue, is the more biblical view — both of the nature of work and the nature of man), then the role of the manager is not to command and control, but rather release. The role of the manager is to create the conditions that enable people to perform at their best. The role of manager changes from one of close supervisor to a source of help in solving problems, making sure expectations are clear, and making sure that helpful structures and systems are in place to amplify each individuals effort’s and coordinate them for joint performance.[6]

2. The purpose of management is to unleash the unique gifts of the individual for the performance of the organization.

This follows from the fact that people’s gifts and wiring abilities are largely given rather than chosen, as we discussed above in relation to Romans 12. This is also the viewpoint of the best management thinking, as Marcus Buckingham shows in his book First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently.

Buckingham distinguishes talents, knowledge, and skills. Talents are the fundamental features of your personality — your “recurring patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior that can be productively applied.”[7] As such, your talents are fundamentally constant throughout life.[8] Knowledge and skills, however, can be changed. Knowing your talents[9] shows you where to add knowledge and strengths, because talent serves as a multiplier. Hence, knowledge and skills added in an area of talent will have far more impact than knowledge and skills added in an area of non-talent. And that is how you build your strengths: strengths are built by adding knowledge and skills to your talents.

Now, here’s the implication for management: given that talent is innate and unchanging, the role of the manager is not to shape the individual or correct their weaknesses, making the employee conform to a pre-defined set of competencies or an “ideal concept” for the role. Rather, the role of the manager is to enable the person to be more of who they are, even arranging the world and the employee’s role such that it they are more and more able to do what they do best every day.

So the heart of management is not only to respect each person’s individuality, but to harness it. “Great managers,” Buckingham points out, “play chess with their people” — not checkers. In checkers, every piece moves the same. But in chess, every piece moves differently. If you try to play checkers as a manager, you will be forever frustrated, always running up against the inherent individuality of people by trying to force them into a pre-existing mold, rather than letting them be who they are and capitalizing on that.[10]

3. This implies that effective management is based on strength—what an individual has, not on what they do not have.

We have ended up covering this as part of the above point — if each individual’s talents are enduring and unique, then management that tries to change people will simply not work. Therefore, effective management means unleashing people to be more of who they are; the ultimate role of the manager is to turn talent in to performance for the sake of the organization. Which means effective management is based on strength — build on what people have, not what they do not have, seeking to harness each person’s unique individuality rather than standardize over it.[11]

Peter Drucker makes this same point when he writes:

The effective executive makes strength productive. He knows that one cannot build on weakness. To achieve results, one has to use all the available strengths — the strengths of associates, the strengths of the superior, and one’s own strengths. These strengths are the true opportunities.

To make strength productive is the unique purpose of organization. It cannot, of course, overcome the weaknesses with which each of us is abundantly endowed. But it can make them irrelevant. Its task is to use the strength of each man and woman as a building block for joint performance.[12]

A core measure for knowing whether your people are working in their strengths is to ask: are you able to do what you do best every day?[13]

Making strength productive is a critical overall governing mindset for any organization and our understanding of management. It is also critical to translate this principle into concrete mechanisms. For, as many have pointed out, systems create behaviors. If you believe that the role of the manager is to unleash each person’s talents for performance, but have organizational systems which operate contrary to this, then the systems will win out over your intentions every time.

Buckingham argues that there are four keys that the manager must turn to turn talent in to performance: hiring for talent (rather than first knowledge or experience, since knowledge and experience can be added later but talent cannot), setting expectations by defining outcomes rather than steps, motivating by focusing on strengths rather than overcoming weaknesses, and developing people by finding the right fit rather than simply the next rung on the ladder.

These four keys, in turn, translate into four systems to help the manager keep them in practice in the midst of the hectic realities of getting the work done. The four systems are: hiring, strengths-based quarterly performance planning, the annual career discovery interview, and the annual strengths interview. (I developed prototypes of each of these systems for the organization where I work, which I will link to once I have them posted.)

4. Management is not “getting things done through others,” as it is commonly defined, but is “developing people through tasks.” Accomplishing results and developing the individual are equal concerns.

Management is commonly defined as “getting things done through others.” This reflects a task focus. On the other hand, some people have more of a country club style of management, focusing only on employee needs and satisfaction and not very much on the work itself. Often, people think that you have to choose one or the other — that the higher priority you place on tasks, the less importance you can place on people, and that the higher importance you place on people, the less importance can place on tasks.

Many people try to navigate this tension by meeting in the middle — what has been called “5/5” management. This consists of sort of dumbing down your concern for tasks a bit so that you can bring up your concern for people to that same level.

The reality, though, is that you don’t have to choose and shouldn’t choose. Effective managers have an equal concern for tasks and people. There is work to do, and without that work there would be no employees and no organization. There are also people involved (who are in the image of God), and so they must be treated as people. The way these fit together without watering down either is to realize that management is not “getting things done through others” but “developing people through tasks.” The tasks are important. And so are the people. In doing the tasks, the point is therefore not simply to complete the tasks, but to do so in a way that develops and grows the people involved. This is right, in light of the fact that we are dealing with people who are in the image of God, and is also good for the organization because by developing people, the productive capacity of the organization is increased. So the organization becomes more effective.

Further, people are actually served better by high expectations. In the field of education, for example, the classrooms where students learn are the classrooms where students are expected to learn. In a similar way, high expectations call forth the best in people, motivate them to work together in common cause, and develop them further as human beings.

5. As a result, delegation is critical, even if it means the task will be performed less effectively for a time.

It is true that if you delegate, at first the task might not be done as effectively. Nonetheless, the notion that “if you want something done right, do it yourself” has no place in management. This is because, as we have seen, the purpose is not simply to get the task done — if that were the only aim, then it wouldn’t make sense to risk people doing them in a less effective way.

But since the purpose is to develop people through tasks, then delegation makes sense and ought to be done abundantly. The result is that as people grow, the organization will in turn also grow and become more effective.

Delegation also makes sense because (1) it frees the manager up to stay focused on what is uniquely his or her work and because of (2) the law of competitive advantage: even if you are better at task A than person 1, if you are even better at task B than you are at task A, you should drop task A in order to focus on task B.

6. The core principle of effective management is to extend people’s autonomy. This is counter-intuitive, but is rooted in human nature as God designed it.

There is an analogy here to government. In government the main principle is also to maximize freedom. This is because, first of all, it is right — people ought to be free, because they are in the image of God and all are equal before the law and before God. It is a matter of ethics. And, second of all, this results in greater effectiveness — when people are free, they take initiative and innovate and make things happen. If you over-regulate them and take away too much of the fruit of their labor, you inhibit this. A society generally prospers more when the people are free.

It is similar in management. Increase people’s freedom and you increase motivation, because autonomy (freedom) is one of the three components of motivation.[14] Therefore you increase engagement, which is the fuel for taking initiative and pursuing mastery. Also, people are able to make more effective decisions pertaining to their work, in general, than the manager or higher-ups because they are closer to the scene of the action. The one who is doing the work typically knows the best way to do it, and therefore needs to be given the freedom to do it as they see fit.

Most companies are not based on this principle. They say that they value people above all things, but create extensive and detailed policies that show that they ultimately do not trust their people or believe they will naturally seek out greater responsibility when trusted to do so. This, in turn, becomes self-fulfilling and, therefore, self-justifying.

In contrast to conventional organizations, our guiding principle [at DG, for which I originally wrote this] is to avoid the attempt to obtain security through controlling our people, and to instead seek to extend and further autonomy in all possible ways so that our people, in turn, can be as effective as they can be and we can spread as far and wide as we are able.[15]

Our philosophy of management is based not on control, but on trust. And this is a good thing, because it also turns out that trust is the essence of a healthy culture.[16]

7. Autonomy must be combined with clear expectations and accountability for results.

Since organizations exist to produce results (which are ultimately defined by the mission), autonomy therefore does not mean people are just doing anything they want. The purpose of an organization is to make people’s strengths productive for joint performance. For this to happen, people need to have a clear understanding of what the overall performance of the organization is, and they need to have a clear understanding of what is more immediately expected of them. This allows everyone’s efforts to be directed along the path that will produce the overall outcomes the organization needs to accomplish.

Accountability is also necessary for people to do good work. If you don’t know what is expected of you and that you need to demonstrate results, it is hard to know where to best focus your efforts. Further, lack of accountability is actually demotivating — if there is no accountability, it begins to feel as if no one cares. And that is demotivating. Related to the importance of accountability for results is the importance of helpful structures and systems, which amplify people’s efforts, help them know what’s important, and help them coordinate efforts.

An important factor here, however (as we discussed above), is that everyone is different, and this individuality needs to be harnessed by accountability and systems, not suppressed. How do you set expectations without running over people’s uniqueness? Further, as we discussed in the previous point, the core principle of good management (and I mean that in a moral sense as well as in the sense of “effective”) is to maximize autonomy to the fullest extent possible. How do accountability and expectations fit with the principle of autonomy?

This is called the “manager’s dilemma,” and the solution is this: setting expectations means defining the outcomes, but leaving each individual free to find the best way to accomplish those outcomes. Further, each individual should be involved in defining their outcomes, working with their manager to agree on the course for the next period of time. So people have a hand in setting their own outcomes (with the benefit of guidance and direction from their manager) and have the freedom to determine the best way to accomplish those outcomes. Thus, there is accountability and autonomy.

8. People work for more than money.

More and more today, people are not working primarily for money, but for meaning. People want a sense that they are doing something that matters; they want to see how their work taps in to higher purposes. This is a good thing and as God designed it. For people are not merely economic beings, but are also social, talented, and spiritual. Treating money as the sole reason people work fails to treat people as whole people, and thus is contrary to the principle of “respect for the individual” and the great commandment.

More and more businesses are recognizing this — and the best always have. For example, one of the major findings of Jim Collins and Jerry Porras’ study of enduring, visionary companies in Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies is that they have a purpose beyond making money for which they exist. The visionary companies regarded profit as important, but did not see it as the reason for their existence.[17]

When we recognize meaning as a fundamental factor in why people work, it has certain implications for how we manage. It means, for example, that we will seek to manage primarily from values rather than rules. It means that our aim will be to continually expand the arena of which people are able to exercise self-direction. It means that we will aim to foster engagement rather than compliance. And it means that rather than operating according to the command and control model, but rather to set up the conditions in which people can supervise themselves. The role of the manager becomes that of a source of help, whose attitude is “what are your goals, and how can I help you reach them,” and someone who seeks to make sure that the right structures and systems are in place to give people the proper framework in which their talents will be unleashed for the maximum performance of the organization.

This entire mindset is contrary to certain other management paradigms, such as that of scientific management,[18] which was the dominant management approach in the early 20th century (and which continued to be the primary grid even after certain external practices changed). Scientific management “called for standardized, specialized, simplified, and where possible, machine-paced jobs — all in the name of efficiency, productivity, and low labor costs. People were expected to add little value beyond their manual labor, and thus they could be easily hired, trained, and replaced when needed. To keep people working hard, two carrots were used: financial incentives and the threat of being fired.”[19]

Scientific management stems from a faulty and unbiblical view of human nature. “A key assumption behind the scientific management movement was that in return for a job, people should be willing to behave like machines for eight hours a day.” Some today, in fact, still hold this. For example, in Coaching for Improved Work Performance, Ferdinand Fournies writes that “people are hired in business to do jobs only because we don’t have a machine that can do those jobs.”[20] Ferdinand also states that the implied agreement between the employer and employee goes something like this:

She: I will do what you tell me to do as long as you pay me with a check that doesn’t bounce.

You: I will tell you what to do, give you some tools to do it with, and try not to dismember you in the process.[21]

What a horrible perspective! I will mention four of the core problems with it. First, it treats people as merely economic beings (note how the economic dimension is represented as the full range and purpose of the agreement: “as long as you pay me with a check that doesn’t bounce”). But people are not only stomachs; they are also resourceful, social, and spiritual. Managing people merely from the economic perspective fails to treat people as whole people. It is a truncated view of people that does not accord with truly treating them as whole persons who are in the image of God.

Second, this perspective doesn’t work. As I discuss in another article on compensation (to be posted later, hopefully), in a society of abundance it simply is not effective to manage with the carrot and stick approach because people’s economic needs are largely satisfied (or can easily be satisfied simply through a different job). People no longer work primarily for a paycheck, but also for the sake of higher level needs such as social relationships, performing at their peak potential, and meaning. If managers ignore these dimensions, they will have no influence.

Third, this perspective is inherently demotivating. This should be clear from what we have seen from our discussion above on motivation. As Daniel Pink argued, the three factors of motivation are autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Fournies’ perspective ignores all of these. He ignores autonomy: the employer says “I will tell you what to do.” He ignores purpose: the arrangement is only about getting paid “with a check that doesn’t bounce.” And he ignores mastery: the arrangement is only about “doing what you tell me” rather than what I am good at.

Now, scientific management was efficient. But that doesn’t mean it is right. We need to be concerned about more than efficiency when dealing with people. Scientific management accomplished its efficiency at the expense of people — and, ironically, the long-term result was actually very inefficient. This should not be missed — what was regarded as more efficient in the short run was actually incredibly inefficient in the long run. Lawler sums up very well:

“[Scientific management’s] use in most large organizations for decades caused low intrinsic motivation on the part of employees, high rates of turnover and absenteeism, and a strong inclination to solve workplace problems through unionization. In response to their mind-numbing repetitious jobs, employees frequently engaged in counterproductive behaviors, such as shoddy-quality work and even sabotage. Poor quality and productivity, along with constant labor-management disputes, were problems that frequently plagued U.S. car makers and for that matter most other U.S. manufacturers for decades. It was these problems that opened the door to foreign competitors.”[22]

So people are more than economic beings, and the way we manage and design work ought to reflect that. In addition to being economic beings, we are also social, psychological, and spiritual. The economic dimension is real and important, and so for example means that we ought to pay people well. The social dimension of human nature means we ought to treat people with kindness and recognize the importance of relationships. The psychological dimension means that we ought to recognize that people have vast potential that they ought to be able to utilize and develop so that they can make a maximum contribution. And, most of all, the spiritual dimension means that there is a transcendent dimension to our work, and that people rightly seek meaning and significance in their work.

As Christians, we can see this in even greater light, for the meaning and significance is ultimately the fact that our work is one of the primary arenas in which we are engaging in good works – the good works which God “prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). As Luther said, our work is one of the primary ways that we love our neighbor, and we should also recognize that, as with all of our good works (in our actual work or in our other callings), none of our labor in the Lord is in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). Further, our labor now not only serves our neighbor, but does so because God himself is the one ultimately serving our neighbor through our work.[23] So our efforts serve our neighbor precisely because they are utilized (and caused) by God, thus serving as building blocks in what God himself is doing. This is ultimate transcendence. Our work fulfills not only the second part of the great commandment — to love our neighbor — but also the first commandment — to love God — and does so, if we are believers, as it is empowered and used by God himself.

As Christians, we should see our work in this light. And, more than that, if we are managers and leaders, we should manage in this light — we should manage in such a way that we do not “cover up” or obscure these awesome realities, but rather keep them bright and clear. And, if we have managers who do not operate this way, this still does not remove the ultimate significance of our work because the above realities remain true, and because we are to do all of our work “as for the Lord, and not for men” (Ephesians 6:7).

At the organization where I work, Desiring God, it is easy to feel the great sense of meaning that is thoroughly baked in to what we do at Desiring God, simply by virtue of the nature of our mission. It is worth pointing out, however, that Gallup’s research into management reveals that even if you work for an organization where you deeply believe in the mission, if certain other factors of effective management are not in place, you will become disengaged. Hence, while meaning is the key and critical factor in how we manage, it cannot function as a substitute for certain basic components. These components include such simple things as knowing what is expected of you and having the tools and equipment you need to do your work right; I have sought to expound them more fully in the document “Employee Engagement” (to be posted here later), and also sought to bake them in to the management systems and processes that I developed at DG.

This realization is especially critical for Christian non-profits and ministries because it would be a tragedy if people came to such an organization because they love the mission and what it stands for, but failed to thrive and became discouraged because of ineffective management that did not support them, enable their growth, and empower them to be effective in fulfilling this mission.

9. This all ties in to the fundamental components of human motivation.

As Daniel Pink argues, human motivation requires three components to thrive: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.[24] And these three components are related: Autonomy and purpose create engagement, which is the fuel to achieve mastery.

As discussed above, upholding and expanding freedom and autonomy is a central principle of our perspective on management. By seeing this connection between autonomy and motivation, we see another reason that this perspective is not just good for the individual, but also for the organization: Autonomy produces better performance because it is the first component of motivation, and without motivation, you simply cannot have good performance.

Further, not only does autonomy fuel the engagement that propels mastery, but it also enables mastery because mastery requires learning, and learning requires choice. And choice comes from autonomy. So autonomy leads to greater learning, which leads to greater mastery and thus performance.

10. Employee engagement is an indicator that all of this is working, and can be measured by the 12 Questions.

I’ve mentioned the importance of engagement a lot. Engagement means that a person has an emotional connection to their work — that they are motivated and even inspired to do their work and contribute enthusiastically to the objectives of the company.

Engagement is not something mysterious and mystical. There are actually conditions that foster greater engagement. Further, engagement can be measured. This is what the Gallup Organization found in their twenty year study of effective management. Through this study they have identified 12 questions which serve to measure employee engagement. In order to be effective in turning talent into performance, the manager must manage in such a way that enables people to say “yes” to each of these questions (but especially the first six). See Marcus Buckingham’s First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently for a discussion of Gallup’s findings here; I also summarize those findings and go over these twelve questions more fully in my article “Employee Engagement” (forthcoming).

11. These philosophies cannot simply exist at the level of intentions; they must be translated into concrete mechanisms so that they are embodied in the way we do things.

As we mentioned above, systems trump intentions because systems create behaviors. Hence, these principles need to not only exist at the level of mindsets, but also need to be worked concretely into the way we do things.

As also mentioned above, there are four key management systems in particular for doing this:

  1. Hiring that selects for talent, which corresponds to fact that talent, the first component of strength, is innate and cannot be put it in later.
  2. Performance planning that sets expectations by defining outcomes every three months with the employee, but not steps, corresponds to providing clear expectations and accountability within a context of autonomy.
  3. A strengths interview with each new employee and than about every year helps a manager intentionally give focus to learning and helping to sharpen the strengths of each of his or her employees so that expectations can be set in line with strengths and roles can be tweaked when needed.
  4. An annual career discovery helps the manager develop the employee by finding the right fit rather than simply the next rung on the ladder (which may not use their strengths).

For an approach that I developed to each of these systems at DG, see the respective documents on each of them (which I will post and then link to here as I can):

  1. Strengths-based hiring
  2. Strengths-based quarterly performance planning
  3. Annual strengths interview
  4. Annual career discovery

Other helpful systems (which I may also post as I can) include:

  1. Information systems
  2. Compensation
  3. Training and development
  4. Job design
  5. Communication/meetings

Summing Up the Overall Vision

Perhaps the overall vision for management outlined here can be expressed in this way:

The right people, knowing what is expected of them, doing what they do best every day, and working at the times and locations that are most conducive to getting the results they are here to get — all to the glory of God and the spread of his fame in Jesus Christ.

My Aim: Seeing Organizations that are Explicitly Based on These Realities

We’ve covered a lot of ground here, and there is much more that still could be said. But this hopefully gives the overall picture of some of the most critical management principles and what the nature of man in the image of God implies for how we manage. One of my aims at Desiring God has been to help create an organization that is explicitly based upon these realities (as opposed to merely affirming them but not reflecting them in how we actually work).

Many organizations say “people are our greatest asset” and give lip service to the value of people, but have policies but reflect anything but this mindset. Often they will say “we don’t really mean that policy,” but they have it on the books in order to protect themselves so that, if anyone does cause a problem, they can point to that policy. In my view, this is dishonest.

Not only is it dishonest, but it reduces the effectiveness of the organization because it cuts the organization off from the increase in morale and empowerment and good will that comes from being explicitly for people — not only in the intentions you proclaim, but in the policies that embody your intentions.

Further, when people see that you really mean it when you say that you value them and trust them, they become even more empowered to take initiative and prove that they are indeed worthy of the trust you give them and the potential that you see in them.

That’s why I’ve sought to work out my thinking on this explicitly and to even re-write the policies (where needed) at my organization in light of these realities.

When organizations operate in light of these truths, they become more effective as an organization and serve their employees better. As a result of that — depending on your industry — you will also serve the church or world (or bother) better.

Further, as we manage in light of these realities, we will actually be contributing to the solution of a major society-wide problem. Marcus Buckingham explains this well at the end of First, Break All the Rules:

As you chip away at conventional wisdom, you are aided by the gathering of two powerful forces: the needs of the company and the needs of the employee, misaligned since the birth of the corporation 150 years ago, are slowly beginning to converge. Today you, the manager, find yourself at their meeting point.

Everywhere employees are demanding more of their work. [They are seeking to make a significant and meaningful contribution.] Only you, as the manager, can create the kind of environment where each person comes to know his or her strengths and expresses them productively.

At the same time, companies are searching for undiscovered reserves of value. Human nature is one of those last, vast reserves of value. If they are to increase their value, companies know they must tape these reserves. In the past they have tried to access the power of human nature by containing and perfecting it, like we’ve done with the other forces of nature. But this cannot work because the power of human nature is that, unlike other forces of nature, it is not uniform. Its power lies in idiosyncrasy, in that each human is unique. If companies want to unleash this power, they must find a mechanism that unleashes each person’s nature, not contains it. You, the manager, are the best mechanism they have.

This intersection of two forces–each company’s search for value and each individual’s search for identity–will change the corporate landscape forever. You will see new organizational models, new titles, new compensation schemes, new careers, and new measurement systems–all designed around the mantra “Don’t try to put in what was left out. Try to draw out what was left in.” Some managers may try to resist these forces of change, but they will fail….You can slow these gathering forces down. You cannot stop them. But you can speed them up. You can be the catalyst. The world’s best managers have shown you how.[25]


[1] This is not a call for the “efficient organizers” that ruin ministries and take the heart out of Christian colleges and seminaries. In fact, that is bad management even by secular standards, as is clear from Tom Peters excellent job railing against that same mindset in business in his landmark book In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies. The efficient organizers of the sort that ruin ministries aren’t helpful anywhere — not even in the secular arena. Their flaw is not management per se, but management without a love of what the organization is doing and without adequate respect for the human side. So it’s not that they are ruining Christian colleges and ministries by bringing management thinking into the ministries that is good in the for-profit world but bad for the non-profit world; rather, it’s that they are bringing in to ministries bad management thinking that is just plain wrong altogether and does just as much harm outside of ministries as it does inside of ministries. For more on this, see my paper “Against Over-Professionalism in Management” (currently in rough form).

[2] John may also be getting at the image of God as the tie between the first and second parts of the great commandment when he writes “for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). This would also explain why, when asked what the greatest commandment is, Jesus actually gives two commandments, not one, and why he says that “the second is like it” (Matthew 22:34-40).

[3] An example here would be the field of economics. It would be easy to say that, when it comes to the role of government in an economy, love for your neighbor means that the government should tax high-earners at a high rate so that the money can be distributed to the poor. In reality, though, such a policy actually harms the poor because it decreases the ability of the economy to produce jobs – which enable the poor to lift themselves out of poverty. Further, it creates a cycle of dependency that is contrary to the nature of human beings and how God designed us — we are designed to make our living through work, not transfer payments. (This also shows the importance of understanding human nature, as well as the specific field in which we are applying the great commandment.) Another example might be the criminal justice system. At first, it might seem “unloving” to prosecute criminals and send them to jail. But actually, it would be unloving not to, because failing to hold people accountable for their crimes is a failure to respect both the victims and the criminals themselves — for it is a failure to treat them as accountable individuals. (This does not, of course, undermine the importance of mercy. Salvation is a good example here. Mercy is not contrary to respect in how God saves because the law was upheld in the death of Christ. Similarly, there is a place for mercy in the criminal justice system as well). Love in the context of the criminal justice system, then, doesn’t mean failing to hold people accountable, but rather means assuming innocence until guilt is proven and upholding the right to a fair trial.

[4] This is not just a wise application of the passage; it is what Paul explicitly teaches in the prior verse when he says “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function … having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us” (Romans 12:3-4;6). In verse three Paul is talking to believers individually and saying: “don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought — that is, realize the specific way that God has gifted you (“the “measure of faith that God has assigned”) and live according to that, rather than gifts that he hasn’t given you. This is why verse four begins with a “for”: “For … the members do not all have the same function.” The “measure of faith” Paul is speaking of is the gifts God has given us. His point is that we have all been gifted differently, and that we ought not bemoan this but rather harness it and operate according to it (it is noteworthy in this regard that Paul begins this instruction by saying “by the grace given to me I say…” — indicating that he is operating within the sphere of his role and gifting in giving this advice). The point here is not that we ought to stay within the external structures that are imposed on us and that there should be no mobility; rather, Paul is talking here about our individual giftings, and the point is to use them and operate according to the gifts God has given us, rather than seeking to serve primarily in ways that he has not gifted us. To tie this all together: while Paul is giving this instruction to us as individuals not to “think of himself more highly than he ought to think,” the clear implication is that collectively, as well, we should not seek to put people in roles that are contrary to how they are gifted. We ought to respect the individually that God has worked in to the body.

[5] See my article “The History of Management” (forthcoming) for much more on this.

[6] Many more implications could be brought out here, including: Manage for the human side by recognizing that people are not only rational, but also emotional, and that this is good. Seek to enable employee engagement, rather than compliance. And many, many more.

[7] So Buckingham isn’t defining talent as something rare and unique here — everyone has talents in this sense. Further, talents become strengths when combined with knowledge and skill. So when we speak of talent here, we do not mean “raw talent” in the sense someone is extraordinarily gifted and doesn’t need to work at it, as though we should look for such raw talent when hiring people. Rather, we simply mean that everyone has certain “recurring patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior,” and they will do their best work when those talents align with the nature of their work.

[8] This is not to get into the nature vs. nurture debate. Your talents are probably a combination of both. But by the time we are dealing with people in the workplace, I don’t think it is very controversial to recognize that their fundamental talents are largely set and unchanging.

[9] For a discussion of the 35 talent themes, see Buckingham’s book Now, Discover Your Strengths.

[10] For more on this, see my article “Guiding Management Philosophies” (forthcoming).

[11] This implies many other things as well, such as that we should generally “remove the remedial element from training.” Most training seeks to shore up people’s weaknesses. While there can be a place for that if weaknesses are getting in the way of utilizing one’s strengths, the reality is that each person’s greatest opportunity for growth is in their area of greatest strength — not weakness. Hence, training will have better results when it seeks primarily to build strength rather than overcome weakness.

[12] Peter Drucker, The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done, p. 71.

[13] See my article “Employee Engagement” (forthcoming) for the full list of 12 Questions that Buckingham goes in to (developed by Gallup in their twenty-year study on what sets great managers apart) in First, Break All the Rules and my “Performance Planning” documents (forthcoming) for some prototypes on how we have sought to apply them and integrate these realities in our management practices at DG.

[14] See Daniel Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

[15] In studying management, it is really, really interesting to see the parallels with economics and politics.

In economics/politics, you have the folks who operate from the elite paradigm, thinking that they know better than everyone else and that their vision should be imposed on society. Hence, their aim when they are in government is to increase control over people (higher taxes, more regulations, more laws, etc.) rather than allow people to be free.

In management, there is a similar paradigm — the view that the manager is part of the elite few who know best, whereas most people are basically incompetent and need detailed direction. The manager may be a benevolent authoritarian, but the fundamental idea is still that the manager knows best, and that people are not fundamentally capable of self-direction.

Just as in politics, this management view is flawed because, just as with the political view, it is based upon a flawed conception of the nature of people. It doesn’t reckon fully with the fact that people are in the image of God and are thus designed to be self-governing and capable. The role of the government — and management — is to align with that by maximizing freedom and providing the helpful structures and systems that assist it, rather than seeking to control people.

[16] See, for example, Andy Stanley’s excellent message on trust from the 2009 Catalyst conference.

[17] See the chapter “More than Profits” in Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras.

[18] The following eight paragraphs are from my article “Job Design: Every Job Meaningful” (forthcoming), where I outline various schools of thought and approaches on designing jobs.

[19] Treat People Right!: How Organizations and Employees Can Create a Win/Win Relationship to Achieve High Performance at All Levels, 140.

[20] Ferdinand Dournies, Coaching for Improved Work Performance. Fournies is also author of Why Employees Don’t Do What They Should – the title of which alone is seems to immediately convey perspective of control and compliance rather than autonomy and empowerment!

[21] Coaching for Improved Work Performance, p. 49.

[22] Treat People Right!, p. 140.

[23] This is Luther’s doctrine of vocation; see the very helpful book on this by Gene Veith God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life.

[24] See Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

[25] First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, p. 242.

January 26, 2011 | Filed Under Management | 6 Comments 

Comments

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  • David Barbee

    My background is not in management, but it’s something I’ve been reading about and pondering over in books like “Mind Over Matter” by Ronald Baker and “Seven-Day Weekend” by Ricardo Semler. Your post is a welcome insight as I think through these issues and try to integrate them in my practice. All I can say is “thank you”.

  • pforsee

    Thanks for a great resource!

  • http://www.timcasteel.com/ Tim Casteel

    Wow. Felt like I just got my MBA – there is so much gold in that article. Thank you for putting that together and sharing. It does a great job of synthesizing so many ideas into one cohesive strategy. We employ a lot of those ideas but have had a difficult time articulating and standardizing how we do things.

    I plan on working through this article with my Campus Crusade staff team over the next couple of weeks. Thanks for sharing these principles that will make our ministry “as effective as [we] can be [so] we [and the gospel] can spread as far and wide as we are able”

  • Simon Lee

    This is a brilliant post, really foundational and it has helped me tremendously. Many. many thanks! There are several articles and some material which you mentioned you would be posting soon (eg evaluation forms for staff, etc etc) which are practical outworkings of this – please do post these soon so we can all benefit!

    Shalom

    Simon

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