Sermons to do business by

Business leaders can learn from the mistakes – and triumphs – of religious movements in Central America, writes Karina Robinson

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The Catholic Church in Guatemala is on a downward spiral. The magnificent Easter processions that fill the streets of its towns with penitents in purple robes disguises its decline from a monopoly position to under 50% of the population. The Church’s fall from grace here holds at least three lessons – or warnings – for firms a world away that are struggling with diversifying their workforce.

On leadership Pope John Paul II was instrumental in the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. The charismatic Pole was also key to the collapse of the Catholic Church in Guatemala. His ultra-conservative brand of Catholicism reversed most of the advances made at the liberalizing Second Vatican Council. The result was that, while large numbers of local priests worked against abusive militaristic governments, some bishops and cardinals had few qualms about buddying up with army-supported authorities.

A chief executive delivering rising profitability may be looked on as favourably as Pope John Paul II was in Europe. But without a commitment to diversity and inclusion policies those profits won’t be sustainable, given the battle for talented labour. Financial services are in desperate need of talent. Headhunters Korn Ferry report that London will be facing a shortage of more than half a million workers in financial and professional services by 2030.

A leader’s tone and interest in delivering more diversity are instrumental in attracting and retaining the best workers. And the more diverse the workforce, the better the firm’s chances of survival in our fast-changing world.

On communication On my recent visit to Guatemala, I watched a wizened, ancient priest celebrate Easter Mass in the town of Antigua’s main church. The audience of indigenous Indians and mestizos listened to a sermon from the lips of this very white Italian. He is probably a good man. Yet he, and his sermon, were uninspiring.

Compare that with the dynamic communication of the Pentecostals. They have radio channels dedicated to national music like salsa and merengue, laced with religious lyrics. They, and other arriviste movements after the Catholic Church, own TV channels preaching lively, relevant sermons. And they are adept users of social media.

From job ads to websites, how you communicate, and where you send your message, matters. A company that writes about its diversity and inclusion policies only on the recruitment page is missing a trick. The power of certain words mustn’t be underestimated either. ‘Aggressive’ and ‘competitive’ are red lights to women.

The words that Schroders has on its website are a green light to all: “Find out about our people and how we value, nurture and celebrate them.” In the last year, this FTSE-100 asset management firm has seen female applicants increase from 20% to 30% through a transformed communication strategy.

On HR policies Evangelicals, Mormons and similar groups have made huge inroads into the Guatemalan population by targeting local leaders and helping them become the preachers of the new religious message. Every convert morphs into a recruitment agent. The religious movements help local populations with export projects – taking care of both spiritual and material needs.

Financial services worldwide are facing recruitment competition from all sorts of glamorous start-ups. The companies that will thrive are those that take care of the spiritual and material needs of their workforce. For instance, ambitious Millennial men expect to spend more time with their children than their fathers did with them. At Virgin Money in the UK, 60% of dads are taking shared parental leave of 11 weeks, infinitely more than in most firms.

In adaptation lies survival. The Catholic Church, instead, went to sleep on its Guatemalan throne. Many banking firms are transforming themselves. Those who don’t, risk following the Guatemalan church’s fate. 

— Karina Robinson is chief executive of Robinson Hambro

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