March 9, 2009

Contracts and Covenants

Yesterday morning I honored my daughter’s wishes and attended the performance of the church bell choir she to which she belongs and loves. At the end of the week I didn’t have any intention of attending services but took one for the team, letting my wife and other daughter stay home to work and study, to hear our oldest daughter play the bells.

When I looked at the bulletin I saw that the homily was to be delivered by a Franciscan Monk. I can’t say that I was excited about the prospect. A number of years ago I spent some time in study of the Franciscan Order hoping to improve the work / family balance in my life. I sincerely admire their Order and mission of personal peace and harmony with the world around us. But after taking a vow of silence and spending two days in a monastery setting without speaking a word I knew that I am not cut out for the Franciscan lifestyle.

Much to my surprise and delight the homily was not only topical and insightful but also uplifting. The jist of his message was examining the difference between the “Contract God” we imagine and the “Covenant God” that spoke to Abraham.

This caused me to think about my own management style and the way in which I deal with people and provide stewardship for my family. Without a doubt I live a contract driven life. I will give or reward you with this, if you are successful in providing that. Get good grades, get a car. Drive revenue and get a promotion, more pay and more recognition. Work hard, save money to your 401K, be prudent with your investments and you will be rewarded with monetary security and someday retirement – oops.

What happened to my contract? Given the recent sub-prime and other implosions the global economy my 401K, as I was reminded during the homily, has been reduced to a 200 1/2K.

The homily went on to describe God’s covenant relationship with Abraham. This is a great story regardless of your religious persuasion. Imagine being a 99 year old guy that God taps on the shoulder and says “time to get started.” But this “mission” wasn’t (according to the Friar’s homily interpretation) a contract to go and build a nation, but rather a covenant of unconditional trust, expectation and hope.

While I it is unlikely I will shift completely away from my contract roots, I hope that I can translate some of this teaching into the way I interact and support my team and family. I have always strived to deliver integrity in my “contracts.” During these uncertain times, I want to find a fitting level of integrity as I set clear expectations, trust in the commitment and abilities of the people we have chosen and trained, and inspire hope for the future.


2 Responses to "Contracts and Covenants"

Meric Bloch said... March 10, 2009 at 1:36 PM

I think the contract / covenant perspective has some bearing on what we all do for a living. Take the employer / employee relationship as our context.

The employee with the contract perspective sees things as "if I do this, then I will get that in return." (Psychologists would note that this contract is rarely disclosed to the other person.) Imagine the employee who believes he has given his boss 100%, only to be confronted with salary freezes, bonus reduction and more work because of laid-off colleagues. Because we know that equity in compensation is the top reason for workplace fraud, this perspective should put us on notice.

I don't know anyone who would not want the covenant perspective with their employer. I envy those of us who believe that their attachment to their company is based on deeper connections than just a transactional exchange of labor and compensation. There is probably no way to test the idea, but I would bet that companies which emphasize the covenant perspective have less fraud and similar workplace problems.

Julia Marrocco said... July 21, 2009 at 11:06 AM

As an executive coach, I have my clients look seriously, through their eyes, their heart, and several validated assessments, at what is driving them. If the "covenant" perspective is not there, they are forced to look in the mirror and ask why they are there at all. We are only here on earth a short while. If we are strictly working for a paycheck, and not to make a difference for the better in the world, (using the gifts that God gave us), we are in disrespect of our employer, our colleagues, ourselves, and our Creator. It's time to become fully engaged or get out. Thank you for such a great blog entry.

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David Childers
of EthicsPoint

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Ronald Reagan
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John Quincy Adams
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