Business Integrity

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1 INTRODUCTION1

The intimate link between my practice and my beliefs is one of the cornerstones of my lifelong Quakerism. The Editor of The Friend said, “the Quaker handling of business should be underpinned by our philosophy”2. My concern for the expression of our faith in business has been tested in Monthly Meeting and in my personal career.

Of all of the forty or so Quaker testimonies, integrity is the most important in business and Alan Sealy3 recently reminded us of Advices and Queries 37.4 To me this is not a simple mantra to be repeated in meeting for worship but a way of life in business. There is more to business than employing people or making a profit. A flip through Good Business: Ethics at Work5 shows the range and depth of the issues and dilemmas that must be faced. I do not fall into the naive trap of thinking that subscribing to principles guarantees good behaviour and perfect results. Managing any business is a matter of constantly wrestling with the angel6 and trading off one right against another duty, seeking always for the Light and probably getting wounded in the process.

The early name for Quakers was The Religious Society of the Friends of Truth. It was a religious society, a church. Its business was, and remains today, the practice and furtherance of a religion – Quakerism. Since the outbreak of the Second World War individual Quakers have built their spiritual lives around the issues of peace, but to claim that our business is conflict resolution is to denigrate not only the fundamental nature of the Society but the work of countless Friends in other areas, (Qf&p Ch 18 to 29, except Ch 24). I believe that the arena of business is a spiritual challenge of at least equal proportions.

2 A SERIOUS RESPONSIBILITY

Alan rightly reminded us that a charitable trust is a serious responsibility. During my association with Old Jordans management committee, we took this seriously. We took professional advice in employment law, consulted knowledgeable and experienced Friends, used the services of Business Link and Investors in People, worked to train our staff, instituted new administrative systems, maintained the property, and trained ourselves in trustees’ responsibilities.

Running a commercial operation is also a serious responsibility, especially if one wants to do it with integrity, as I do. Customers and suppliers as well as employees have to be treated well, resources have to be used well, investments have to be made well and one must care for the local community – all while making a necessary profit and providing for the future of the business and its people.

A religious society, a charity, a social club, in order to achieve their purposes, must have income, have people who do work for other people, must invest and look after their resources. This is just like a business. Someone must lead, manage and make decisions.

To neglect any of these things is to be morally derelict. But we avoid decisions and the responsibility they carry. We hope everything will be all right because we have faith and trust everyone to do a good job, When things inevitably go wrong, we blame others and justify our actions with excuses and righteousness.

3 THE HARD LESSONS

My experience with several Quaker organisations leads me to conclude that we are no longer able as a group to run organisations in a business-like way. The skills of earlier Friends that made us a successful commercial nation are a thing of the past and we must recognise that. Only then might we do something about it. Nostalgia and sentiment are not enough to run a business.

We need to stop being hypocritical about business. We cannot engage with that angel if we are being mealy mouthed and prejudiced about business. We need to recognise that business is fundamental to our ability to be charitable. No trading means no profit, no taxes, no salaries, no disposable income and no philanthropy.

Fox, Penn, Fell and many others were not just charismatic preachers, they were leaders who helped, supported, guided and directed others. They were not unique and one can still find Quaker leaders in the twentieth century. They are the 'patterns and examples' that we need to emulate. We need people to roll their sleeves up and get their hands dirty, like those at Old Jordans. The core failures at Old Jordans were a failure of management – how Friends hate that word – and a failure of leadership.

Most of us highly prize volunteers, they are wonderful dedicated self-less people who make a valuable contribution to our society. Many Quakers regard their service as a donation of time and resources. They resent any attempt to pay them fairly or to account for their work. Volunteers, however passionate, do not have the same commitment to success as the paid worker. Volunteers are not vetted for competence, only for interest. A volunteer is an amateur, in the literal sense, not a professional who can be held to ethical account. This is not to denigrate volunteers, only to recognise reality. I feel we should treat our volunteers fairly, give them the same support as other workers and call them to account in just the same way. This is an area where there is scope for bringing our practice and behaviour into line with our beliefs and justify our testimony on integrity.

Being paid for one’s service is not dirty or sinful, although the perversion of worshipping money is a sin. Profit becomes a perversion and a sin when it becomes an end in itself and not the means to an end and a measure of social contribution. The paid worker has a tangible measure of his or her worth and value, and recognition of his or her contribution to the common welfare, respect as a participant, and a contributor. If you value someone and truly appreciate what they do for you, you share some of your life with them and pay them in a way that reflects that value. The labourer is worthy of his hire.

Both amateur and professional (employed and volunteer) may be craftsmen skilled and efficient at what they do. But in generally we do not recognize business craftsmanship. Most especially we no longer train ourselves in the crafts of managing projects, organisations and enterprises. We do not train ourselves in leadership skills. We do not monitor our performance. All in the name of (misplaced) faith and trust.

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