by Ross O’Brien
This article picks up where we left off last year in the series on Value Chain Analysis Through a Spiritual Lens. If you have not yet read the previous articles, let me encourage you to read at least the introductory article linked here, as it will set the foundation for this and all the other articles in the series.
As we continue examining the way the value chain analysis can be useful, we need to keep in mind that these activities do not operate in isolation or for their own purposes. The activities in one functional area impact other areas and must be coordinated to help the company achieve its overall strategic objectives.
For example, if a firm takes a differentiation strategy in which its products, services, brand and marketing messages are unique from its competitors, then every functional area must seek to add value to achieving that objective of uniqueness. A company like Apple spends significant money on R&D, quality components and exceptional advertising to set its products apart. Primary activities including inbound logistics (sourcing components), production (quality control processes), and sales and marketing (advertising) must all support this objective, as well as the support activities of procurement (spending the necessary money to ensure differentiation) and human resources management (hiring, training, evaluating and compensating the kind of employees who will maintain the standards of excellence needed).
Dinesh Pratap Singh’s visualization for Porter’s Value Chain: CC BY-SA 3.0
This and the next articles in the series will focus on the secondary, or support activities of a business, including:
- Firm Infrastructure
- Human Resources Management
While the people involved in these functions are not hands-on with products or customers, it is clear that without careful and proactive attention to these activities, the business will not succeed.
Coordination of these activities and an overarching strategy to which they are directed begin in the hands of upper management. However, it is important that responsibility for the decisions and execution of strategy be put in the hands of managers and employees who most directly oversee the work.
Firm Infrastructure Through a Traditional Lens
Firm Infrastructure includes planning, general management, legal and accounting functions, government relations and public affairs. Clearly there is not space in this brief article to discuss each of these activities, so I will focus on the role of leadership in establishing the vision, mission, objectives and strategies for the firm and will continue using our little coffee shop example to illustrate the points.
A company’s founder(s) sets the path for the company in terms of the industry, products or services, location and target market. Future company executives either maintain that direction or set the firm on a new course, depending on the external challenges and opportunities that exist as well as the internal resources available to the firm. The founder and future leaders also establish and maintain the vision, mission and culture of the company. These can change over time, sometimes due to inattention and its resulting mission drift and sometimes due to intentional changes enacted by leadership.
A firm’s mission and vision cannot be achieved without intentional, proactive planning, consistent monitoring and appropriate affirmation or correction by the company’s leadership. Each person in each area of the firm must “add value” in their specific activities to support the firm’s strategy to achieve its mission and vision.
In the case of our coffee shop, the founder(s) of the business most likely analyzed the market to determine if a coffee shop was needed, what niche market it might tap into that was underserved or how it could set itself apart from the other coffee shops in town. They determined the right legal structure, perhaps in consultation with an attorney. The founders then went about selecting products that its target customers would be willing to purchase and procedures to ensure the quality and consistency of its products. They determined appropriate pricing for their products as well as money management and accounting practices, perhaps in consultation with a CPA. The mission of the shop might be something as simple as “to deliver an enjoyable coffee product in a comfortable atmosphere at a price that makes our customers smile.” The decisions about place, products, processes, prices, etc., affect the shop’s ability to achieve its mission to serve customers as well as to make a financial profit.
Firm Infrastructure Through a Spiritual Lens
As with the primary activities described in the previous articles, when a follower of Jesus leads a company forward with excellence and integrity, doing all for the glory of God, he or she is doing spiritual work.
However, there are ways that a believer can integrate faith in specific Firm Infrastructure activities. To begin with, a fundamental understanding about who “owns” the business is different. For the follower of Jesus, the business belongs to God. We are stewards who oversee the business, making decisions that will glorify God and care for his company. On the one hand, this can be a great sense of relief. When the coffee shop owner faces a hurdle that might seem insurmountable, she can remember that the coffee shop is God’s and he is available to guide and direct. On the other hand, our work takes on much greater significance as we realize that we co-labor with Christ in restoring creation through the work we do in his coffee shop. This should motivate us to work diligently and intelligently.
Second, the vision and mission of the business can take on a distinctively different and more significant perspective. As believers, our vision in general is to see lives redeemed and restored in proper relationship with God, self and others. In the case of a coffee shop, creative strategies to achieve this vision could include:
- Providing jobs to former prisoners or survivors of human trafficking.
- Providing jobs for youth from economically disadvantaged homes.
- Helping employees of all types experience the restoration God desires for them.
- Sourcing coffee in such a way that fosters human flourishing among all people in the distribution chain from farm to cup.
- Providing a safe place for people from the community to meet and discuss challenging issues.
- Fostering trusting relationships among employees and customers, opening the door for spiritual conversations and discipleship.
The vision and mission of the coffee shop influences the choice of location, days and hours of operation, operational issues, hiring practices and more. As followers of Jesus we must always be mindful that the Great Commission of Matthew 28 is not reserved for full-time vocational ministers. We must remember that the lost are more likely to enter a coffee shop (either as employees or customers) than a church building. We are called to be Jesus’ hands and feet as well as his voice to reach the lost in the world. This calling must be infused into the vision, mission and strategies of the companies we lead.
Read Part 1 >> Value Chain Analysis Through a Spiritual Lens: Introduction
Read Part 2 >> Operations and Outbound Logistics Through a Spiritual Lens
Read Part 3 >> Marketing and Customer Service Through a Spiritual Lens
Read Part 4 >> The Role of Business Leadership Through a Spiritual Lens
Read Part 5 >> Human Resource Management Through a Spiritual Lens
Read Part 6 >> Procurement and Technology Through a Spiritual Lens
The series has barely scratched the surface on these ideas but hopefully has prompted you to think more deeply. We would love to hear from you about how you integrate faith with each of the value chain activities. Please send those examples to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ross O’Brien has been teaching at Dallas Baptist University since 2003. Prior to that time, he started and ran a small Internet firm in Birmingham, Alabama after working for AT&T’s Business Network Sales division as an Account Executive. Ross’ Ph.D. is from the University of Texas at Arlington in Business Administration and his MBA is from Dallas Baptist University. He began the undergraduate entrepreneurship program at DBU as well as the Center for Business as Mission, in which he serves as the Director. Through the Center, Ross teaches undergraduate and graduate classes in Business as Mission, has taken students on travel study courses to learn about business practices in Israel, Chile, Sierra Leone and Bangladesh, and helps host The Lion’s Den DFW event each spring.