Business Culture

When Distrust Goes Viral

In 1919, the Chicago White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds played a nine-game World Series that illustrates what happens when business and political leaders lack integrity.

The 1919 Chicago White Sox

The 1919 Chicago White Sox

Numerous players on Chicago’s team agreed to accept large bribes from gamblers to throw the series and lose. Indeed, the Reds won and the gamblers took home a fortune. The full story can be reviewed in the Ken Burns documentary on the history of baseball.

As a result of the corruption in the sport, which was already a national pastime in America, distrust went viral. No one could trust the game. No one knew when a game was fair or foul. Across the two major leagues, attendance at stadiums plummeted. Teams lost huge sums of money, even when they were completely honest.

Worse yet was what the corruption did to young boys who looked up to baseball stars as role models. Kenesaw Mountain Landis, a federal judge who in 1920 was hired as the first baseball commissioner to attempt to restore trust in the game, eloquently conveyed the impact on kids in this statement: 

“Baseball is something more than a game to an American boy,” Landis said. “It is his training field for life work. Destroy his faith in its squareness and honesty and you have destroyed something more—you have planted suspicion of all things in his heart.”

The same outcome happens when business leaders and politicians, for selfish gain and power, lie and cheat. Distrust goes viral. And when “suspicion of all things” is in our hearts, little parts of society die. Soon widespread distrust causes the breakdown of commerce, the erosion of community, and the atomization of individuals.

What happens on the baseball field doesn’t stay on the baseball field.

The Loneliness Epidemic and Work

Two recent studies once again demonstrate the desperate need for improving workplace relationships.

The first was published in the September 2017 issue of Harvard Business Review by the former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. Titled “Work and the Loneliness Epidemic,” the essay reports that over 40 percent of all Americans and over half of CEOs feel lonely. He adds that the high rates of loneliness in America are causing serious health problems.

“We live in the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization, yet rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s,” Murthy writes. “In the workplace, new models of working — such as telecommuting and some on-demand 'gig economy' contracting arrangements — have created flexibility but often reduce the opportunities for in-person interaction and relationships. And even working at an office doesn’t guarantee meaningful connections: People sit in an office full of coworkers, even in open-plan workspaces, but everyone is staring at a computer or attending task-oriented meetings where opportunities to connect on a human level are scarce.”

Murthy argues that business leaders can and should play a vital role in changing workplace cultures as a means of combatting loneliness. This, he says, is because we spend most of our waking hours at work.

The second study reveals that 71 percent of American workers are so dissatisfied with their work that they are looking for new jobs. This survey of 17,000 people from 19 industries, conducted by the nonprofit group Mental Health America and the Faas Foundation, found that several factors are causing this problem. Chief among them was poor workplace relationships.

“. . . 44 percent believe that they are “always or often” overlooked. Sixty-four percent say their supervisors don’t give them enough support and a majority of the participants are resentful of their co-workers. So much for teamwork,” writes Washington Post journalist Gene Marks about the survey.

These studies are published at a time when our news is filled with reports of rampant sexual abuse in the workplace, making the lives of professional women a nightmare. Clearly, there is a lot of work to do to renew workplace cultures.

Global Commerce Network has published numerous articles and books about healthy relationships. These books will help you take a fresh look at the scriptural foundations for healthy relationships, and to integrate this theology with business culture.

Two GCN resources published for this purpose are titled Working Together and Why People Matter, both of which can be purchased on Amazon. 

Immediatism Stifles Significant Innovation

Our view of work and success today is measured in immediate returns. We watch the stock market daily. Companies must produce quarterly profits or investors bolt. We assess the success of politicians by how they did in a four-year term, not by the long-term impact of their decisions. A new report published in the MIT Technology Review (January/February 2016) makes it clear that the demand for immediate profits is suppressing important advances that could provide large-scale benefits to society. The report questions whether "the mechanisms for funding innovation today can nourish a broad range of technologies: not just car-sharing services like Uber, but valuable technologies for making energy cleaner, reducing poverty, and improving health care."

Writer Nanette Byrnes states that $21.5 billion (42 percent of all venture capital investment money in 2014) went toward new software development. Only $6 billion went to biotechnology and only $2.4 billion was used for industrial and energy companies.

The reason for the disparity is that the latter two categories often require long-term commitment before investors see a return. Software is far easier to develop and deploy than a promising new medication, or than products that require large factories and infrastructure. Given the choice, investors usually want the easy route to quick profits.

The problem, however, is that software innovation often addresses smaller societal needs. Sometimes is seeks to satisfy frivolous desires. It's one thing to design a cellphone so that another row of apps will fit on the screen and another to cure Alzheimer's, purify water, or improve the electrical grid.

"Capital intensive industries are particularly ill-suited to today's methods of funding," writes Byrnes. ". . . certain innovations are still struggling: potential breakthroughs in energy production and medicine, among others, that take too much money and time to develop."

Underlying the demand for immediate financial returns is a deficiency in our worldview and culture. And that can take a long time to fix.

MIT Report on Innovation

In an age when many believe businesses are corrupt and capital is detrimental to society, a new report by the MIT Sloan School of Management shows how well-operated, innovative companies can bring incredible benefits to people.

As of 2014, MIT alumni have "launched 30,200 active companies, employing roughly 4.6 million people, and generating roughly $1.9 trillion in annual revenues." MIT alumni, if they were a nation, would be the ninth largest economy in the world. Employing 4.6 million people means incalculable benefits to families and communities.

Moreover, the report indicates that MIT innovators have been able to start businesses that endure long-term. The report states that "80 percent of alumni-founded companies have survived five or more years, while 70 percent have survived 10 years. (Across the U.S., roughly 50 percent of all new companies last five years, while only 35 percent last 10 years.)"

What this means is that MIT entrepreneurs are innovating products and services that meet real human needs and they are competently running their companies.

MIT has developed a meaningful ethos, as captured in a statement by the university's president, L. Rafael Reif. “Our community’s passion for doing, making, designing and building is alive and growing. As we do our part by continuing to foster our students’ natural creativity and energy, it is inspiring to see the potential our alumni hold to extend MIT’s power to do good for the world.”

This is what we at GCN call "human flourishing." It is an expression of the scriptural mandate to love our neighbor through our work and businesses.

You can read the full MIT report here.

Rowing Teams as a Model for Business Culture

An eight-man crew: power, synergy, unity.
An eight-man crew: power, synergy, unity.

Business is built on relationships. The word "corporate" comes from the idea of a body, diverse and interconnected parts working in unison. The word "company" is rooted in the notion of eating together. For businesses to grow and flourish, they must have strong internal relationships among those who work together, and they must foster strong external relationships, to build trust with clients and suppliers. The whole deal is relational.

However, if you talk to people about their biggest problems at work, most will complain about the bad workplace relationships. There are many statistics that report high rates of workplace bullying and tension between bosses and employees. Few like to admit it, but this friction is caused by the dark stuff of human nature--envy, selfishness, pride.

What does this have to do with rowing? If you don't know much about this beautiful sport, it is one of the most physically demanding and grueling sports on the planet. It requires tremendous synergy between all members of the crew. The most amazing crew to watch involves eight men or women in a 60-foot-long boat (costing upwards of $50,000 each). There is also a coxswain whose role is to steer an coordinate tempo.

It is remarkable to watch eight men or women rowing in perfect sync. Here's a description of what it takes from the New York Times best seller, The Boys in The Boat, by Daniel James Brown.

No other sport demands and rewards the complete abandonment of the self the way that rowing does. Great crews may have men or women of exceptional talent or strength . . . but they have no stars. The team effort--the perfectly synchronized flow of muscle, oars, boat, and water; the single whole, unified, and beautiful symphony that a crew in motion becomes--is all that matters. Not the individual, not the self. . . . Each must be prepared to compromise something in the way of optimizing his stroke for the overall benefit of the boat. (p. 178-179)

Apply that to your business. And while you're at it, take a look at 1 Corinthians 12. It all connects.

So Many Discouraged Workers!

The most recent study of the American workplace has been released by the Gallup organization. The news isn't good. On average, only about 30 percent of all American workers say they feel engaged at work. More than half of the 150,000 workers polled said they basically sleepwalk through the day. And only 30 percent of those surveyed said they really like their jobs. Why so much discontent? There are many reasons, of course. But based on the survey questions, I would say that a primary reason (which is often overlooked) is that the workplace is so impersonal and non-relational. Workers don't feel appreciated or valued.

Here's the questions that Gallup asked in the survey. Those questions in bold letters are related to the relational, personal qualities of the workplace.

1. I know what is expected of me at work.

2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.

3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.

4. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.

5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.

6. There is someone at work who encourages my development.

7. At work, my opinions seem to count.

8. The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.

9. My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.

10. I have a best friend at work.

11. In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.

12. This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

You can see that half of the questions aimed to find out how workers feel about the quality of relationships at work. Given the dismal responses, we can assume that today's workplace would be greatly improved if it could simply be more personal. This is a basic human need that is not being met for most American workers.

One of the core values of the Global Commerce Network is to renew the workplace, to make work more personal. It's up to use to make the changes necessary so that the experience of work fits with how we are wired.

What can you do to make a difference?

Good Work: A Woman Who Saved Millions of Lives

Among the dead in the devastating Haiti earthquake was a Brazilian pediatrician who since 1983 has saved millions of lives through a program she established to reduce infant mortality. Dr. Zilda Arns died on January 12, 2010 in Haiti while working to build her child healthcare program in that impoverished country. Most people outside Brazil don't know about this woman. In my opinion, she deserves a Nobel Prize.

A devout catholic, Dr. Arns decided that it was wrong to sit around and depend only on the government. She believed that a community effort could be very effective.

Her older brother, who was at the time the archbishop of São Paulo, had encouraged her to start a program to reduce infant mortality and had promised church support. With a small budget, and working out of her own home, she set off to the small town of Florestópolis in the northern part of Paraná state. At the time, Florestópolis had a very high rate of infant mortality and poverty. There she rounded up 76 volunteers, most of them public school teachers, and taught them the basics of infant nutrition and infant care.

Dr. Arns knew that most infant deaths could be avoided if mothers could learn simple infant nutrition, sanitation and health methods. The vast majority of children died because of dehydration from diarrhea. So she taught them how to make an inexpensive solution made with salt and sugar that replaced a sick child’s essential minerals and electrolytes. She also saw that mothers were putting their children to sleep facedown, which often led to asphyxiation, so she taught them to put the kids on their backs. She invented a simple scale that could be used to weigh the babies at home, and taught poor mothers how to buy and prepare the most nutritional foods with their limited incomes. She and the volunteers also helped pregnant women take care of themselves during the gestation period, thus increasing the health of babies at birth.

The program, which is now called Pastoral da Criança, was so successful in Florestópolis that it started spreading to other towns all over Brazil. The key to the program’s success was in Dr. Arns’ ability to multiply and train volunteers. Most of her work spread through Catholic community networks. The techniques were so simple and cheap, yet so effective, that Dr. Arns’ volunteers could not only teach the mothers (house to house) but also train more volunteers to do more of the same. There are now more than 262,000 volunteers who oversee the health of 1.9 million children and pregnant women in almost 4,100 Brazilian cities.

Without a doubt, Dr. Arns radically transformed many incorrect notions of infant nutrition and healthcare in the nation. The result: The infant mortality rate in these towns has dropped from 127 to 11 deaths per 1000 live births, a decrease of 91 percent. These results are so positive that over the years the Brazilian federal government has made the program part and parcel of its overall health programs.

Pastoral da Criança is now operating in 17 nations. In 2004, Dr. Arns also established the Pastoral do Idoso, a program designed to care for the elderly poor using the same volunteer and community networking principals as her program for children.

The entrepreneurial vision of Zilda Arns is a great inspiration and model for everyone in the workplace. We might not be called to slow infant mortality among the poor, but if we can bring this kind of passion, love and willingness to serve to our workplace and communities, we could make a great difference.