Business Thought

Vessels: Expanding the Definition of the Virtuous Organization

Behind-the-Scenes: Developing the Theory of the Virtuous Organization

The purpose of this segment is to draw back the curtain and show some of the “making-of” of the initiative, and hopefully encourage you to add your piece. The project is highly collaborative, relying on various diverse and often dissenting opinions. 

The following is taken directly from class notes and subsequent correspondence with professors. 


Note: I’m going to use the term “virtuous organization” for clarity. 

Observation #1: The generalness and ambiguity involved in quantifying, measuring, and defining values may prove to be too foreign and therefore not helpful in a hard data-driven business world. (But don’t think we should throw it out! Just wait!) 

However, if we get too specific on the other hand, there’s equal risk that our guidelines regarding values won’t be applicable in every context. 

It’s becoming more and more clear that we need something general and specific. 

Observation #2: Our theory of the “virtuous organization” mirrors a pattern for growth and development taught in the Gospel which may actually be the underline principle we’re looking for. 

In the Gospel (and other resources), we see a pattern for lasting personal growth and development, and therefore likely applicable to corporate growth. Growth begins first with a change of heart (the inner vessel) which results in a change of behavior (outer vessel, for all intents and purposes). Changing behavior before the change of heart is generally insincere and rarely lasting. 

Up until now, we’ve approached this theory without differentiating between the “heart” and the “behavior” – the inner and outer vessel. Perhaps it makes sense to differentiate the inner core values of a company from the outward behavior or strategy, acknowledging the importance of both. 

This could clear a space for potential ambiguities in value definitions as well as simplify the way we’re thinking about this whole thing. 

So, for example… 

 I’ve taken a stab at both defining “inner” and “outer” vessel, as well as dividing our class deliverables into either category. (The terms “inner” and “outer” are just the most intuitive I could come up with right now.)

The Inner Vessel of a Virtuous Entity

Elements of this aspect might include everything that has to do with the internal workings of the company, such as culture, mission, values, etc. These are generally not measurable or quantifiable and are never concretely attained. 

Chapters of the Book for the “Inner Vessel” Aspect: 

  • The Mission and the Deep Why
    • This is a very internal motivation. 
  • People (but only some of them)
    • Employees or individuals directly tied to or working inside the company
  • Profit: the Principle of Prosperity
    • Benefits the internal company
  • Accountability
    • A value that the company embraces
  • Product Mix (but only the purely ethical aspect of it)
    • Here  we can debate to the nth degree whether a given product is ethical or not. 
  • Power
    • Another value, but it could be argued that this is in the other camp. 
  • Leadership

The Outer Vessel of a Virtuous Entity

This has to do with a company’s outward behavior as a result of its internal culture and values. The outward behavior is classified by anything that has a direct impact on the community outside the company. This would generally be more measurable, quantifiable, and “business-like” as we know it.

We could consider using the law as a standard of ethics when developing this theory simply for clarity, measurability and concreteness. I know it’s the lowest common denominator, but I’d say that any business that is at least legal could theoretically develop or convert to a business strategy that promotes societal common good. 

(Out of all the theory that we’ve developed so far, I think this aspect is the most under-developed, at least from what I know so far.) 

Chapters of the Book for the “Outer Vessel” Category: 

  • The Product Mix (the impact it has on the environment or the outside world)
    • This evaluates not if the product is ethical, but if it’s valuable in the marketplace. It has more to do with the business strategy/economical/supply and demand aspect than values. 
  • Corporate Responsibility
    • This is kind of a catch-all term, but as far as I can tell it has something to do with a corporation’s responsibility to the community and considerations like environmental impact, both of which affect the outside world. 
  • People: Individuals outside the company like channel partners, buyers, consumers, etc. 
    • Anyone outside the company
  • Environment

Now, here are some chapter ideas we haven’t talked about yet. These chapters would require substantial research on business strategy but also on current social ills in various fields. 

  • Business Strategy: A Bond Between Profit and Impact
    • How can the business strategy be such that profits increase with social impact? How can we directly link those? It’s almost as if a strong cooperation “adopts” a social problem and impacts it with its strength. 
  • Partnership with a (specific) Social Ill or Organization
    • What specific social ill exists in the world outside the company that the company can impact with its greatest strengths? It must be aligned with the company’s mission. 

Note: While the “inner vessel” can never be truly quantified, measured or numerically evaluated, a concrete measurement might be possible with the “outer vessel”. 

For instance, one can’t quantify one’s “goodness” or “virtuousness” of heart, but can definitely quantify and measure business strategy and results. While we couldn’t offer, say, a recognition or certification for the “internal” virtuousness of a company, we could potentially certify or at least standardize a business strategy, if that’s something we’re headed for. Interesting thought. 

 What if…. 

If this delineation is actually helpful and a potentially intuitive organization strategy, what if we formed two research teams, one for “inner” and “outer” vessel and divided and conquered? 

More internal value/ethics/culture/mission considerations could be tackled by one group and then the more external/business strategy by another. 

I could see our professors leading one or the other based on their areas of expertise 🙂 

However, if nothing else, I hope this suggestion further delineates how different these two aspects probably are, even though they directly influence each other. 

And now, BONUS material 🙂 haha….

Surprise! It’s a chart. 

Inner VesselOuter Vessel
State of heartOutward behavior
Endless strivingIncreasing profits
Social ill solutionsMarket innovation
More stuff…More stuff…

There’s obviously more here. Any thoughts on this idea? I’m not sure how this would exactly look organization-wise or maybe it’s just a helpful way to think about it. I chatted with Ann and Joel in class on Tuesday and they totally caught on. Hopefully it also make sense in writing, haha! 

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