The Ethics of Firing, Part 2

3. The Parable of the Talents: Stewarding Others' Money

Solomon wrote, "The borrower is servant to the lender." Perhaps he was foreseeing the quarterly pressure that everyone running a P&L feels. Executives are all borrowers; and our lenders -- shareholders and bondholders -- are all expecting a return. It is, after all, their money.

With my own money, I give generously. But can I be "generous" with the shareholders' money? In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25), the "master" returns and asks what the managers did with the budget they were given. Just as in the Parable of the Day Laborers, Jesus positions the Father as a wealthy landowner looking for a fair return. Even our loving God -- in the parable -- wants His "money back with interest" (v. 27).

Of course, Jesus is trying to make a spiritual, not managerial, point. But it offends our modern "soft God" sensibilities that Jesus, without apology or hedging, casts the Father as a capitalist looking for a return: If you do not deliver results, he will reallocate the money to those who do.

Conclusion: The Inappropriateness of Vicarious Generosity

When my business fails to make enough money, I get less money to spend. Since people are my biggest expense, cutting expenses means cutting people, despite the pain and sleepless nights it causes me. The money I spend belongs to owners -- shareholders, bondholders, and the CEO as their proxy.

Justice requires that I give my workers their due; yet I also have obligations to the workers who will remain, and to the owners who do not wish for me to use their money to extend mercy. The best I can do as a follower of Jesus, it seems to me, is to care for my friends as they leave, help them find new jobs, and otherwise support them in every way I can.

I have learned a secret in prior rounds of cuts. Loving people when they work for you is great, but your motives are suspect. (Does he just want a good "upward review"? Does he just want me to work harder for him?) But loving people when they are unemployed and have nothing to offer in return is the best opportunity I have had to show the love of Jesus to my employees.

Peter Collins received his undergraduate degree from Stanford University and his JD/MBA from Berkeley. He is presently a practice manager with an international executive consulting firm.

This appears as a part of the Faith@Work Consultation. See also:

Peter Collins, The Ethics of Firing, Part 1.
Galen C. Dalrymple, The Curse of Busyness, What Are You Building?
Timothy Dalrymple, The Holy Ghost in the Machine,
and first and second articles on the Moral Dimensions of the Financial Crisis.
Mary DeMuth, Marketing Without Manipulation.
Jonathan Dodson, Do Worldly Honors Matter?
John Hoyt, Courage in a Time of Darkness.
William Miller, On Building Trust.
Mark D. Roberts, Remembering the Sabbath.
David Rupert, Wipe Your Feet.
Nolan Sharp, When Work Teaches Faith.
Tim Stafford, Believe in Your Calling.
John Terrill, Reframing Business Education.

8/3/2009 4:00:00 AM