Connecting business and stewardship
The Church teaches that work is a form of participating in God’s creation. Similarly, a business is more than a way to make a living — it’s a way of serving people. Pope Francis affirms this idea: “Work is fundamental to the dignity of a person. Work, to use an image, ‘anoints’ us with dignity” (May 1, 2013).
A company’s culture is defined as the shared values and practices that align that firm; it’s the glue that holds a company together. The more successful the company, the more its leaders tend to care about its culture. Perhaps less successful companies don’t have the priority or longevity to define a corporate culture, but they certainly have one and it’s likely negative.
Catholic business leaders should consider a culture of stewardship. I’m the CEO and co-founder of Innovest Portfolio Solutions. Our mission defines our culture: “We are not just an investment firm. We are stewards to our clients, professionals, and the community.” Father Pedro Arrupe, former superior general of the Society of Jesus, popularized the phrase for those following an Ignatian path: “Men and women for others.” Stewardship is not only a concrete concept for all Christians, but a powerful culture for businesses.
Why a stewardship culture? Employees who are “for others” are great teammates; they strive for the best outcome for clients and work together because they truly care. Low employee turnover. Employees recognize the value that they add, the quality of friendships, and are proud to be at the firm. The firm will become known as a great place to work that high-quality individuals ask to join.
Individual character. Monsignor James Shea of the University of Mary, an expert on business and leadership, speaks about “linking Sundays and Mondays” or having character stay consistent throughout the week. Stewardship becomes a way of life and does not turn off. Such a culture also leads to greater employee responsibility and accountability. It’s easy to delegate when employees are eager to add value. Often business owners (like me) struggle with control, but when they finally relent, they create a better organization.
How to create a stewardship culture? Flatten the corporate structure. It’s hard for entrepreneurs to let go; I know from experience. Consider forming committees and task forces to spread responsibilities and tackle issues. Employees thrive with responsibility and accountability. 360° reviews. Teammates should formally review each other. The reviews should be weighed heavily by their supervisors in overall performance evaluation and compensation, especially bonuses. Celebrate small successes. “We Love Mondays at Innovest” is a weekly communication that I send to the entire firm. Only positive announcements are highlighted, with special recognition of great service to clients or colleagues. We also give awards and rewards throughout the year for outstanding service to others.
Encourage philanthropy. Consider forming a committee to determine service work on behalf of the firm and financial stipends to charities. Volunteerism generates team building, camaraderie, and a great sense of accomplishment. In the last year, Innovest employees worked at homeless shelters, built trails and painted houses. Character first. Make strong character the most important characteristic of a new hire. If your firm has low-character employees, replace them. Hire only stewards. When interviewing, look for a multitude of demonstrated examples of stewardship in their life. Arrogance and narcissism are the opposite of the virtue of humility.
It starts at the top. Leadership must be involved in philanthropy and the community. Getting involved in the Catholic community is easy. Innovest’s philanthropic mission is inner-city education. Our greatest gift is employing four inner-city students through a work study program. Build community in your firm. To avoid any finger-pointing between departments, work to develop camaraderie within the firm. We sponsor a weekly lunch for employees, but only if they attend the whole lunch hour. Further, participants are not allowed to discuss work or a minor fine is levied.
Family first. As an employer, you want your people to do whatever it takes to get the job done — for the client and your colleagues. We acknowledge family accomplishments. We especially encourage our employees to attend their children’s events, even if they occur during the work day.
Opus Dei founder St. Josemaría Escrivá tells us that a business executive’s obligation is to “build a better society,” which “involves putting the needs of others first.” By forming a stewardship culture, an organization is healthier, customers are better served, and society greatly improves.
RICHARD TODD is a member of Legatus’ Denver Chapter. He is the principal and CEO of Innovest Portfolio Solutions, an independent provider of investment-related consulting services and work on a fee-only basis.