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Keeping Your Eye on the Ball: Resolving Business Tensions

by David Skews

Tensions tend to arise when we take our eye off the ball. We need to be constantly asking the questions, Why are we here? Why are we doing what we are doing?

Because we are in business and are employing business methods, it is easy to allow our motivations to become aligned with the world’s motivations, e.g. to make profit for its own sake or only increase shareholder value. There may be nothing inherently wrong with these goals but they do not reflect the primary aims of a BAM business. The focus should be on the benefits generated for people and for pleasing God, which then results in profits and shareholder value.  When our motivations become hijacked, our priorities become distorted and tensions arise, particularly between stakeholders.

Specific actions we have found to be valuable in combating these dangers include:

Clearly define the mission, vision, values and objectives

Spend time to ensure your mission, vision, values and objectives are all very clearly and precisely defined and documented. The idea is that when tensions, arguments or disagreements arise, these clearly defined statements become the arbiters against which differing views can be evaluated. For this reason, woolly definitions are worse than useless since they are open to being interpreted and reinterpreted in different ways to suit and support whatever arguments are being put forward. It is worthwhile revisiting these definitions on a fairly regular basis, first to tighten them up where they have been found wanting and secondly to keep them at the front of people’s minds and avoid them gathering dust on the shelf.

Set up accountability structures

Accountability operates in conjunction with documented statements to challenge and correct any wrong thinking and attitudes. It may be that accountability exists by virtue of organisational arrangements, for example, if a business has been set up by a Christian organisation, then the business decision makers may be held accountable to that parent organisation. In our case, there were no such organisational relationships and therefore we set up a ‘Christian Accountability Board’, to operate alongside the Management Board. The Management Board were responsible for the day to day business decisions but these decisions were subject to scrutiny by the Accountability Board who were one step removed from the day to day activities and therefore able to be more objective. Ultimate accountability is to God and His Word, so we might say that the purpose of the Accountability Board is to act as God’s earthly representative in this respect, which in large part means having a sound grasp of scriptural principles, particularly as they relate to business conduct.

Put prayer and relationships first

Good relationships play a major role in the smooth operations of such organisational arrangements. We found a practical way to establish and foster these good relationships was to have a regular prayer gathering of everyone involved. These gatherings also included additional prayer warriors who were not part of the business operation but who had a genuine interest in the company fulfilling its God-given mission. Prayer included times of sharing, when difficult situations and decisions could be aired in a forum where confidentiality was guaranteed and where they became subjects for prayer and often for Holy Spirit inspired insights.

Reduce tensions around money

Not all tensions encountered in business are financial matters, but many are. When money is tight, the temptation is to find it from anywhere possible. At such times, the risk is that the mission aspects of the BAM business will suffer. The intention is always to make good any “borrowings” when the financial situation improves, though this may not always happen. It is good practice, therefore, to incorporate the financial aspects of mission in the overall budget for the business, i.e. an costs for ‘missional activities’ are specifically identified and set aside for that purpose. To help make this effective, it is prudent to keep such finances in a separate account, possibly under independent control. With such precautions in place, any financial maneuvering can only be done in the full knowledge (and complicity) of everyone. In practice, even in difficult financial circumstances, our trust should be in God’s provision. After all, God may well permit a business to face financial difficulties for the specific purpose of teaching the owners/management team what practical faith in God actually means in a business context.

 

There is no foolproof setup that will guarantee resolution for all tensions that arise. Different arrangements may be appropriate according to the business circumstances. However, we found the four measures above, working in combination, helped us through many difficult situations and decisions over more than twenty years in business.

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David Skews is a businessperson called to mission. In 1989, he established EDP Health Safety & Environment Consultants Ltd performing the role of CEO as he led EDP through sustained growth for over 25 years in both the UK and Asia. In 2004 he fully engaged in business as mission, as well as continuing to lead his business. Since then, David has focused his efforts into training entrepreneurs in Asia and Africa, and speaking internationally on business for good. He has also helped lead a mission agency through the process of embracing missional business. Today, he acts as a non-exec director for six successful BAM businesses and is part of the Advisory Board for BAM Global. David is transitioning out of his business in 2015 and into new BAM fields! David is married to Lesley and is based in the UK.

David serves as a regular mentor for the Ask a BAM Mentor column.

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