Divine profits

At lunch today, I attended a talk by David Salyers, a VP of Marketing at Chick-Fil-A.
I'd heard of the company for the very first time just last week, when someone brought it up in my Channel Marketing class as an example of a company that managed to stay true to it's corporate values.

The talk was organized by the Christian Business Students Association at school and was, in terms of both content and presentation amongst the better talks I've attended at the GSB. David was extremely charismatic (they train em well at that HBS place) and had really good stuff to say. The talk, titled "What is the ultimate business question?" centered around both business strategy and personal strategy, two topics I love just sitting back and thinking about. I ended up leaving pretty happy with the way I'd spent my time.

However, what intrigued me most was something that came up towards the end of the Q&A session: their corporate mission. Here's what it is:

""to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A."


Again, I'm torn.

Given the audience for the talk, I didn't really get a sense that the strong religious undertone to the organization was controversial. So it's hard for me to gauge the response of "average MBA Joe", but my sense is that it most people would react with, "what're they doing dragging God into business!!??" Now, the romantic in me loves the idea of that as a corporate plan. Hey, even I'm going to a place that's famous for putting "Do no evil" on the top of it's corporate to-do list. Isn't "Do good for God" more or less the same thing?

On the other hand, it isn't. Religion is one thing people have a hard time thinking about logically or dispassionately, and at the end of the day just as "evil" is open to interpretation, "being a faithful steward" is open to interpretation and manipulation. So you're really relying on management to just "do the right thing" based on their personal value systems.

So, how much should religion be part of a workplace? What are the trade-offs you make?
The HR benefits are clear: there's so much more tying the employees together, a much stronger sense of community. You'll have a better chance of being fair in all business dealings (Wrath of the Almigty tops Wrath of the Contract) and a genuine halo effect going on.

The problem: what if you belong to a different religion? or just aren't that religious? are you excluded (intentionally or unintentionally)? or do you always prefer someone who is religious? This isn't something you can just agree to disagree on, and you need to be careful in how you portray it and use it. Don't you?

It's a hard question for me to answer since I'm in a perpetual religious/existential crisis myself, but it's an interesting trade-off to think about and in my mind not as clear-cut a bad thing as people to the left might feel and not as perfect as people on the right might believe
(even for them.)


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