Honoring God at ServiceMaster

William Pollard

From: The Soul of the Firm (Zondervan, 1996), Used by permission. All rights reserved.

When you walk into the lobby of our headquarters in Downers Grove, Illinois, you see on your right a curving marble wall that stretches ninety feet and stands eighteen feet tall. Carved prominently in the stone of that wall in letters nearly a foot high are four statements that constitute the objectives of our company:

  • To honor God in all we do
  • To help people develop
  • To pursue excellence
  • To grow profitably

If you were to tour the rest of the building, you would notice that nearly all the work spaces are movable. Most of the walls do not reach the ceiling. Practically everything in the building is changeable and adaptable, just like the marketplace we serve, with its changing demands and opportunities. But the marble wall conveys a permanency that does not change. The principles carved in this stone are lasting.

The first two objectives are end goals. The second two are means goals. As we seek to implement these objectives in the operation of our business, they provide us with a reference point for seeking to do that which is right and avoiding that which is wrong. We are an inclusive environment that accepts the differences among people, yet we have a common standard that provides a unity of purpose.

Few people find fault with our commitment to a set of principles. Quite frankly, it is the “God language” that raises eyebrows. “Aren’t you walking on shaky ground when you try to mix God and profits?” ask the critics. “And what about employees who don’t choose to believe the way you do? Aren’t you forcing your beliefs on them?”

At one of our recent shareholders meetings, a shareholder, while commending us for our profit performance, made the following statement: “While I firmly support the right of an individual to his religious convictions and pursuits, I totally fail to appreciate the concept that ServiceMaster is, in fact, a vehicle for the work of God. The multiple references to this effect, in my opinion, do not belong in the annual business report. To interpret a service for profit (which is what ServiceMaster does) as the work of God is an incredible presumption. Furthermore, to make a profit is not a sin. I urge that next year’s business report be confined to just that – business.”

How would you answer this shareholder? What would you say in response to the question “What is there in common between God and profit?”

I believe there is a link. Profit is a means in God’s world to be used and invested, not an end to be worshiped. Profit is a legitimate measurement of the value of our effort. It is an essential source of capital. It is a requirement for survival of the individual, the family unit, and any organization of society, whether it be a for-profit company or a not-for-profit organization. If you do not generate a surplus out of your annual operations, you will not generate a positive net worth. If you do not have a positive net worth, you will be operating in the red with a deficit. No organization can survive with a continuing deficit.

God and business do mix, and profit is a standard for determining the effectiveness of our combined efforts. Work and profit are here to stay. It is the leader’s responsibility to manage work within the firm to produce profit. For us, the common link between God and profit is people.

But we live and work in a diverse and pluralistic society, and some people may either question the existence of God or have different definitions for God. That is why at ServiceMaster we never allow religion or the lack thereof to become a basis for exclusion or how we treat each other professionally or personally. At the same time, I believe the work environment need not be emasculated to a neutrality of no belief.

My belief in God is based on my faith and trust in Jesus Christ. I am a Christian. My faith is personal to me and not a corporate belief, nor can it be mandated as such. The God of my faith is the God of the Bible, a personal God who has created the people with whom I work, with whom I compete, whom I sometimes dislike, and whom I also love. I believe that God has invested each one of them with dignity, worth, potential, and freedom to choose. They make up the company for whom I work, and they give meaning to my work. My daily challenge is not just to talk about my faith, but to live my faith in the way I recognize and treat others, including those who do not agree with me or my faith. In the very direct words of our founder, Marion Wade, if I don’t live it, I don’t believe it.

Whether or not you share my belief or the claim of God as creator, you should examine the reality of the results of ServiceMaster. Regardless of you starting point, the principle that can be embraced by all is the dignity and worth of every person – every worker. It becomes a living principle as the mission of the firm is understood to include the personal development and growth of that worker.

From: The Soul of the Firm. © Zondervan Publishing, 1996. Used by permission.

William Pollard is the Chairman Emeritus for ServiceMaster.