The Lagos Worker and the Gospel

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In his helpful book Mastering Monday, John Beckett identifies five themes which should be considered in our attempt to demonstrate God’s kingdom in the workplace. They are Purpose, Values, People, Stewardship, and Serving. These all are nurtured by the Gospel.

The Gospel gives us a clear purpose for our work; we serve Christ and extend his kingdom through what we do.

The Gospel gives us an ethic centred on love, and this guides all the steps we take and the decisions we make.

The Gospel reveals that people are God’s priority (and should be ours, too). It was for people – sinful, broken people – that Jesus hung on the cross and died.

The Gospel reminds us that our lives, skills, and talents belong to God. We are simply stewards. So as we clock in at the office, apply our minds to a problem, or contribute to a project, we are offering back what God has given to us in trust.

Finally, through Christ’s teaching and his atonement, we are taught to lay down our lives for others through serving (John 15:13).

We will focus on the two themes of People and Serving.

People

The Gospel will lead us to value people above profits. Whether we work in risk management, financial planning, or customer service, it is people ultimately that we are serving. Sadly, the ambition and drive in most workplaces tend towards the opposite. The lust for power and prestige means that people are often trampled upon. In a bid to be seen as ‘performing’, managers will exhaust their subordinates. In a bid to cut costs, organizations will refuse or delay payments to vendors for services rendered. And even employees will offer shoddy service to customers. Likewise, the daily pressure to thrive in a competitive environment often leads us to focus solely on the ‘bottom line’, without regard for the humans who are involved in shaping it. It helps to remember that without people, whether as employees, customers, or vendors, there would be no business.

 Serving

John Chapter 13 is a remarkable chapter of the Bible. We have a stirring message proclaimed not merely in words but through vivid action. Shortly before his crucifixion, as he gathered with his disciples to celebrate the Passover, Jesus inverted the social pyramid. He took a towel and a bowl of water and washed the feet of each of his disciples. Contrary to social custom, the teacher became a servant to the student. Then he instructed them to do likewise.

We are called to serve others through our skills and talents. As Peter wrote, ‘As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace’ (1 Pet. 4:10).

In the words of John Beckett, ‘Serving is integral to how God wants his kingdom on earth to function.’ And we see this in Jesus’s instruction to the disciples in Mathew 20:26:

 “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant”

In a city like Lagos, with its craze for prestige and lust for wealth, the message of Christ is profoundly counter-cultural. Lagosians seek to be recognized and celebrated. We want to move up the ladder of career success, not pick up a servant’s towel. But that is precisely what the Gospel implies. In light of the death and resurrection of Jesus, to work is to serve.

So how do we go about this? We can start by noting the following:

  • As an employer, I should serve my employees, helping them to become their best selves. For we both have one master, which is Christ.
  • As a trader, I should offer goods of high quality to my customers.
  • As an executive within an organization, I should realize that I am serving the company by offering my skills and talents.

The Gospel leads us to understand that, ultimately, it is not my CEO or the customer whom I am serving, but Christ.


This article was first published on City Church Lagos.

 

Let’s talk about Love

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Seriously? Love in business? It doesn’t belong there!

We often think of business as just an enterprise for providing a product or service, earning income and making a profit. And it would seem out of place to bring such a warm, emotional and moral concept like love into it. However, this stems from a misunderstanding of both love and business.

Let’s start with love.

What is love? Love isn’t just a feeling, however warm and exciting. Love is rational. It is the deliberate regard for another person’s wellbeing. In the words of the British writer C.S. Lewis, “Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.”  So love isn’t getting excited about a member of the opposite sex or having tingling sensations within your tummy when he or she approaches. We also shouldn’t think of love as condoning wrong behaviour or overlooking poor performance. Love is simply desiring another person’s good; it is the attitude of looking or seeking to benefit someone else. This could be a spouse, a friend, or a neighbour. It could also be a boss, an employee, or a customer. Therefore love can include discipline or rebuke, where it is intended to make a person better. And it can involve refusing to grant a request or favour where this will cause the person harm.

We come now to business. Is business just about goods and services, revenue and profit? Well, not really. At its core, business is about people – human beings. Business involves meeting their needs and furthering their welfare. When we produce clothing, manufacture domestic items, provide health insurance, assemble cars, educate children, impart workplace skills, and engage in retail trade, we are providing value to people. In an earlier post, I referred to the classic statement on the purpose of business by Jeff Van Duzer, Provost of the Seattle Pacific University in the USA. He stated this as follows:

Business exists to create opportunities for individuals to express aspects of their God-given identity in meaningful and creative work. And it exists in order to produce goods and services that would enable the community to flourish.

When we look at business in this way, it becomes immediately apparent that business is about people. True, we need to understand the mechanics of cost, price, strategy, and management in order for a business to function well. But we must not mistake the tools for the goal. The goal of business – any business – remains the people.  Shareholders own a business. Employees work for the business. Vendors work with the business. Customers are served by the business. Everywhere you look you see people. And the principle for relating with people, which is to love them as oneself, has to be applied in dealing with these different groups. Shareholders are to be loved by managing the business profitably. Employees can be loved through fair and humane workplace policies and practices. Customers should be loved by ensuring our products are of good quality and that our processes and systems make it easy to interact with the organization. What about the larger community? One obvious way is by ensuring that we do not pollute the environment in the course of our business operation.

So does this look like love belongs in business? It most certainly does.

Customer Service begins at the top

Top Executive at work

One of the frustrating experiences of a Customer Service representative is having an expectation or directive from the company’s top management to offer excellent service to customers yet receiving no real commitment from the same management. The company as a whole has no realistic customer oriented vision or mission, it lacks a strategy for truly satisfying her customers, and feedback from customers is never taken seriously unless it’s about to degenerate into a PR crisis.

The global drive towards excellent customer service has been on now for no less than two decades, yet for many companies, it’s still just an issue for a department. The company is yet to grasp that customer satisfaction is not an aspect of the business; it is the business. We simply cannot offer excellent service unless the whole company believes in it and aligns all – I mean all – her processes, goals, and decisions toward this aim. It affects every department. Finance should believe this, HR should buy into it, and Operations should practice it. And the key driver of the whole process has to be top management. If they neglect this or merely offer shoddy support, you might as well close the Customer Service department and tell your customers to go elsewhere. And, believe me, they have options.

The company’s top management must not just preach excellent customer service, it must not just state on the company’s website or corporate documents that “Our customer is our priority”, or some similar cliché. It must show this commitment to the customer in how it designs its products, processes, and systems. The security official at the gate must understand that the customer really is king and not treat every potential one like a possible terrorist. The front line personnel should be confident that she can really go the extra mile for a customer and not be held back by an antiquated ‘policy’.

So much more can be done, but it starts with management really believing in customer service.

 

 

What’s your Customer worth?

Service pixWhile offering good service does not depend on the financial return involved, it’s still helpful to consider the true financial worth of every customer we currently serve. Like I often emphasize, businesses fail to offer good service because they are thinking short term. How much is this person paying or buying right now? What value are we deriving from her in the present? However, when we shift our focus from what the person is purchasing right now to her value over a lifetime of transactions, it helps us form a better estimate of today’s encounter.

Supposing our customer, let’s call her Mrs. Garba, is an online buyer of domestic appliances. She buys N3,500 worth of kitchen utensils monthly, and she would go on to remain a customer for seven years. How can we determine her customer lifetime value or CLV?

A simple approach is to apply the formula below:

CLV Formula

 

 

 

Mrs Garba’s CLV, therefore, would be N3,500 X 12 X 7 = N294,000.

This simple arithmetic helps us realize that Mrs Garba’s value to our business goes beyond the mere N3,500 she is spending right now. She is worth a whole lot more!

Marketing is about Value

Marketing is the lifeblood of every business. It is the fuel which keeps the engine running. Without customers, the business would close shop.

We often think about this aspect of business as the activity of bringing in customers. While this is true, it goes beyond that. The core term which captures all that marketing is about is the word Value. And this refers to the benefit which the firm or company or business provides for those it serves. It is the heart of every business.

The popular paradigm for discussing marketing is the marketing mix (shown below), which shows the interaction among the 4 concepts of Product, Price, Promotion, and Placement.

mix

 

Central to all these concepts or activities is value. Determining the nature of product or service to be provided, how it is to be communicated to the target market, the price at which it is to be offered, as well as the means by which it is made available to consumers – all revolve around the core benefit which the business is providing.  Keeping this concept central helps us think clearly and make better customer-oriented decisions.

Book Review: Business as Mission by Michael R. Baer

Can Business be more than an enterprise for the generation of profit? Is there a higher purpose to this human activity?

This book argues that there is.

Business as Mission, according to the author, is an attempt to “explore how companies can align with God’s purpose and bring him glory.” This journey flows from the realization that there are no independent compartments in our Business as Missionlives. Every aspect, including business, is just a part of one unified story being written by God. As such it is must be practiced in a way that glorifies Him. All Christians are called to a project of seamless integration of business and mission; the separation of sacred and secular is futile. Here we discern the sweet idea of Abraham Kuyper.

He begins with a clarification – Christian business vs Kingdom business.

Christian business he understands to be either a business that is owned by a Christian, involved in a ‘Christian’ activity, or one managed by biblical principles. A Kingdom business, however, goes much further. It is a business that is ‘specifically, consciously, clearly and intentionally connected to the establishment of Christ’s kingdom in this world.’ Such a business has 4 vital characteristics:

  • It is vocational
  • It is intentional
  • It is relational
  • It is operational

These features constitute the major divisions of the book.

A Kingdom business is Vocational

Business has to be seen as a legitimate calling from God. We need to see that business is a God-given mechanism for the provision of human needs, just as other social units like family or government serve other ends. It fulfills the two purposes of provision and relationship. Jeff Van Duzer, Provost of the Seattle Pacific University, has a similar idea of the ‘mission statement’ of business, which he described as follows:

  1. Business exists to create opportunities for individuals to express aspects of their God-given identity in meaningful and creative work.
  2. Business exists in order to produce goods and services that would enable the community to flourish.

He rightly identifies the sacred-secular dichotomy as a major stumbling block for most Christians. We have grown up believing that to be spiritual is to be immersed in ‘Church’ work. We thereby fail to see all other areas of life as equally sacred. The late Dallas Willard was quoted to that effect:

 ‘There is truly no division between sacred and secular except what we have created, And that is why the division of the legitimate roles and functions of human life into the sacred and secular does incalculable damage to our individual lives and to the cause of Christ. Holy people must stop going into “church work” as their natural course of action and take up holy orders in farming, industry, law, education, banking and journalism with the same zeal previously given to evangelism or to pastoral and missionary work.’

And the author brilliantly concludes: “All of life is sacred for the Christian, and the realization of that truth sets us free to serve God in all aspects of our existence.” Business is a high calling from God.

A Kingdom Business is Intentional

Every Business has a unique purpose which has to be discovered and lived out. It must identify its role in God’s drama of kingdom history and act it diligently. A kingdom business is deliberate about advancing God’s kingdom. While it recognizes that business is a valid calling from God, it will also seek to affect the world for Christ. Such a business looks beyond profit; it uses its operation as an avenue to reach the world with the gospel of Christ. Michael Baer gives several examples of Christians who started business as a means of witnessing to Christ. I read the story of Mira, a young Christian lady from Central Asia, who launched a handcraft manufacturing business. By gathering other young women into her home as employees, she created an informal network for passing across the message of Christ. We should creatively develop avenues for such interactions with our world.

How can we identify the unique kingdom role for our business? The author recommends a six-point step that should help in this regard:

    1. Pray
    2. Read and meditate on scripture
    3. Meet and interact with others who have discovered their kingdom purpose
    4. Expose yourself to what God is doing in the world
    5. Keep a journal
    6. Write a kingdom impact statement

As we practice this, our purpose becomes clearer and then we can run with it.

Kingdom Business is Relational

Business is about relationships, and it is increasingly evident in our modern world. The rise in importance of Customer Relationship Management as an aspect of business bears this out. Thus a Kingdom Business has better resources for fulfilling this objective. He has the example of God himself, the revelation in the Bible and the help of the Holy Spirit. According to the author, not only are relationships fundamental to life, they provide excellent kingdom opportunities. He writes:

“History , scripture , and even our own personal experience demonstrates that God’s primary conduit for expresing Himself in the world is through relationships. The influence of the gospel does not come through organizations but comes through human interaction, through a people-to-people process.”

This is true. Most conversions have to do with someone bearing witness to the gospel through personal conversation or through godly character. I was brought to Christ through the faithful witness of an older brother. So the role of relationships is critical.

Every business is about relationships in diverse forms: Shareholders, Employees, Customers, Vendors, etc. For a kingdom-minded business, these are opportunities for advancing the kingdom. We have to discern the stage the individual is on the ‘Kingdom continuum’ and know what is the appropriate form our relating should take. For instance, a matured Christian who happens to be a Customer will not require the same kind of ministry as a Vendor who is yet unaware of the gospel.

The obligation to develop relationships derives from the command to love our neighbour as ourselves. This is really what relationships are about – loving others just as Christ has loved us.

A Kingdom Business is Operational

Finally, a business has to be efficient.It is not enough to treat people right or to understand that business is pleasing to God, we need to strive for excellence in all the operations of the business. He identifies several authors whom I have also found helpful in this regard, such as Tom Peters, Jim Collins, and Peter Drucker. Several principles could be mined from their writings on how to achieve excellence in the operations of any organization. These would include: Developing a ‘core ideology’, setting bigger-than-life-goals (or BHAGs as Jim Collins calls them), and getting the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off it).

An essential aspect of a kingdom business’ operational excellence is a strong ethical culture. Several ethical systems have been devised, ranging from Pragmatism to Relativism. But these all explicitly or indirectly deny the absolute nature of truth. The business world harbours greed, selfishness, and lust, but it is the role of kingdom businesses to bring light into this vital sphere.

He concludes with directives for bringing this vision to life in our various businesses.

This book is a helpful guide in a most crucial sector of human society. For, as the author notes in the epilogue, “Companies, and not countries, will have the greatest impact in our world in the future”.

When Service fails

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Customers don’t expect you to be perfect.

They do expect you to fix things when they go wrong.

–Donald Porter

It is not news that service sometimes fails. A client’s complaint is not responded to. A test result is delayed at the hospital. Your mechanic forgets to change the oil in your car. Service does fail. The crucial factor is what an organization or individual does about it. This is what proves that one is truly service oriented. According to Kristin Baird of the Baird Group, the real test of excellence is when a bad experience is honestly addressed and swiftly turned around. How then can a business go about recovering the goodwill and satisfaction of her customers after a service failure? The essential thing about service recovery is to have a plan before the failure occurs and ensure that the service representatives understand the process.

And such a plan would include the following:

  • Invite and encourage your customers to express their discontent. Provide channels like toll-free lines, complaint boxes, mail boxes, where customers can easily voice out their perceived problems with your business or service process. In addition, listen for off hand comments and remarks which could be pointers to defects in your system. A comment like, “I wish there were more tellers at this branch” could indicate that your bank customers are underserved.

  • Don’t wait for customers to complain; examine your existing process and look for possible areas of service failure. When you discover these points, act promptly to correct them.

  • When service actually goes bad, the first thing to do is apologize. I know many companies discourage their staff from apologizing too quickly. This is because, it is believed, apologizing would imply you admit you are wrong and could make you liable should the customer decide to sue you. However, let’s consider this for a minute. What happens if you do not apologize? You lose a customer, and probably lots more through negative publicity. Besides, if you were actually wrong, it’s simple courtesy (and respect) to apologize. And remember, Business IS about people (your customers) and not your ego. So apologize for the bad experience and move on to the next step.

  • Get the issue resolved promptly. Find out what went wrong and fix it. It makes no sense for a tailor, for instance, to damage my beautiful ankara outfit, and offer a hymn to me in apology, without thinking of how to correct the damage. Or imagine your bank wrongly debiting your account and sending you a nicely written ‘We are Sorry’ card, with no mention that the error has been reversed. It simply doesn’t count.

  • Close the loop and give feedback to the customer. When service fails, the customer wants to know it’s been corrected. So let her know. Don’t keep her wondering whether she should switch to someone else. Make her believe you know what you are doing and that she can give you another chance.