Good morning. This is working theology.
Most of the time when you ask leaders of a business what their business “believes,” you’ll get something like “We believe in integrity,” or “We believe in excellence.” These are great virtues to believe in, but they don’t go far enough.
Statements like these comprise what organizations call their mission, vision, and values. For example, Sodexo, a Fortune 500 quality of life services company, has a mission statement of “improving the quality of life for all.” And they’re led by “ethical principles” of loyalty, respect, transparency, and integrity.
But these statements don’t go down into the presuppositions† of its beliefs, what the business believes about the world, either morally or teleologically, and that makes it hard to live out its worldview.
Anyone who’s adopted a new set of beliefs knows that it may take years to work out in practice, and even more so when your business has over 400,000 employees, as Sodexo does. However, when a business takes a moral stance, creating change becomes a little simpler and easier.
Here’s one example. If your business believes that women and men are equal in dignity and value, then you can create a goal to have women on your board. Companies started talking about this many years ago, but it looks like it’s taking hold in practice. Now, every company on the S&P 500 has a woman on their board.
Another example was announced this week of which I’m excited to hear the results.
Businesses are starting to overturn their presupposition of shareholder primacy, that the purpose of a business is to serve only its shareholders. At a recent Business Roundtable, headed by JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, over 200 executives signed a petition to change its moral stance.
“While each of our individual companies serves its own corporate purpose, we share a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders,” the group said in the statement. “Americans deserve an economy that allows each person to succeed through hard work and creativity and to lead a life of meaning and dignity.”
The shift in corporate priorities comes as widening income inequality and the rising costs of such things as health care and higher education have led some politicians and critics to question whether the fundamental premise of American capitalism should be revamped. Some executives also have complained that an outsize focus on share prices and quarterly results hamper their ability to build businesses for the long term.
This change in their belief system will have lasting effects on the economy and on workers’ everyday lives. We’ll be following this story closely in this newsletter.
Something to think about during your day today: What does your business believe about the world?
Thanks for reading.
† See Greg L. Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1998), 2: A “presupposition” is an elementary assumption in one’s reasoning or in the process by which opinions are formed. In this book, a “presupposition” is not just any assumption in an argument, but a personal commitment that is held at the most basic level of one’s network of beliefs. Presuppositions form a wide-ranging, foundational perspective (or starting point) in terms of which everything else is interpreted and evaluated. As such, presuppositions have the greatest authority in one’s thinking, being treated as one’s least negotiable beliefs and being grated the highest immunity to revision.