WELCOME to our special monthly series called Bible School Business School (BSBS).
Opinion by Brett Chulu
BSBS, now in its second year, searches for deep insights from the Bible pertaining to business, strategic human resources (talent, leadership and culture) and personal development.
This month is dedicated to pursuing the dynamics of ancient Hebrew strategic HR practices in business management. Particularly, we will explore the line of evidence that outstanding leadership is as much a form of reward or compensation as is monetary compensation.
This line of inquiry is relevant to our Zimbabwean context where the tendency is to place an inordinate weight on salary, benefits and perks.
Ironically, this generous monetary compensation is in a number of instances not matched by commensurate organisational performance.
A close analysis of Matthew 25:14-30 (NKJV), a passage of scripture famously known as the parable of talents, gives us insights on the business case for positioning leadership as part of a subordinate’s reward package.
Bondservant equals talent
To gain a deep understanding of what is meant by a servant in the context of Matthew 25:14-30 , we need to settle into the frame of mind of the ancient Hebrews, seeing issues from their perspective.
In ancient Hebrew culture a bondservant (doulos in Greek) was one that voluntarily offered him/herself to serve under an authority as illustrated in Deuteronomy 15: 16-17 (NKJV): “And if it happens that he says to you, ‘I will not go away,’ because he loves you and your house, since he prospers with you, then you shall take an awl and thrust it through his ear to the door, and he shall be your servant forever …”
In today’s technical management language a bondservant would be called a highly engaged employee, meaning one who has a strong emotional connection with the mission of the organisation such that he/she gives their best and goes the extra mile. This is the context in which the term servant in the parable should be interpreted.
It is clear that the strong emotional affinity to an organisation’s mission shown by a bondservant is elicited by a consistent leadership culture that rewards an employee with personal success.
The one who became a bondservant cited the reason for wanting to stay (retention) as “loving the master and his house and that he prospered there”.
Put differently, outstanding leadership is a powerful reward in its own right. Thus outstanding leadership should be viewed as a reward element to be leveraged upon to attract, retain and engage outstanding talent.
It is interesting to note that the very concept of talent as we use it in modern management has its origins in this very ancient Hebrew management concept of bondservant as showcased in the parable of talents. The very word talent comes from the Greek word talanton, directly drawn from this parable!
Skills can be bought, but talent cannot. Talent is created by rewarding employees with outstanding leadership to inspire them to voluntarily apply their skills and knowledge consistently to achieve your organisation’s supreme aspirations.
To embed a culture of performance, you need to invest in developing managers and supervisors into outstanding leaders so that they themselves become a non-monetary reward to their subordinates.
In this parable, at least three elements of leadership as a reward are evident.
First, the leader in the parable rewarded his employees with visibility. Regularly availing yourself as a leader to employees for discussion is a reward.
Second, the leader in the parable modeled consistency and fairness in his dealings. He measured each employee’s ability and placed each on a scale of ability; there was a one-talent servant, a two-talent servant and a five-talent servant.
In terms of responsibilities, he allocated them in proportion to the scale of ability (Matthew 25:15, NKJV). When it came to paying, he was just as consistent; he lived by the principle that the one who contributes more gets more and the one who contributes nothing gets nothing (Matthew 25:29,NKJV).
He was a principled leader, one never to leave employees guessing what he really stood for. He just made good his word.
Third, the leader made sure his employees were surrounded by high-performers. Working alongside highly talented individuals is a reward in its own right.
Dispenser of non-monetary rewards
In ancient Hebrew business management thinking, besides being a reward in his or her right, a leader was a skilful dispenser of rewards, especially non-monetary rewards. Matthew 25: 21 (NKJV) provides the evidence: “His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’’
At least three elements of non-monetary rewards were dispensed by the leader in the parable.
The leader in the parable gave specific feedback based on solid evidence of employee performance.
The leader in the parable generously employed recognition as a form of non-monetary reward.
The leader in the parable enlarged the responsibilities of good performers as a non-monetary reward in return for performing well.
What current research says
Just last year, the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) provided evidence from their research clearly demonstrating how organisations with highly capable leadership development practices outperform those without in terms of profit growth and profit margins.
Firms with highly capable leadership development practices outperformed the profit growth and profit margin of those without by a factor of 2,1 and 1,8 respectively. The BCG report does not give reasons why developing leaders is correlated with superior profit growth.
That old Hebrew phenomenon of a bondservant we have just explored might provide the clues to the causal mechanism.
Reflect on it
Superior monetary rewards may not create a high-performance organisation. Depriving employees of good leadership is a subtle form of underpayment.
Chulu is a strategic HR consultant who is pioneering innovative strategic HR practices in both listed and unlisted companies. — firstname.lastname@example.org