Not Just a Janitor

In the past few days we've talked about ways that government policies have destroyed America's work ethic in prisons, schools and welfare programs. We must rethink those policies if we want to restore America's will to work. But even more important is our attitude toward people. Let me give you one example. Ken Wessner is retired Chairman of the ServiceMaster corporation--he is also a Christian man who brings his faith to every part of his work. When he was starting up ServiceMaster's hospital maintenance business, Ken visited a large facility that the company had just taken on as a client. As he made his way up the steps of the hospital, Ken found himself automatically estimating windows and floor space. Though Ken was CEO, he personally trained for every cleaning operation his company performed. That was part of his management philosophy--to know every one of his employees' jobs first hand. But there was something even more unusual about Ken's philosophy for ServiceMaster. He believed workers are most effective when they see how their individual tasks fit into the big picture. So he would ask hospital staff to brief his workers on things like how radiology equipment is used and how to contain infectious diseases. His workers saw their jobs as more than cleaning floors and windows. They were contributing to the hospital's overall goals. Ken also liked to stroll down the corridors and chat with the custodial staff. One day, he stopped by a window washer, a man named Ellis, who was awkwardly holding a squeegee with both hands. Ken had been told Ellis was not a good worker. Ellis looked down at the floor. He had grown used to managers who berated him for not moving faster. But when Ken stopped to talk, he asked Ellis about himself. He soon realized that an old wrist injury kept Ellis from doing his job well. Ken thought a moment, and then asked: "Do you think you could handle a floor finisher with that wrist of yours?" Ellis pictured in his mind the self-propelled sweeper that needed only to be pointed in the right direction, and his face lit up. At Ken's recommendation, Ellis was in the first training program for floor cleaners at the hospital. Soon, he became a trainer himself. Once on the verge of being fired for poor performance, Ellis was now one of the hospital's most valued maintenance employees. He was a fine floor cleaner, and as he trained other employees he regained his sense of worth. And why? Because a Christian manager looked beyond Ellis's inability to do a job and saw a person worth training and developing. Ken Wessner believes all work--no matter how menial--is valuable to God. That's why he was willing to train for a job himself before assigning it to a worker. And that's why he believed that finding just the right job for a man like Ellis was a valuable use of his management skills. That's a Christian work ethic--an ethic that sees work and workers as important because they mirror a God who works--whether they work as surgeons or as floor cleaners, CEOs or laborers.


Chuck Colson



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