#128 – Integrity Idea 002: Proclaim A Faithful Purpose

ESSENCE:  From time to time, we are devoting posts to describing specific actions a faithful leader can consider in leading faithfully through business a better way.  We are calling these Integrity Ideas.  

INTEGRITY IDEA: Proclaim a Faithful Purpose

COVERT-OVERT CONTINUUM (six Continuums for action):  Proclamation

COVERT-OVERT RATING (several levels from Highly Covert to Highly Overt):  Highly Covert or Highly Overt

STAKEHOLDERS SERVED: Kingdom

Most Integrity Ideas are practical actions toward implementing a bigger WHY for the organization.  Proclaiming a faithful purpose is telling the world about that WHY.  Of course, first an organization’s leaders need to Re-Imagine (or at least identify) the WHY and then articulate it clearly, and that will involve a number of very important practical steps (which we will explore in future Integrity Idea posts). We believe those steps should be informed by a Renewed understanding of God’s purpose for work and business–the first step of Integriosity®.   Leading faithfully through business a better way takes time and intentionality–but it must start with a purpose that aligns with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities, and that purpose must ultimately point to glorifying God.

From time to time, we are devoting posts to describing specific actions a leader can consider during the Re-Align step of Integriosity®–actions that will begin to Re-Align the organization with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities.  We are calling these “Integrity Ideas“.

Most Integrity Ideas are practical actions toward implementing a bigger WHY for the organization.  Proclaiming a faithful purpose is telling the world about that WHY.  In our last post (#127 Integrity Idea 001–Hire a Chaplain), we said some Integrity Ideas will feel like a good fit, and others will not. This is different.

We don’t view proclaiming an organization’s WHY as an option–the optionality comes in how covertly or overtly that WHY expresses its grounding in faith.  The choice should be based on which approach is best for stewarding the organization toward its WHY.

INTEGRITY IDEA: Proclaim a Faithful Purpose

Although we started out our Integrity Ideas in our last post with a straightforward one–hiring a corporate chaplain to be available to employees–proclaiming a faithful purpose is anything but straightforward.  It involves faithful leaders:

• Taking the time to Renew their understanding of God’s purpose for work and business.

• Developing a process for Re-Imagining Purpose and communicating the Re-Imagined WHY.

• Developing a plan for “proclaiming”.

We will explore various Integrity Ideas for those steps in future posts.  In this post, we will focus on proclamation through a clear, written purpose statement.  The importance of defining a clear purpose, committing to it in writing, and proclaiming it actually comes straight out of Scripture:

And the Lord answered me: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it.”  (Habakkuk 2:2)

There are several key elements in God’s simple answer:

• Have a Purpose:  It is surprising how many organizations do not even have a purpose statement. Sure, if you asked the leaders of a “purposeless” organization for its “purpose”, they might be able to articulate something coherent.  But the “purpose” articulated might sound different today than it would have last year or than it might in a year from now.  It is also likely to be more of a WHAT or a HOW than a WHY.  And the “purpose” articulated will almost certainly not be one that has been arrived at after prayer, discussion and discernment.

• Make It Plain.  If a vision is to be something people can “run” with when they read it, it needs to be something they can understand and remember.  Simplifying is hard work that takes time.  After Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated, the largest independent Coke bottler in the United States, got purposeful about their purpose, it apparently took 17 years to settle on what they have today.

• Write It Down.  We don’t think God’s command to Habakkuk means simply write down a vision and stick it in a drawer.  It also doesn’t mean simply putting it on a sign that hangs on the office/factory wall.  God told Habakkuk to write it down so that someone could “run” with it.  In order for people in an organization to truly “run” with a vision, we believe “writing it down” requires “proclaiming” it.

• People May “Run” With It.  God told Habakkuk “run”–not “walk as slowly as possible”.  People will not “run” with a vision unless they are inspired by it and feel ownership of it.

CONTINUUM: Proclamation

The Integriosity model organizes “heart change” along six Covert-Overt Continuums.  There is nothing magic about these categories, but we believe they are helpful in thinking about practical execution of a Re-Imagined Purpose, Re-Imagined Values and a Re-Imagined Culture.  The Continuums are Prayer, Proclamation, Policies, Practices, Products, People.

Each Continuum represents an area in which leaders can begin to think about, plan and institute Re-Alignment changes to the heart of the organization.

We know this sounds obvious–we place proclaiming a faithful purpose on the Proclamation Continuum.  A purpose statement is the central vehicle for telling the world (including employees) the organization’s WHY.

When visitors to an organization’s website get to the ubiquitous “About Us” section, if they read nothing else, they are likely to read the purpose statement.  When a prospective employee walks through the door, they should quickly encounter the purpose statement (perhaps even on a wall near the entrance).  Whether the “faithfulness” of the purpose statement is covert or overt, it tells the world WHO WE ARE HERE–this is our HEART.

As the ultimate purpose for which we were created is to glorify God, for a purpose statement to be “faithful” it must either overtly state that purpose or be capable of pointing to that purpose if you asked WHY a few more times.  A faithful purpose statement must, whether directly or indirectly, covertly or overtly, “proclaim” glorifying God.  In the words of Ken Eldred, “The real goal of business is to serve others to the glory of God.

COVERT-OVERT RATING: Highly Covert or Highly Overt

The Integriosity model breaks the Covert-Overt Continuums into six gradations–from Highly Covert to Highly Overt–that we believe are helpful in beginning to pray and think about what is most appropriate for an organization at a particular moment in time.

Most Integrity Ideas will have one place on the scale.  Some can vary depending on how they are implemented (as we saw in the last post with hiring a chaplain).  The “faithfulness” of a purpose statement will always be “Highly” something because it is a simple statement that is being proclaimed–it either makes an overt reference to faith or it doesn’t.

A good example of an organization with a Highly Overt (an overtly faith-based action involving community, website, sales/marketing materials) purpose statement is Coca-Cola Consolidated.  They are proud of their purpose statement.   CEO Frank Harrison says “Our purpose is our culture and our culture is our purpose.”   After 17 years of refinement, they settled on:  “At Coca-Cola Consolidated, we believe our purpose is to serve others, to pursue excellence, and to grow profitably. Above all, we strive to honor God in everything we do.”

We consider a faithful purpose statement Highly Overt if it includes words like “God”, “Jesus”, “Faith”, “Biblical”.  But a purpose statement can be Highly Covert (an action that would be taken by a secular company) and still be faithful.  For example, if Coca-Cola Consolidated used only the first sentence of their purpose statement, we believe it would still be a “faithful” purpose statement, but it would be Highly Covert.  Even a secular company might say their purpose is “to serve others, to pursue excellence, and to grow profitably”.  

How is this truncated purpose statement still “faithful” without specifically including the reference to “honor God”?  Service and excellence are Biblical principles and priorities that do, in fact, honor God when done with a WHY of honoring God, whether or not that WHY is stated. Profitability is necessary for faithful stewardship of a business, and listing it last reflects its proper priority behind service and excellence.  The heart of the organization is to glorify God, and the truncated purpose statement would still point to that purpose if you asked WHY a few more times.

As we explained back in post #086 (Flexible Approach), at the Covert end of a Continuum, initiatives may look just like initiatives that an enlightened secular organization might implement.  The difference–and it is a BIG DIFFERENCE–is the WHY behind the initiative–because that makes ALL the difference.

STAKEHOLDERS SERVED: Kingdom

When we categorize faith-based actions, we also consider the stakeholders principally impacted by the action: Employees, Customers/Clients, Owners, Suppliers/Vendors, Community and Kingdom.  A faithful purpose statement serves employees by giving their work a higher purpose.  It provides inspiration.  A faithful purpose statement also serves Customers/Clients, Suppliers/Vendors and the Community by clearly stating the heart of the organization and letting those constituents know what to expect from the organization.

That said, we categorize a faithful purpose statement as principally serving God’s Kingdom, because it serves as a light to the world glorifying God.

Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16).

The real goal of business is to serve others to the glory of God. (Ken Eldred)

IMPLEMENTATION

First, we want to address a few labels and semantics.  Some organizations have a “Purpose Statement”; some have a “Mission Statement”; some have a “Vision Statement”; and some have two or more of those.  In talking about proclaiming a faithful purpose, we are talking more generally about the organization’s WHY, whatever label it may have.  However, labels can’t turn a WHAT or a HOW into a WHY.   Just for ease of reference, we will refer to a WHY statement as a purpose.

We make widgets” is not a WHY, even if you label it a Purpose/Mission/Vision Statement.  It is a WHAT.  “We make excellent Widgets” is better, because it adds some HOW, but we still don’t think that makes it a purpose.  “We make excellent widgets in order to make as much profit as possible” is a purpose (just not a very Biblical one).  The best way to get to WHY is to keep asking “Why?” until the real WHY emerges.

We do think there is room for an organization to have an aspirational WHAT statement as well as an inspirational WHY statement.  One way to distinguish them is as a Mission and a Vision.

• Mission:  What you strive to do every day.

• Vision:  What the world will look like in five years if you actually live out your Mission every day.

Habakkuk 2:2 says the reason for writing a vision and making it plain is so that people can “run with it”. In order for people in an organization to truly “run” with a purpose, we believe “writing it down” requires commitment by leaders and constant reinforcement.

• Commitment.  An organization’s purpose needs to be a commitment from the top to the bottom.  If the leaders aren’t committed enough to having a purpose they are willing to write down, they aren’t really committed to having a purpose.  If the leaders aren’t committed enough to a particular purpose to write it down, they aren’t committed to that purpose.  If the leaders aren’t committed to a purpose, no one else in the organization is likely to be committed to it.

A recent report on business purpose found that 89% of business leaders felt purpose mattered but only 39% felt that the business model and operations of their organization were actually aligned with its “purpose”!  Was its “purpose” really its purpose?  Were its leaders really committed to its stated “purpose”?

• Reinforcement.  When Frank Harrison of Coca-Cola Consolidated says “our purpose is our culture and our culture is our purpose“, he is expressing something very important–the purpose of the organization has become so ingrained in the hearts and minds of Coca-Cola Consolidated’s employees that it informs and guides their actions every day and in all they do.

That takes constant “proclamation”, not only by repeating the purpose (e.g., they have it on their website, prominently in their lobby and on conference room walls, to name a few) but also by rewarding behavior that carries out the purpose and refusing to tolerate behavior that undermines the purpose.  Reinforcement declares that the purpose is not just a “PR piece”–it is WHO WE ARE HERE.

God also told Habakkuk “run”–not “walk as slowly as possible”.  People will not “run” with a purpose unless it inspires them and feel they ownership of it.  “Proclaiming” a faithful purpose also encompasses the identification and articulation of that purpose.

• Inspiration.  In his book Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy, and Understanding at Work, Michael Stallard shows that healthier motivation, and a healthier culture of connection, comes by creating an organizational culture that meets people’s need and desire for Vision, Value and Voice.  Stallard argues that people rise to the occasion when they see their work as part of a bigger vision, feel valued as human beings and feel they have a voice in how the organization pursues that bigger vision.

Wharton professor Adam Grant noted:

For decades, Americans have ranked purpose as their top priority — above promotions, income, job security, and hours. Work is a search “for daily meaning as well as daily bread,” wrote Studs Turkel after interviewing hundreds of people in a striking array of jobs.

Its not the nature of the work that makes all the difference–it is the bigger picture within which you see the work and the culture within which you perform it.  A faithful purpose statement can anchor vision.  A faithful purpose statement that provides the foundation for a healthy culture that values people can anchor value.  A faithful purpose statement as to which employees feel “ownership” can anchor voice.

• Ownership.  Somehow, for an organization’s purpose to drive and define its culture, which drives and defines the behavior of its people, those people need to embrace the purpose.

That can happen from the top down–leaders announcing a purpose and then methodically and consistently living it out and reinforcing it over time.  But the “top-down” approach is likely to take much longer and require much more effort than one that seeks “buy-in” throughout the organization from the beginning.  Obviously, this will be more challenging in large organizations and becomes impractical once a purpose has been established, but “buy-in” is needed for “running”, one way or another.

A McKinsey report described one large bank that did the work:  soliciting the views of over 7,000 people over a period of six months, including through 1,500 “coffee-corner” discussions.  That same McKinsey report noted:

Connecting purpose with the heart of your company means reappraising your core: the strategy you pursue, the operations driving you forward, and the organization itself. That’s hard work, and you can’t do it without deep engagement from your top team, employees, and broader stakeholders. But there’s no substitute. Your stakeholders care about the concrete consequences of your lived purpose, not the new phrase at the start of your annual report.

If done with intentionality, prayer, and in a manner that makes it more than a slogan on a website, proclaiming a faithful purpose is not simple or easy.  But it is a critical early step toward leading faithfully through business a better way. As we have said many times in prior posts, purpose and values define the culture of an organization; the culture shapes the behavior of the people in the organization; and the behavior of the people drives the results of the organization.

PERSONAL NOTE (from PM):   In his book For Goodness Sake, Chris Houston correctly observes “Every organization comprises individuals who are already taking action toward some purpose. The question is: What purpose?”  If the organization does not have a stated purpose, the purpose pursued by the individuals within the organization will be their own purpose or the purpose they perceive to be valued by the organization’s leaders.  Given the pervasiveness of business as usual, that is likely to be Profit as Purpose.  When practicing law as a partner in a large firm, it never occurred to me that the firm did not have a purpose statement.  The implicit purpose was clearly Profit as Purpose, driven by a strategy of being the best at what we did.  The lack of a stated purpose (or values) seems particularly true in professional service organizations:  law firms, accounting firms, financial advisory forms, banking firms, architectural firms, etc.  Why?

At the inception of Integrous, I knew it needed a statement of purpose as well as clear values.

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Photo Credit: Original photo by Juan Marin on Unsplash (photo cropped)