Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Dennis Bakke's Ode to Joy

"When he was CEO of 40,000-employee international energy corporation AES, maverick entrepreneur and Christian philanthropist Dennis W. Bakke realized that many of his employees were missing something God meant for them to have at work: fun. By fun, Bakke means the kind of co-creative thrill that Adam must have felt while naming the animals." ...

"Some people find it hard to utter the words joy and work in the same breath. Is this idea even biblical?
"Of course! I was teaching from the parable of the talents at a church stewardship class. The boss sends folks out to make all the decisions. He doesn't guide them from afar. He says, 'Come back when you've risked all, invested things, made decisions.' The people who take the biggest risks are the ones rewarded. The one who didn't take any risks gets soundly chastised. Someone in the class pointed out this little tag line that follows after the master says, 'Well done, good and faithful servant.' And what does it say? 'Enter into the master's joy.'

"When did you first realize that your employees weren't having fun?
"When I visited our plant in Monaca, Pennsylvania, I was told that after a person joins the plant—often right out of high school—within two weeks of doing shift work, that person will figure out the day they can retire, and circle that date. That's like a jail sentence: You go in, and now everything you think about is when you can get out. Many people feel that way about their job, because they're told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. But when they talk about sports or games, what do they say? It's something they get to do; it's great; it's fun! So I said, 'Maybe I can figure out something from games and lasso it and bring it back into the workplace.'"

"What was stopping your subordinates from experiencing joy?
"I was. I was the manager, instead of being a leader. I had to sacrifice some of my fun. All bosses have fun. I understood why—because I had the ball all the time. I had control. I went to Harvard Business School, which teaches you that you are God and you can make all the decisions and control the world. But God gave up his power—he still has the power, but he gave us the chance to make the decisions."

"Our board meetings were really fun. We never voted. Each board member would give their advice on the phone to an employee who was, say, going to buy a billion-dollar plant in England, and most board members had never met the person. It takes a lot of trust. They were a little skittish about this. After everybody would get their advice in, we'd hang up the phone. We'd say, I wonder what Jim's going to do. And three days later we'd find out."

"What makes Joy at Work different from similar workplace management books, such as Good to Great by Jim Collins?
"These kinds of books contain good ideas, but some have turned respecting an employee's dignity into a technique. That's a troublesome thing to me."

"How are CEOs responding to your book?
"Unfortunately, most Christian CEOs have bought into the idea of a segmented society, and they would like to protect employees rather than free them. They want to be nice to them, and treat them, they say, with dignity. They tend to live out their faith in terms of personal piety. But they don't understand the implications of falling into the Industrial Revolution trap of structuring a workplace. Servant leadership is about giving up. It's about loving people enough that you're willing to sacrifice some of your own power to give them a chance to use their skills and gifts to make a difference in the world."

"What should be the local church's relationship to the business world?
"We prize lifestyle and workplace evangelism as being very important, which they are. But God cares just as much about the economics. When was the last time your church prayed to commission the carpenter or an executive?

"I don't think churches should run social services or businesses. They shouldn't own clothing stores to serve the community or run food pantries. Churches are usually terrible at running them. They're not economically sustainable, and they don't really help the poor as much as if you just had a really good business. Churches should send their people out to start businesses to serve people's needs.

"The church does not pay much attention to the mission we have to steward resources and to meet needs in the world and, along the way, meet our own needs. The pastor ought to be figuring out how we are going to equip somebody to go be the president of AES or the secretary at AES. And how you're equipping them is not teaching them the skills. Your mission is just like Daniel's mission and Joseph's mission, and you ought to be doing it as unto the Lord. This is not primarily for evangelism, but for delivering services to others. You are there to do the stewardship mission, the Genesis mission. As a church, we're all called to both discipleship and stewardship."

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