I am right now travelling back on the high speed train from Paris, where I have been attending the management conference of a major division of a major Franco-Belgian multinational. My role is to write the message of the conference so that it can be passed down the line, or ‘cascaded’ in the company’s internal jargon.
Listening to these senior executives brought home to me just how much a large multinational has taken over for many people the role of key place of meaning, a role previously taken by a mixture of local community, family and church. Or if you like, the physical village has been replaced by the corporate one. Certainly the language is distinctly religious: ‘values’, ‘beliefs’ and (for me a new one this time round, but it is clearly coming into the corporate vocabulary) the virtue of ‘humility’.
Where I see a clash coming (or to use their terminology ‘mis-alignment’) is between those (mainly at the executive level) for whom the business is the main thing that gets them out of bed in the morning, and those for whom it is just one of many (getting up in the morning for the thing one does not do until the evening, when you’ve finished work.) Or, for those of us with strong religious values, not wanting to give the corporation the role of value-definer in one’s own life.
But yes, as a clergyman, I will admit that I rather like business. I like its crisp, no nonsense approach. If a person performs below par, he is told very clearly that he is, remedial action is tried, and if it does not work, he is fired. To a considerable extent, promotion is by competence, and you are expected to take calculated risks and to have the courage to say if you disagree, and then fight your corner. This does not bode me well in the church, where the dominant mentality is much closer to that of the civil service or academia, with the mentality of keep your nose clean, minimize personal risk and slowly work up through the ranks, and once someone is tenured, it is almost impossible to get rid of them other than for crass misconduct (and then not always…).
Is this, incidentally, why the present Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, goes down so well: he is at heart much more a businessman than his predecessors, nearly all of them from the academic stable?