Faith-based management

Faith-based management (September 13, 2005)

Ben Teehankee

Managing For Society column, The Manila Times

The Philippines is the only predominantly Catholic nation in the whole of East Asia. Catholic schools are considered among the best in the country. Top corporations are managed by many graduates of these schools. One would expect, therefore, that the Catholic faith figures significantly in how Philippine businesses are managed. This is not the case.

The reason for this, I suspect, is that management as it is taught in the country, even in the Catholic schools, is often not deliberately linked to the tenets of faith. While the separation of Church and State is actively promoted as a constitutional doctrine, the separation of faith and work seems to be unconsciously promoted as well. Faith is faith and business is business. This situation creates odd results, indeed. The Catholic manager who nods appreciatively while listening to the Gospel message to be sensitive to the vulnerable and weak during Sunday Mass may not link it in any way to the company’s downsizing activities come Monday morning.

The uneasy and distant relationship between management and faith is not unique to the Philippines. The same situation holds in many of the business schools in the top Catholic schools of the world. Dominated by the secular orientation of academia, the prevailing notion in the business schools is that faith is a purely personal matter and has no place in the public arena of business and management. This is unfortunate since the social teachings of the Church have a lot to contribute to discussions on ethics, leadership, stewardship of resources and people development – all major concerns of business today. Locally, it’s like Catholic Filipino managers are sitting on a gold mine that they don’t want to dig up.

Bro. Armin Luistro, during his inauguration as president of the De La Salle University System, posed the following questions to the university community: “Have we been faithful to our mission of becoming good news for our people especially the last, the lost and the least? Are we close enough to achieving our avowed goal of educating future leaders of the nation who would devote their lives and resources so that we can make real the dreams of our esteemed Lasallian alumnus, Pepe Diokno, who dreamt of a nation that is noble, proud, free, just and ‘where poverty, ignorance, and hunger are attacked and every farmer has land that no one can grab from him; every breadwinner, a job that is satisfying and pays him enough to provide a decent standard of living; every family, a home from which it cannot be evicted; and everyone, a steadily improving quality of life’? How could we make our educational service much more felt, our role in social transformation more pronounced?”

Diokno’s dream for the nation is nowhere in the horizon and the challenge to Catholic schools of management remains great. To respond to Bro. Armin’s questions and to try to bridge the divide between Catholic faith and management principles, the Graduate School of Business of De La Salle Professional Schools has offered an elective course for its MBA students called Faith-based Management. The course allows MBA students to explore their managerial roles as more than an economic occupation but, rather, as a calling to serve the common good and the call for social transformation.

What might a Catholic manager who wants to integrate faith into his work want to do? He could begin by initially reflecting on three questions.

Does the workplace he manages promote and protect human dignity? Does it promote the development of the whole person? During a recent research symposium on the impact of globalization on Philippine business, a speaker shared data that a large proportion of Metro Manila businesses do not pay the minimum wage. How can the faith-based manager rectify such work arrangements, especially given the widespread contractualization which exacerbates the economic vulnerability of workers?

Are the products and services offered by the company socially useful? Do they meet genuine human needs? The quest for revenue and market share encourages businesses to develop new offerings for the market. This process can produce a whole range of things for sale, from the developmental, to the frivolous, and to the downright harmful. How can the faith-based manager influence product development towards more developmental products and services?

Does the company communicate with integrity with its customers and the general public? The last couple of years have seen the multiplication of billboards along the major roads of Metro Manila extolling every imaginable product and service. A favorite communication tactic of companies is to use celebrity testimonials; which isn’t an issue, except if the celebrities have never even used the product! How can the faith-based manager ensure that public communication messages are informative and, at the very least, truthful?

Reflection is only the beginning of the process of integrating faith and work. The empowerment of people plus the use of creative problem-solving must follow. To paraphrase Peter Drucker’s description of ServiceMaster, a leading Christian-managed company in the US: The faith-based manager provides dignity and profit through improved productivity.