Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters. 

Colossians [3:23] 

The Epistle of Paul to the Colossians, or simply Colossians, is the twelfth book of the New testament. Likely written sometime between 55AD and 60AD, while the Apostle Paul sat in a Roman prison. Colossians is one of four letters Paul wrote while held as a prisoner. The other three are; Ephesians, Philemon, and Philippians. They are called as a group the Prison Epistles. Even in prison, Paul continued to write to many of the churches he started during his three missionary journeys.  

The letter to the Colossians was written to get these churches back on track in serving only Christ. But, unfortunately, it seems they had started taking shortcuts in their practices and introduced pagan rituals in worship services. One verse that hit home for me was in chapter 3, verse 23, which says, Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters. While a reminder not to take shortcuts in our relationship with Jesus or religious practices, it is also a reminder of how we conduct ourselves when we work. 

Paul is reminding us to work heartily and with quality in all that we do. And there is no better reminder than to always work with all your heart as if we are working for the Lord.  Wow, imagine the change in our efforts if we know whatever we do, we do for Jesus. This thought would undoubtedly make each effort we put into work more meaningful. So while this message was essential to the Colossians two thousand years ago, it is just as relevant today.  

As I was sitting one morning thinking about this message from Paul, it made me think about my brother-in-law Ken and my wife Connie, putting up a picture gallery of our relatives in our new home. There was a blank wall in one of the hallways that seemed to them to be a great place to put up pictures of our grandparents, our parents when they were younger, and even great-grandparents—a wonderful reminder of our roots.  

After visiting Lowes to get all the required material, Connie and Ken looked at the wall and discussed how to make the placements mean something and in what order. Then they began the laborious effort of measuring and rethinking each placement. Next, they carefully prepared each picture to be hung. A process that required exact precision to ensure each image hung evenly. I noticed how much time was spent preparing and thinking before they hung the pictures while wondering if I would have the same patience.  

Soon, they began hanging each picture while continuing to debate, measure, and assess each placement. This was no haphazard effort. So much thought went into each step; no shortcuts! I enjoyed listening to the banter and discussion, and it allowed me to feel the quality of their efforts.  

Then they proudly announced it was done. Both looking at their work, satisfied each picture hung properly. When I walked around the corner to see the gallery, I was stunned! Not just at the quality of the work, but seeing how the quality of preparation showed itself in the results. This is what the Apostle Paul was talking about with work as if working for the Lord. 

While this is a simple story, it is a reminder to be patient in our work. Not just do something to get it done, but to do it well. Sure it might seem it takes longer, but in actuality, it is a shorter and more sustainable effort.  

Sometimes, we might hurry to get something done only to be met with having to redo our work or end up with shoddy work. It is human nature to want to complete our to-do lists quickly. But Paul is telling us not to be expedient, instead to work as if working for the Lord.  

I can only imagine if a workplace had this mindset, what wonderful products would be produced. The decisions that would be made would always represent high Christian ethics, and customers would always be happy—by simply taking the time to work as if Jesus is standing next to us. 

He will show you a large room upstairs, all furnished. Make preparations there. 

Luke [22:12] 

When Ryan first came into my office eight years ago, I noticed something different about him. He was unusually polite and used words like; yes sir and thank you. He listened intently and would wait to insert his opinion politely. Quickly the conversation became a mutual exchange of ideas and methods.  

I had spotted him during my tours through his department and wondered about his skills. The visit to my office was for me to find out more about him, by giving him a project. We reviewed the project requirements and together established a timeline with expected outcomes.  

Before the project deadline, Ryan came into my office with his completed project, which also included extra materials. There were no mistakes in his work. He delivered his work earlier than expected with additional value.  

Naturally, I gave him more work with increasing responsibility and freedom. Again, he consistently exceeded expectations.  

As time went on, I got to know Ryan better. At twenty-five, he had earned his pilot’s license. In fact, he was a flight instructor at a small local airport. He had graduated from college with honors. A quiet person who read the room well and spoke when it was his time. Never insistent he was heard, but always clear with his facts.  

As time wore on, I tried to have lunch with Ryan periodically. Primarily to offer him my help and learn more about him. I heard the dreams about his life and his pending marriage to his girlfriend. I learned his parents and grandparents were influential in his life. He spoke about his family with pride. Ryan is a person who was grateful for what he has and not one to pick at slights in his life. He is a hopeful person.  

During these conversations, I started to sense he had another mission in life other than being a business person. Aviation was his passion. When he talked about aviation, this subdued person became animated.  

He had been dutiful in following his parents’ lead to pursue a career in business. And he was good at business. But the business world wasn’t his passion.  

At one point, I asked him what did he really want to do in his life? Stumbling with his words, he told me he always to be a pilot for a national airline. He wanted to fly people around the country. He loved flying and all the electronics associated with aviation. Flying was his real passion. 

We discussed this, and I told him, follow your passion. Knowing that passion produces excellence and joy in life. He was surprised I told him this, assuming I would try to talk him out of becoming a pilot. It was his dream, not mine.  

Ryan did leave the company to become a pilot. At first, he was a trainee and flew prop planes. Later rising up to being a regional co-pilot flying Jets. He moved from the area he grew up in to be closer to his work.  

I remember the day he called with pride to tell me he was now a pilot for a small regional airline and no longer the co-pilot. As time wore on, I wondered how he was doing. His name would come up here and there. But like all of us, our life’s paths cross here and there. Ryan was very supportive of my books and has bought everyone. He always gave me feedback on what he thought about my books. 

I don’t hear from Ryan every day or even every month. Maybe once or twice a year. When we talked, it became a time to connect the events from the last time we spoke. Sometimes he needed a reference, which I always eagerly provided.  

Then the day came; he was about to be given the pilot job he always wanted. He was being considered to be a pilot for a national airline. He texted me to see if I could be his reference. And of course, I said yes. My reference was only needed for the airline to verify everything they already knew about Ryan,   

Over the last eight years, Ryan had shared his life with me. I knew what he wanted in his life. I knew when Ryan was disappointed and when he was excited. But on this day, his dream was coming true, and he needed one more phone call from me.  

Ryan hadn’t called just once over the years, but frequently enough for me to know about and watch his life. So when the final request came in, I eagerly helped.  

Unwittingly, Ryan exhibited the real process of networking. Ryan didn’t set out with a plan to call me in exactly eight years and ask for a reference. Instead, he mutually involved me in his life—a relationship where there is both receiving and giving. 

When I speak to students on college campuses and talk about networking, I always tell them networking is a lifelong activity with a genuine effort to be mutual. Nurturing these relationships is vital to them having a solid network.  

In my career counseling work, where I help people find a new job, those with strong networks have an easier time. The statistics bear this out. At the professional level, sixty to eighty percent of all jobs are found through a person’s network.  

People love to help out people that have been positive and trustworthy associates. A person’s network contains people who are like bumblebees that spread the pollen of a person’s ability throughout the business and professional world.  

Even Jesus used his network to obtain what he needed during his three-year ministry on earth. On His last trip to Jerusalem, he needed a room to have one last supper with his disciples. Jesus sent the two Apostles Peter and John, ahead to secure a place for this supper. Jesus sent the two men to a man he knew from the past and told Peter and John. He will show you a large room upstairs, all furnished. Make preparations there. (Luke [22:12]) 

On the surface, this may seem a little odd for Jesus to assume someone would give Him a room. The owner was someone Jesus had met and helped in the past. Who was now more than willing to return the favor.  

So while this could be viewed as a supernatural event, it still contains the value of networking. Jesus spent considerable time during His ministry on earth building social networks. All done through mutual relationships, which included the two most important factors of networking, giving and receiving.  

Networks are built over a lifetime and always need to be nurtured. I know I am not the only one Ryan stayed in touch. He has other friends as well, some of who I know. Ryan will undoubtedly continue to be a great pilot, and he will need help from time to time. He will also, from time to time, help others. We, who know Ryan, know this.

Work as if working for the Lord Christ.

Colossians [3:23]-24

Recently I received an email promotion that said I had won a free airline ticket. Immediately I opened the email to see how I had won a free airline ticket. Suspicious, I scoured the fine print and discovered I really hadn’t won a ticket. It was just a request to read more about the company and had a minimal chance of winning the ticket. In return, I would have to fill out a lengthy form, which asked for things like a phone number, my address, and email address. Quickly, I deleted the email and thought to myself, why be so deceptive?

It probably seemed like a good idea to the company, hoping to land new customers. In reality, it likely turned off a lot of potential buyers. Why not just send an email that explained the benefits of doing business with the company. Or better yet, provide excellent customer service to the loyal customers and let word of mouth generate more sales.

Too often, we receive these suspicious emails, which do nothing more than clutter up our email. It makes me wonder, How would Jesus want businesses to create raving fans? I am pretty sure Jesus would want these businesses to take a different approach. He would like them to treat their customers as they wanted to be treated. Jesus would ask them to hire people committed to providing great customer service. These businesses should also produce a product as if they are working for the Lord. And finally, always be truthful. Four simple but essential business practices to attract lifelong customers and, in the process, create raving fans.

The Golden Rule

In Matthew [7:12], Jesus says, whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. This is wise advice. Before we put any marketing effort to work, we should ask ourselves, Is this the way we want to be treated? If our answer is no, then we shouldn’t. Deceptive methods in marketing will never produce raving fans of our business. Instead, our reputation will be sullied.

Loyal customers who are raving fans will create a firm foundation for any business. Not only that, they will provide repeat business and attract other customers. We should never forget that most purchases from new customers come from the reviews of the existing customers. Yes, Jesus is giving us wise customer service advice with the Golden Rule.

Hire Great People and Pay Them Well

In the Parable of the Talents, Jesus tells the story of a manager who had to leave for a while. The manager gave his three employees tasks to perform while he was gone. Two of the employees did their job and doubled their efforts. When the manager came back and saw the bounty created, he gave them a raise and more responsibility.

I am sure all current business managers would want these two people working in their company. These workers are the type of people who will also treat customers in the same manner by going the extra mile to make sure the customer is satisfied. Over time having workers like this changes culture and helps sales.

Continually seeking great employees and treating them well will always produce excellent results. And managers should be quick to reward, and these rewards will reinforce what is required.

Produce Products As If They Are For the Lord

Having the right attitude and the right employees is very important. Equally important is to produce quality products. Jesus has a simple mindset to accomplish this facet of business, work as if working for the Lord Christ. (Colossians [3:23]-24) What a great perspective! Simply work and produce products you would proud to give to Jesus.

All flaws in production would be attended to immediately. Saving money at the customer’s expense by not addressing product quality is a flawed strategy. Companies that employ this attitude will have people meet to collaborate to make sure everything has been properly thought through.

The company would quickly become a place that desires to create raving fans. A commitment to excellent customer service will replace a penny-wise, dollar foolish mindset. In turn, the company will become far more sustainable than one which cuts corners.

Never Deceive Customers or Employees

In business, there is always the temptation to stretch further than you should in generating sales or a better outcome. Perhaps the pressure of making sure you hit a certain sales number to make the month-end goals. We have all witnessed this in our business careers. And perhaps in the short term, these efforts produce the immediate desired results.

However, lurking in the future is a payback moment that will often be greater than short-term gains. Customers will sometimes complain about the deception. But most will avoid the confrontation and silently begin moving away. It will show up in reviews posted on the internet. Soon, the once-strong sales base will become weak.

Maintaining a strong sense of Christian ethics will help avoid this dilemma. It may sound corny, but if all our actions are connected to the often-used phrase; What would Jesus do, short-term decisions will be replaced with longer-term choices.

Customers are the life-blood of every business. Serving these customers well will ensure a great future for any company. Every company’s goals should start with making their customers raving fans. It doesn’t happen with deceitful marketing efforts. It happens with a company’s commitment to excellence, great employees, truthfulness, and empathy for the customer. We only need to turn to the lessons of Jesus to create an environment that, in turn, makes raving fans.

 

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not to harm, to give you a future with hope.

(Jer. [29:11])

 

ERASING WORTHLESSNESS

In my current business, Gideon Partners, I have clients who have lost their job and have come to me for advice. The most common thing I hear that connects all these individuals together is a sense of worthlessness. They all have suffered a loss and wonder how did they allow themselves to get into this situation. What could they have done differently? Many times the answer doesn’t lie with them, but with circumstances out of their control. Perhaps their company had to downsize, they had a conflict with their boss or their job wasn’t a good fit. Regardless of the reason they all have a sense of worthlessness that is overstated in their minds.

“This sense of worthlessness comes from a loss of identity.”

This sense of worthlessness comes from a loss of identity. Many times they are alone all day, while their friends go to work. They often are alone with their thoughts and take too much of the blame. They will hear things like, “It was probably for the best.” Or “Take advantage of the time off.” These statements will bring a momentary smile, but they still have bills to pay and worry about their future. They miss the camaraderie of the work place. They are alone.

“Like many of life’s problems, the only way out is to move forward and not stay behind.”

It is a terrible place to be, yet the vast majority of people will spend some portion of their life without a job. This sense of worthlessness is also debilitating. The very thing they want and need is finding a job, yet this worthlessness makes them lethargic in their search. The hardest thing to do is to stay positive and move forward in spite of this feeling of worthlessness. Like many of life’s problems, the only way out is to move forward and not stay behind.

“To claim our future, we must work with God.”

In today’s verse, God states He has plans for us and not to harm us. Plans that move us from worthlessness to hope. While this is an encouraging verse for those who believe, there are conditions to having a future with hope. There are things we must do in conjunction with God’s plans for us. Perhaps it is some soul searching of what we could have done better. Perhaps it is a very careful evaluation of what we should do next. For those without a job it means enthusiastically embracing the task of finding a new job. To claim our future, we must work with God.

Most new jobs are found through your personal network. Seventy to eighty percent of new jobs are obtained by using our networks. While difficult and sometimes embarrassing to ask for help and insight, our networks, many times are the source of a regained identity. They will know you and will mention you to other people, who might have a job. When we contact these people our goals should be to stay positive and demonstrate trustworthiness. While this seems obvious, becoming “riveted” on these two traits is paramount to finding a new job. We all have networks and when we approach them with a positive sense of mutuality, they will help.

Applying for jobs on-line can and will be frustrating. Many times there will be no reply back or rejection. In spite of this we all must continue to apply. While not as effective as our networks, we still must apply and ignore the repetition of negative feedback. Our goal is always to press forward when we work with God. To keep searching and pray. He will answer.

God does have plans for us, but God works “with” us and not for us. To claim the “future with hope,” we have to work hard. We have to rise up and even on the tough days. Smile when we are interviewing. To claim our future, we have to be honest with ourselves and others. God is there and will answer. God will give us this answer through our efforts of searching and personal reflection.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

 

PARTING THOUGHTS

What are the biggest obstacles to staying positive in the face of adversity?

In tough times, do we believe in ourselves or doubt ourselves?

How does God help us?

 

 

“As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the church, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”

– Revelation [1:20]

 

THE NUMBER SEVEN AND BUSINESS PLANNING

One of my favorite things in helping a business or a businessperson is to review the company’s or the individual’s strategic plan or purpose. How do they guide themselves? How do they think about their customers? What is important to them? It shows up in their strategic plan. Good businesses can articulate their mission crisply and quickly. Both their employees and their customers know the mission. Those that have a long, extensive strategic plan are usually unfocused. Those that have no plan or are unsure are rudderless. It almost always shows up in their results.

“In the Bible the number seven represents perfection and is considered divine.”

An exercise I do for businesses is to get them to write their mission in seven words. It forces them to be both concise and focused. Listing out the seven words is hard; it involves looking again at what the purpose of the business is. The next step is to list the seven actions a business needs to take to accomplish this mission. Are the seven action steps harmonious with the mission and are they consistent with how the business is being run? Would the employees and customers agree? In its simplicity, a focused approach makes us think beyond the seven words and seven actions, but it isn’t overbearing and doesn’t require massive committees. This also works for the rest of our lives. When looking for a job or trying to be more successful with your career, do we have a plan?

“In its simplicity, a focused approach makes us think…it isn’t overbearing and doesn’t require massive committees. This also works for the rest of our lives.”

In the Bible the number seven means perfection or completeness. It is tied to the creation of the world. While I am not a fan of numerology, we can see that the number seven is important to God, by the fact that throughout the Bible it is used 860 times. If we were taking a Bible test, the number seven would be on the test. The first act by God for humankind was the seven days of creation. Jesus performed seven miracles on the seventh day. In the Bible the number seven represents perfection and is considered divine.

When using the method of seven in our business or life plans, not only are we focused, but we are honoring our Christian values. In a sense we are asking God to bless our plan. The plan of seven doesn’t take long, but it requires thought and insight. It highlights where we have to get better and where we are doing well. The seven actions we need to take will awaken us to the state of our business. If we take out the business or life plan once a week, it becomes part of our daily thinking. We can hire high-priced consultants to tell us what we already know, but I am not sure it is any more effective than to follow the roadmap of God.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

 

PARTING THOUGHTS

Do we have a life or business plan?

How does it measure up to what our employees and customers think?

Do we have a life plan and are we following the plan?

 

sunrise over mountains

 

“But he looked at them and said, ‘What does this text mean: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”?’”

— Luke [20:17]

JOE BONGIORNO THE CORNERSTONE

When I first started at Foot Locker, we needed to fix a lot of things. Much was broken or tied up in excessive rules. I discovered hidden away a person named Joe Bongiorno who could help. Whatever I needed, he figured it out and fixed it. Joe was a castoff, working for someone who hadn’t realized Joe knew everyone and could get anything. Tucked away where the pretty people couldn’t see him, he was a sled dog and not a poodle. But when I needed help from the masses, Joe stood in. When I needed a special project done, Joe completed the project. When it was review time, though, his managers wanted to give him an average review. You see, Joe didn’t graduate from Stanford and was plainspoken.

There was Joe at every critical juncture of our recovery from near bankruptcy, largely discarded but always standing on the wall defending his company. His company that he had worked for his entire career. He was always there. When we had an opening for the vice president of supply chain, we promoted Joe. Many of the elite scoffed at his promotion. But Joe performed well. He reorganized the system and allowed us to get products into our stores within three days. Our vendors loved working with Joe; he got right to the point and overcame their hurdles. Our stores became appreciative of Joe’s ability to listen. Through all this he was always better than budget. He made our company hum. 

“In today’s verse, Jesus is talking about himself as a cornerstone, but also many others like Joe.”

In today’s verse, Jesus is talking about himself as a cornerstone, but also many others like Joe. How often in our work lives do we see someone neglected, but who works hard? That person stays until the job is done. He or she remains committed to the team, even when shinier models get ahead. Do we always know who we are rejecting? Do we listen to what others say or do we discard them? How many hours do we put in that aren’t recognized? Buried in every company are those people who are the cornerstones. They labor without glory and just seem to get things done. They are the sled dogs of corporations. 

“Jesus liked people, who were sled dogs and not poodles. Consider his disciples, common people from the working class of an ancient Judean workplace.”

Joe went on to retire from Foot Locker, proud that he and his team had built a great supply chain to keep the stores stocked. Joe left with little fanfare, which was what he liked. He just “did his job.” Jesus liked people, who were sled dogs and not poodles. Consider his disciples, common people from the working class of an ancient Judean workplace. None were from the religious elite; they were tax collectors, fishermen, and everyday folk. With their help, Jesus accomplished his mission. Joe accomplished his, too, not in as dramatic a fashion, but silently and with little fanfare. 

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

 

PARTING THOUGHTS

Who are the Joe’s in our lives?

Do we feel like Joe at times?

Who are our cornerstones?

 

Jesus the borrower

 

“Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

— Luke [19:30]–31

JESUS THE BORROWER

The day I was made CFO of Foot Locker, our banks wanted to renegotiate our credit agreements. We were in a very difficult financial position, and this meeting on my first day was going to be tough. Our assistant treasurer at the time was an executive named Peter Brown. In my previous meetings with Peter, I had gained a great deal of trust in and respect for his abilities. He was a clear thinker and had established himself in the financial world as being exceedingly honest and smart. I put him in charge of negotiating the new agreement. On top of that I asked him to get a $25 million cushion, knowing full well that just getting the agreement done would be hard enough. Peter accomplished both. A new credit agreement and a $25 million cushion that we would desperately need in the future months. 

“But without that first meeting, where his reputation ruled, we would never have been successful.”

Peter didn’t get the new agreement because we were financially stable. Peter got the agreement because he was well respected by the banks. In the past he had lived up to his word. He had been unusually frank and sincere in all previous discussions. He hadn’t over committed. In fact, his favorite saying was “Under promise and over deliver.” The banks could gauge this and relied on his past. We had a tough year—my first year as a public company CFO—nearly falling countless times. Peter was there with me, guiding and helping. But without that first meeting, where his reputation ruled, we would never have been successful. 

“Jesus’ reputation allowed him to borrow without questions, even a prized colt.”

Imagine having the power to ask for a brand-new colt and then receiving it. In the ancient Judean world, livestock was precious. It was that world’s alternative form of currency. But Jesus was able to ask and receive. He needed a colt on which to ride into Jerusalem on the day we call Palm Sunday. A victory lap of sorts. Why would anyone give up a brand-new colt, a precious piece of their wealth? Because the Lord needed it for a few hours. Jesus had a great reputation among the working class. They flocked to hear him. They would gather for his sermons. They trusted Jesus. He was well known in this ancient marketplace. Jesus’ reputation allowed him to borrow without questions, even a prized colt. 

“Our reputation dictates our creditworthiness, not our net worth.”

While banks and accountants will do the figures and determine if we can borrow, it’s our reputation that dictates if we can. Consider the FICO score we all have with the credit reporting agencies, like Experian or TransUnion. The score is based on our behaviors not our wealth. A score below 700 and we will find it difficult to borrow. Above 800 and we could borrow most of what we need. When we don’t pay our bills, our score goes lower. When people have to chase us for money, it goes even lower. Our reputation dictates our creditworthiness, not our net worth. In my counseling activities, most of the time I am not surprised when I see someone’s credit score. Who they are is reflected in their score.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

 

PARTING THOUGHTS

What is our credit score?

Why is reputation more important than the numbers?

When did Jesus return the colt?