GREATER REDMOND CHAMBER OF COMMERCE ARTICLE
Former car salesman focuseshis faith on business
By CASSANDRA SWEET
Steve Wilkins has spent half his life in business, half in the ministry. And for the last 2-1/2 years, heís found a way to mix the two as a company chaplain.
After a number of years selling cars, homes and furniture, Wilkins found God and became ordained and licensed as a chaplain by Northshore Baptist Church in Bothell.
Rather than serve peopleís emotional and spiritual needs in a chaplainís traditional territories ó the military, hospitals and universities ó Wilkins went straight for the trenches he knew best: businesses.
He spent 16 years running the Bellevue-based chapter of the Christian Businessmenís Committee USA, a national "marketplace ministry" that helps business people practice their faith at work Then, he struck out on his own.
"I worked with businessmen who had a desire to incorporate their faith into their business lifeí Wilkins says of the committee. "We all tend to compartmentalize our lives. But our faith is important; it should be in all parts of our life."
But ministering to company bosses wasnít enough; Wilkins says counseling employees was a natural progression and something he felt strongly enough about.
So he registered his business, New Hope Consulting, with the IRS as a non-profit and built a network of clients.
Wilkins charges corporate clients between $10 and $15 per employee, per month on an annual basis.
His business plan is to sign up as many clients as possible and move from being 50 percent to fully self sufficient. That would be a jump from about 200 employees at five companies he serves now, to 400 or more.
He also accepts donations for work he says is as important as the spiritual counseling that workers in other industries come to expect.
"It goes with the theory that chaplains are needed in hospitals, jails and the militaryí he reasons. "Anyone knows you donít have to be in the hospital or in jail to be going through life trialsí
Wilkins makes weekly visits to each site, where he walks around, talks to employees and asks how theyíre doing.
A Christian, Wilkins says he doesnít push his religion on anyone and that he counsels to people of many faiths, including Buddhists, Muslims and agnostics.
ĎItís really valuable (for employees) having Steve to talk to about their problems, things they donít want to talk about at work," says Rob Ruch, president and co-owner of Fire Chief Equipment in Bellevue.
Ruch says he wants his employees to have a third party to talk to about personal problems. Beyond the emotional.
ĎAnyone knows you donít haveto be in the hospital or in jail to be going through life trials.í
Chaplain and owner,
New Hope Consulting
The cushion a chaplain provides, it also improves the bottom line by helping employees solve problems they might take time off work to deal with, Ruch says.
"We donít have any monetary or theft problems here, but we do have improper, unintentional theft of time;í Ruch says. "People fretting over a problem can be a time waster:í
While some employees donít use Wilkinsí services, others look forward to his visits, preferring to speak to him rather than a traditional therapist, says Kayce Field, sales coordinator at Fire Chief.
"Who doesnít have problems?" Field says. "Sometimes I worry that my emotional issues maybe holding me back, so itís great having Steve here ... Heís here to listen, encourage and direct."
Itís no mystery that few people are able or willing to turn off their troubles the moment they punch in at work. The vast majority of folks carry their personal and professional troubles around with them throughout the day Does this impact their productivity and their relationships with peers and superiors? Of course. But do we really need corporate psychiatrists, psychologists and now corporate chaplains?
Psychobabblers assume that virtually all businesses are dysfunctional at their core, from leadership on down A therapistís mission is to functionalize our behaviors and attitudes Then, and only then, will we have maximum output and, ultimately, success, they profess Chaplains have a different mission
Wilkins, president and founder of New Hope Consulting, identifies his role, and that of his colleagues, as ombudsman or corporate goodwill ambassador Their job is to lend an ear and assist, without interfering, in solving personal and professional problems, and to intervene upon an employerís request on business issues. So Car, it sounds like a fairly decent program and, to troubled folks with no place to find little guidance, Wilkinsí program would certainly add a little corporate goodwill
At first glance, I was skeptical Would here be a backlash to introducing religion not the workplace2 Wilkins assured me hat his mission is not about preaching; his mission is to lend solace, compassion, an ear and maybe a few pearls of wisdom to an employee wishing to visit with him
My next concern was running interference with management What if an employee as work problems and the chaplain dispenses his or her own prescription for the ire2 This could prove disastrous Wilkins assured me this was not the case. Chaplains arenít supposed to interfere, they only make suggestions or guide the employee to the appropriate person or remedy Sounds wonderful, if that is what happens
I asked Wilkins what happens to productivity if employees wait on the shop floor or idle in their cubicles for the chaplain to stop by Again, I was assured that anyone requiring time would be advised to visit during a scheduled break or after work hours The majority of time, he stated, is simply spent with quick visits of encouragement and/or hope.
The chaplain visits a half-day per week; at a predetermined time. This isnít every day.
OK So far, so good The military has supported this concept in both war and peace The chaplain has been an adjunct, an added resource for the commanding officer Corporations are not much different War and peace are constants in the building of large and small businesses.
I guess I support the corporate chaplain concept, Iím not always adept at handling an employeeís personal crisis and Iíd welcome a helping hand in these situations Thereís value, an upside, but as with everything, thereís also a downside One is the price Wilkins tells me the cost is based on the number of employees An example he gave was steep for most businesses For small firms he ball parked about $12 per employee, and $5 50 per employee for companies with over 1,000 on the payroll Thatís not a per use cost, itís based on all employees, whether they use the service or not Iíd like to see a per visit, per employee fee.
Iím also concerned about liability and productivity If the chaplain has no comprehension of what it takes to build, sustain and grow a business, troubled waters are inevitable. Recklessness, lack of clearly defined boundaries (what a chaplain can and canít do), introduction
of religious beliefs, handling management issues without regard, inappropriate interventions --any of these could result in a violation of the law
To validate my concerns, I gave Kristin Anger of the Summit Law Group a call Anger specializes in employment law She admitted she was not as concerned about the legal backlash as she was about non-issues becoming issues Would employees use this venue to make mountains out of what have, in the past, been molehills? Anger also questioned the programís impact on productivity
Still, this could prove to be a valuable service, especially if a supervisor is inept at handling tough situations My suggestion is to get it right from the start Be up front about expectations and explicit about boundaries Then, put the program to the test without a long-term agreement.
Also, Iíd personally want to know the background of the chaplain. His or her past experiences in business would be vital in my consideration. Too often, the folks we hire on contract have no regard for our success or failure I wouldnít hire anyone without a strong background in the trenches. The price is too high if that person doesnít have a thorough understanding and knowledge of what is and what is not appropriate behavior
I anticipate that this new "corporate aid" will take root It will be interesting, however, to observe Many psychotherapists are being squeezed out of medicine and are opting for a valued role in corporate America to sustain their livelihood. Corporate chaplains will be vying for the same space and value Interesting dynamic The question is who and what provide greater value. Will it be professionals with a long-term fix, or will it be a man or woman of the cloth offering solace and compassion, the immediate short-tern-fix?
Sue Mackey, of The Mackey Group, is a business consultant, columnist stand lecturer She can be reached by e-mail at matkey-grp@msn corn, by fax at 425-391-0206, or by mail at P0 Box 1247, Issaquah, WA 98027