Tag Archives: Business

Rules and Exceptions

On that day the Book of Moses was read aloud in the hearing of the people and there it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever be admitted into the assembly of God.

When the people heard this law, they excluded from Israel all who were of foreign descent.
Nehemiah 13:1,3 (NIV)

A large part of my daily vocation is working with companies and their Quality Assessment (QA) efforts. You know, when you call and they say, “Your call may be monitored for quality and training purposes”? That’s a piece of what our company does.

Many years ago I observed a pattern in many companies with whom I consulted on their QA programs. An exceptional situation will result in a general rule for the population. Often, the rule had more of a detrimental effect than the exceptional situation that started it ever would. Let me give you an example.

Our team’s customer surveys (another piece of what our company does) typically find that customers appreciate a company who knows their name (Remember Cheers? “You wanna go where everybody knows your name.”) and offers a personal service experience. Then one day a well-meaning Customer Service Representative (CSR) makes a mistake and addresses the caller by the wrong name or butchers the pronunciation of an unusual sounding name. The customer goes postal on the CSR and calls back to speak with managers and executives up the org chart making a huge deal out of a relatively little thing. Management, not wanting to have that happen again, makes a general rule: CSRs will no longer address customers by name!

The result? One exceptional, cranky customer who made a mountain out of a molehill has resulted in all customers getting a diminished service experience from the company.

Then I began to realize that this isn’t just something that happens in business. It happens all the time in families, churches, communities, and cultures. In fact, it happens in today’s chapter, but I bet you didn’t see it if you read the chapter.

Back in the days of Moses, there were two exceptional enemies of the Hebrews. The Ammonites and Moabites had gone out of their way to curse the Hebrews and attempted to thwart their passing through the land. Because of this, the law of Moses contained an exceptional rule:

No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, not even in the tenth generation. For they did not come to meet you with bread and water on your way when you came out of Egypt, and they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in Aram Naharaim to pronounce a curse on you. However, the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam but turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loves you. Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them as long as you live.

Deuteronomy 23:3-4 (NIV)

Then, I read again what Nehemiah and the returned exiles did when they read this text:

When the people heard this law, they excluded from Israel all who were of foreign descent.

Nehemiah 13:3 (NIV) [emphasis added]

Do you see what they did there? They took an exceptional situation that applied to two specific people groups (the Moabites and Ammonites) being allowed into the temple, and they expanded into a general rule excluding all people of foreign descent from the entire land.

Here’s the kicker. In doing this, they were breaking another very specific law of God in Leviticus 19:

“‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.'”

Leviticus 19:33-34 (NIV)

I can see the legal wrangling spinning in the hearts and heads of Nehemiah and his people: “If we exclude all foreigners from the land, then we won’t have any of them residing among us, and that renders the Leviticus rule moot!”

By the way, what Nehemiah and the people are doing in today’s chapter is part of why Jesus came 400 years later to find a culture of separation, animosity, prejudice, and hatred between Jews and Gentiles. If they’d have interpreted Deuteronomy 23:3-4 differently and made Leviticus 19:33-34 their general rule, things may have just have turned out differently.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking of all the ways we still do this today. Parents have one child who rebels and they clamp down their draconian rules on all of their children in the belief that the entire brood is a bunch of little rebels waiting to happen. Two young people at a school dance go too far and the girl ends up pregnant, so the church outlaws dancing in any form as evil. One dumb terrorist thought he could plant a bomb in his shoe (simply resulting in him burning his feet), and now billions of travelers have to have their shoes removed and x-rayed at every airport in the world.

By the way, I think both extremes of the political spectrum do this, as well. Let me give you two easy examples. The right does it with guns: “Because the Constitution made an exception for Colonists to have a musket to defend themselves against enemies and provide food for their tables, there’s no reason why I can’t have an M-16 and a rocket launcher in my home arsenal.” The left does it with abortion: “Because there are tragic situations of rape, incest, and life-threatening situations, we should allow abortion for all women, for any reason, right until the moment of delivery in the ninth month.”

The further I get in my life journey the more I observe that we humans are largely driven by fear, distrust, and emotional over-reactions. I don’t want to live that way. I’d rather have my life, words, and actions driven by faith, hope, and love. And, the latter most of all.

A note to readers: You are always welcome to share all or part of my chapter-a-day posts if you believe it may be beneficial for others. I only ask that you link to the original post and/or provide attribution for whatever you might use. Thanks for reading!

Motives and Example

So I continued, “What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies?”
Nehemiah 5:9 (NIV)

In 1993, the state of Iowa experienced historic flooding. An army of volunteers sandbagged along the Des Moines River attempting to protect the Water Works plant, but it was eventually inundated, leaving a quarter of a million people without fresh water. My family and I had just moved back to Des Moines in the weeks before the floods peaked.

I was working for a non-profit organization at the time and was dispatched by my employer to assist in any way I could. I ended up working at an emergency shelter for victims whose homes were flooded.

My experiences as a volunteer during those days opened my eyes to a side of national emergencies that we will never see on the news. I overheard conversations as relief officials and corporations negotiated the amount of aid they were willing to “give” dependant on the publicity they would receive and the level of the government official who would be present to publicly accept the donation in front of the cameras. I witnessed relief officials act as casting directors, sizing up flood victims as to which news outlet they would be perfect for on camera. I watched news producers coaching victims how to sound and look more pitiful, and making the victim’s situation seem far worse than reality.

I realized during those days that national emergencies are big business. They tug at global heartstrings, earn lots of viewers (and ad dollars) for news organizations, earn publicity for donors, and generate millions of dollars in revenue for relief organizations. And it’s all done under the humanitarian guise of helping our neighbor.

In today’s chapter, Nehemiah is in the midst of his emergency construction project to shore up the walls of Jerusalem. He begins to witness things that open his eyes, as well. What becomes clear is that the dire situation among the people in and around Jerusalem is not just the lack of protective walls and gates around the city. The wealthy have been using the tough times and difficult circumstances as an excuse to extort interest from the poor and take people’s land and children away. Nehemiah calls an assembly and demands that they stop using their position to take advantage of others.

Nehemiah goes on to explain that, as Governor, he led by example in these matters. He didn’t accept all that was due him as Governor nor did he levy taxes on his people to line his own pockets as Governors usually did.

In the quiet this morning I am thinking about motives and example. When the people’s motives were out of whack they acted accordingly to the detriment of all. Nehemiah’s appeal was not just about changing their behavior but about changing their hearts. Nehemiah’s motives were to do what was right for the people which translated into behaviors that were consistent with those motives.

I find myself doing some soul searching today and a little personal cardiology examination. It’s easy for me to accept that my motives are right and my behaviors towards others are aligned, but how do those under my leadership see it? What do my actions and motives look like from their perspective? When I get uncomfortable with looking at it that way, then I’m pretty sure I’ve got some changes of my own to make.

A note to readers: You are always welcome to share all or part of my chapter-a-day posts if you believe it may be beneficial for others. I only ask that you link to the original post and/or provide attribution for whatever you might use. Thanks for reading!

Moments of Truth

Then Daniel (also called Belteshazzar) was greatly perplexed for a time, and his thoughts terrified him. So the king said, “Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its meaning alarm you.”

Belteshazzar answered, “My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries!
Daniel 4:19 (NIV)

The company I have served for 25 years works with all kinds of businesses from all over. We survey our client’s customers in order to determine what drives the customer’s satisfaction. We assess phone calls and emails between the company and their customers to determine where they have opportunities to improve the customer experience. Sometimes the data our research and assessments reveal tell a story that a client doesn’t want to hear. It’s our responsibility to communicate the uncomfortable truth. Let’s just say, I have stories of clients who listened, and stories of clients who didn’t.

In today’s chapter, Daniel finds himself in an uncomfortable position. Having gained a reputation for upright honesty and the ability to interpret dreams, he and his friends have attained positions of power and prominence in King Nebuchadnezzar’s administration. When Nebuchadnezzar has another perplexing dream, he calls on Daniel for its interpretation. This time, however, Daniel realizes the dream is not something that his proud, temperamental, foreign master is going to want to hear. The text hints at Daniel’s hesitation and the internal struggle that the King, himself, notices.

The higher the position, the greater the stakes. That’s what I’ve experienced in my own career. When I was a young man working on front-line projects there was very little risk involved. My employer and my seniors had to worry about our clients in closed-door meetings. I just kept my head down and did my job. Now, I find myself at the top of the org chart. I am responsible for others.  My words and actions impact everyone in our company. Now I’m the one facing clients in closed-door meetings. The stakes are very different.

I have to believe Daniel was feeling something similar. Before, he was just an unknown minion in the King’s vast stable of advisors. Now, Daniel and his companions are in a position of prominence and authority. They have political clout. They have enemies. Daniel now knows, first-hand, King Neb’s ego, temper, and fatal flaws. The stakes are higher. It feels like there is more to lose.

Daniel hesitates. The King notices. The King wants an answer.

Is Daniel going to tell the truth? This is a moment of decision.

Daniel does tell the truth. He sticks to his faith and his principles. He once again puts everything on the line and risks losing it all.

It’s Monday morning as I write this and I’ve enjoyed being unplugged for a long holiday weekend with friends. I’m heading back into the work week this morning leading a company that was founded on the principles of God’s Message. That means treating clients the way I’d want to be treated. It means serving well and going the extra mile. It means speaking the truth in love, even when it may not be what our clients want to hear. Daniel provides me an example to follow.

Even when the stakes are higher and it appears there is far more to lose, am I still willing to say what is true?

Lunch with the CEO

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.
2 Corinthians 10:3 (NIV)

A number of years ago my company served a midwest client. We were providing them with on-going customer satisfaction research, conducting Quality Assessments in their contact center, as well as coaching their sales and customer service teams. Then we learned that the company had been sold to a much larger conglomerate with global reach.

As always happens in a corporate buy-out, there was a subsequent shift in the executive ranks as the new owners brought in their own executives to run their new asset. I know that when this happens there is a very good possibility that we will lose our contract. New executives tend to come in having already formed their own strategic partnerships and alliances along their career journey. They use their new authority and this initial season of massive change to bring in the friends and colleagues they already know and trust.

In this case, the new CEO decided to let us finish our contract year as he observed the work we were doing and allowed us to present our data and explain the continuous improvement model we’d implemented which was successfully making positive changes to the customer experience. We were fortunate. As the year progressed he not only allowed us to continue our project, but he actually gave me additional projects to work on with him. At the end of the year he agreed to keep our projects moving.

During one of my visits I had lunch with the CEO. “Do you know why I keep you around?” he asked. He was a type 8 challenger so I had to be ready for him to ask almost any kind of arcane, direct question at any moment.

I hope we’re providing you with value,” or some such generic guess was my answer.

It’s your expense reports,” he answered just as directly as he’d asked the question.

Excuse me? My expense reports?

I deal with all sorts of outside vendors and consultants,” he went on to explain. “You wouldn’t believe what people try to charge me and get away with. First Class airfare, magazines they buy to read on the plane, luxury hotel suites, and the most expensive meals. One guy tried to expense a $200 bottle of wine with his lunch. Then they even try to charge margin on top of their expenses.”

You and your team,” he said, “are different. You only expense what is necessary and reasonable. In fact, I can tell you actually try to help me contain costs. It tells me a lot about who you are and how you operate. It tells me I can trust you.

It was a nice thing to hear, because our company has always tried to operate with integrity in all of our dealings and relationships. If you happen to have been in our gathering of Jesus’ followers a couple of days ago and heard the message, then you’ll understand when I say that I try to bring “Level 4” principles into our “Level 3” business dealings.

In today’s chapter, Paul expresses the same vein of thinking. He’s operating in the world but trying to bring a different level of operational principles in his relationships and dealings. He’s trying to bring the Kingdom into everything that he’s doing from his ministry to all of the fledgling gatherings in the Jesus Movement to the tent-making and repair business he ran wherever he went to provide for his daily needs so as not to be a financial burden on the believers he was serving.

This morning I’m preparing for a business trip. Once again I’m thinking about how I can serve well, love well, bring measurable value to my client, and be an example in all of my dealings. My memories of lunch with that CEO are a good reminder for me as I embark on my journey. I want my stated principles to be evident in my daily words and actions.

People are watching, and they notice.

 

Trying Not to Stink

For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.
2 Corinthians 2:15 (NIV)

On Saturday I returned home from a week-long business trip. I was in four different client offices in three different cities training, coaching, and mentoring with agents and managers of nine different teams not to mention multiple key executives.

As a follower of Jesus I am always mindful of the fact that I am a follower of Jesus wherever I go and whatever I am doing. If I truly believe what I write that I believe in these posts, then my faith is ever-present  wherever I am and with whomever I am meeting whether it is for business or leisure.

Along the journey of my career I’ve enjoyed a large host of great working relationships with many, many colleagues and clients around the world. I’ve also had a few people who have made it perfectly clear that, for whatever reason, really, really don’t like me. Oh my, do I have some stories. Just a few months ago I received my first hateful, threatening rant from a reader. C’est la vie.

I can’t control what others think of me. I can only control my own thoughts, words, and actions. In today’s chapter Paul alludes to a Roman triumphal procession. Conquering Roman generals would lead a procession through the city with their army behind them. Incense was burned during the parade. In the procession there would be prisoners taken captive during battle who were being marched to their execution. Paul uses this word picture. The incense wafts through he air. To some in the procession it’s the aroma of triumph and life, while to others it is the aroma of death.

I’ve always loved this word picture because it reminds me of the limited control I have in how others respond to me. My goal is always to let my faith motivate both my words and actions to be filled with the aroma of love, kindness, respect, trust, honesty, and integrity no matter who I am with and no matter where I am and whatever I may be doing. I want my words and actions to be free from the stench of judgement, condemnation, anger, hatred, bitterness, prejudice, or meanness. Beyond that, I can’t really control how anyone is going to respond to me.

In the quiet this morning I’m thinking about the week ahead. More meetings with different groups and different people. As always, I’m praying that my presence, my words, and my actions don’t stink.

Love in the Ordinary

Do everything in love.
1 Corinthians 16:14 (NIV)

In her book, Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warren  reminded me of what I fear is a largely forgotten and much needed truth. In a culture that worships bucket list experiences and adrenaline rushes, it is easy to allow the experience-seeker mentality to skew my spiritual life. I allow the mundane, everyday routines to become disconnected from spirit. In my mind they become the Life-less tasks I must necessarily trudge through to get to the next  mountaintop spiritual experience. Warren brought back into focus for me that in Jesus, everything is connected. Everything is sacred.

Wendy’s and my household is, I assume, like most married households. There are tasks that are my responsibility. The lawn care and snow removal, for example. It’s not that Wendy can’t do these things or assist with them. She grew up on a farm and can chore with the best of them. I just take them on as my responsibility. There are tasks Wendy takes on for herself. The laundry and the kitchen/pantry administration, for example. It’s not that I couldn’t capably do either, but Wendy likes these done a certain way so she just takes them on as her own. And then, there are household tasks that we share.

In Paul’s letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth, he ends his letter by admonishing them to “do everything in love.” As I mulled over this simple command, I realized that it’s easy for me to apply that “experience seeking” mentality to this simple relational command. It’s also easy to assume that Paul is talking about being loving in all my relationships, to be a Good Samaritan, and to be loving toward outcasts and my enemies.  But, then I looked again. I realized that’s not what he wrote. He didn’t write “Be loving towards everyone” he wrote “Do everything (i.e. Laundry? Lawn care? Making the bed? Fixing supper? Washing the dishes?) in love. All of a sudden, this simple command takes on a whole new layer of meaning.

In my job I assess and train people in the art of giving good customer service. Quite regularly I am working with individuals who are tasked with serving co-workers (a corporate help-desk, for example). Other teams are tasked with serving the same key customers on a daily basis, and they often have very close, very personal relationships with these customers. I commonly have these team members argue that the customer service techniques I teach them “don’t apply” to them.

They’re not customers. They’re co-workers,” the help-desk agent will say to me.

He’s not like a customer. I talk to him on the phone every day. Sometimes it’s multiple times a day. He’s a friend. I don’t need to do all this customer service stuff with him. It would sound silly,” the key account  manager will say to me.

What are these service skills I’m asking of them?

  • Take ownership of a situation, say what you’ll do.
  • If something doesn’t go right, express empathy. Apologize.
  • Make sure you’ve met the need. Ask if they need anything else.
  • Express gratitude.

What these agents are arguing is that the closer you are to another person, you are excused from giving him or her exceptional service. The more intimate you become, the more you are free to just slide and “get by.” These mundane, everyday relationships don’t require good communication of active commitment, empathy, willingness, or gratitude. Wow. No wonder so many relationships are in trouble.

At that point I will usually tell a joke. Imagine if I told Wendy on the day we married, “I told you I love you today in front of everybody. So, now you know. If it ever changes I’ll let you know.” My challenger wife would have a few words of challenge for me.

I argue that the closer the relationship, the more everyday, mundane daily relationship that is shared between two individuals, the more I should want my communication to be a steady stream of commitment, empathy, willingness, gratitude, and love. Of course the words are going to be different and more familiar. Of course it’s going to look and sound more subtle, more intimate, and familiar than with a new acquaintance. Nevertheless, a healthy relationship requires it.

Last week I went out to blow 10 inches of heavy snow off our sidewalks and drive way in the dark while I was sick with a cold. When I walked in the house Wendy thanked me for doing it. She didn’t just thank me because it was hard, or I happened to be sick. She always thanks me. I can’t remember the last time I did the lawn or the driveway and Wendy didn’t immediately thank me when I walked in the house. In the same way, whenever Wendy finishes a day of multiple laundry loads I express my appreciation for it.

When Wendy asks me to do something for her, I always try to respond with what I teach my clients is called an ownership statement. It’s a statement of what you”can” or “will” do for a person that also expresses a positive attitude in doing so. “Sure, babe,” I say, “I’ll be happy to.” There is no one else who does as much for me everyday as Wendy. There is no one who deserves an ownership statement from me as much as she does.

Do  everything” Paul wrote, “in love.” In the quiet of my hotel room this morning I’m really mulling that over. It’s not just the big public actions that every one can see, but the ordinary, repetitive daily actions that hardly anyone sees. What does it mean for me to make coffee in the morning in love? To do my daily chores in love? To mow  the lawn in love? To answer my emails in love?

In order to answer that question, I have to be open to embracing the Liturgy of the Ordinary.

The People v. Paul of Tarsus (Part 1)

Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus.
Acts 24:24 (NIV)

I and my team at work have had many different business engagements over the years with a number of very different companies. I’m glad to say that our team has had several on-going engagements with clients that have lasted 15, 20, and even 25 years and counting. Others engagements have been relatively small projects that lasted a week or a month. The difference between a long engagement and a short one is often dependent the level of person we’re working with within the organization.

If we’re working with the CEO and/or senior executives of a client company, we have the opportunity to positively influence the client’s entire operation along with the  health and well-being of the customer experience for decades. A middle manager, on the other hand, typically has limited means and influence. They usually bring us in for a moment in time to treat a symptom in their service delivery system.

In today’s chapter, we find Paul in the midst of a tectonic shift in his ministry. For years he has traveled the Roman Empire in Judea, Asia Minor, and Greece. He’s been among the people. He’s expanded the number of believers and followers of Jesus. He’s organized them into local groups. He’s provided for himself by keeping his day job as a maker of tents. Paul has been on a grass-roots, boots-on-the-ground, non-stop mission among the common, everyday people in the streets. Now, like Jesus before him, Paul finds himself in the justice system of the Roman Empire being accused by the leaders of the Hebrew religion who want him dead. Unlike Jesus, Paul is a citizen of Rome, and that affords him the ability to appeal his case all the way to Caesar himself.

The first trial Paul faces against the religious leadership of the Jews is before the Roman Procurator, Antonius Felix, who had authority over Judea. Felix, like many Roman regional authorities of the time, was a corrupt official with a reputation for both cruelty and debauchery. The trial, as recorded in today’s chapter, should have ended with Paul’s release. The Jewish leaders had no accusation that should have stood up in Roman court. They did not produce a single corroborating witness willing to be cross-examined, and they had no evidence. Paul’s defense was persuasive and, as a Roman citizen, he should have been released immediately. Felix, however, was in a tough spot politically.

One of the top responsibilities of Roman provincial leadership was keeping the peace. The Jewish leaders bringing charges against Paul had tremendous political and social influence, and Felix knew it. His predecessor, Ventidus Cumanus, failed to respond to a racially motivated murder of a Jew in Samaria. The result was riots and uprising. Cumanus was held responsible by Caesar and exiled. Felix wants to avoid this fate so he decides to appease the Jewish leaders by keeping Paul in prison. But the Jesus movement has been gaining popularity, as well. Tens of thousands of people had become believers and Paul is one of their leaders. So, Felix can’t just have him killed without potentially igniting a backlash.

The compromise Felix came up with was to keep Paul under a relatively comfortable house arrest within the palace. For two years Felix and his wife (the daughter of Herod Agrippa) regularly meet with Paul to have lengthy discussions. Felix, being a corrupt Roman official, is hoping Paul will offer him a bribe to let him go. Paul is on a very different mission, however. He could have easily stolen Peter’s line: “Silver and gold I don’t have, but what I have I give to you.”

This morning as I read, I thought about Paul’s situation in terms of my own experience in business. For years Paul has been working with the front-line workers of the corporate Roman Empire. Now Paul finds himself invited into the executive suite. Paul has the opportunity to influence an influencer. To convert a Roman official, to even make him aware of the Message of Jesus, could have a tremendous ripple effect throughout the Empire. Paul is fulfilling the very mission Jesus spoke of to his disciples: “On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.” (Matt 10:18)

Convert an Ephesian shopkeeper and you change a life. Convert a Roman official and you might just change an empire (which is exactly what eventually happened two hundred years later with the Roman Emperor Constantine).