#130 – Integrity Idea 004: Promote an ERG

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: Promote an ERG

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

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

STAKEHOLDERS SERVED: Employees

Most Integrity Ideas are practical actions that will begin to Re-Align the organization with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities.  “Promote an ERG” is about facilitating the creation by employees of a Biblically faith-based Employee Resource Group (ERG).  A faith-based ERG is a way, particularly for a larger organization, to extend diversity to religious diversity, recognizing that a person’s faith can be a big part of “who they are” that should be valued rather than stigmatized or hidden at work. It is also is a way to empower cultural change from the “bottom up” in an otherwise secular organization by unleashing the power of employees with a Biblical faith-identity gathering, supporting each other, praying together and shifting the culture by living out their faith in day-to-day actions and interactions.

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“.

Some Integrity Ideas will feel like a good fit, and others will not. The choice should be based on which approach is best for stewarding the organization toward its WHY.

INTEGRITY IDEA: Promote an ERG

The term “ERG” can mean different things to different people.  To an engineer or scientist, it is a unit of work or energy.  To a rower (or former rower), it is the nickname for a diabolical indoor rowing machine known as an ergometer that measures performance.  To someone focused on the intersection of faith and work, it stands for “Employee Resource Group”.

ERG’s can also be called affinity groups–groups of employees at an organization who share a common background, identity or interest.  They can be informal (employees who find each other, connect through e-mail or chat groups, meet after work hours and share ideas and information) or formally recognized and promoted by the organization.  ERGs have been growing with the increased emphasis on recognizing, accepting and celebrating “diversity” in the workplace.

A faith-based ERG is a way, particularly for a larger organization, to extend the focus on diversity to religious diversity, recognizing that a person’s faith can be a big part of “who they are” that shouldn’t be stigmatized or forced to be hidden at work.

“Promote an ERG” is unlike most Integrity Ideas, which are actions a leader can take to align an organization with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities.  “Promote an ERG” is most useful in situations where nothing but the most Highly Covert actions from leadership would be tolerated, such as in a large public company.

“Promote an ERG” is a way to empower cultural change from the “bottom up” in an otherwise secular organization by de-stigmatizing faith expressions by employees at work and unleashing the power of employees with a Biblical faith-identity gathering, supporting each other, praying together and shifting the culture toward business a better way by living out the beliefs, principles and priorities of their faith in their day-to-day actions and interactions.

In an otherwise secular business culture, a faith-based ERG may be the only vehicle for overt expression of faith in the workplace.  While an employee can always strive to do their job in a way that aligns with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities while hiding their faith, it can be challenging and lonely in a business as usual environment.  They may not even know fellow employees who share their faith beliefs. A faith-based ERG can ignite the power of people working together for the glory of God:

Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17)

Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall chase ten thousand, and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword. (Leviticus 26:8)

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)

And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

Faith-based ERGs for those with a Biblical faith have a number of potential benefits, including:

• Encouraging and equipping employees to connect their work with their deepest held beliefs and values.

• Creating a support network in an organizational culture that might be hostile to expressions of faith.

• Providing opportunities to interact openly with employees of other faith backgrounds in order to understand and accept each other.

• Creating a forum to consider ways in which members can work more faithfully, shifting the organizational culture by bringing the way they do their work more in alignment with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities.

CONTINUUM: People

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.

“Promote an ERG” is all about People. Kent Johnson, Senior Corporate Advisor to the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation puts it beautifully:

The starting point is to value our employees truly. Not to merely look for what they can do to help us achieve corporate profitability goals and short-term time-related goals, but to care about them as human beings.  My particular focus in this vein is on religious diversity. Here’s why: If we really want to unleash diverse perspectives and energy, we must look for ways to help employees engage in work following their deeply held beliefs.

We have often cited Michael Stallard’s recipe for a “Connection Culture”: Vision, Value and Voice.   It is a healthy culture in which workers are engaged and flourishing–more fully human.  A faith-based ERG is one way for leaders to demonstrate that they value employees for who they are and the unique perspective and identity they bring to work.

COVERT-OVERT RATING: Highly Covert

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.  You might be surprised that we categorize “Promote an ERG” as Highly Covert (an action that would be taken by a secular company) even when it is a Biblically faith-based ERG.  Even though the ERG itself is Highly Overt, the facilitation by the organization is Highly Covert if done as part of a broader initiative to value all employees for “who they are”.

In fact, many secular companies have faith-based ERGs.  PayPal’s website describes their “Believe” ERG as follows:

We believe all employees have the right to bring their whole self to work. Faith and worldviews are core to who we are—our values and beliefs—and to how we conduct business. The mission of Believe is to foster an inclusive workplace and to promote holistic well-being by providing a forum to openly exercise and celebrate all faiths and world views while working. Believe exists to create awareness and understanding of faith, hope, love, empathy, respect for one another, and service toward our customers, communities, and co-workers.

Faith-based ERGs exist at many large organizations, including Fortune 500 companies.  The Religious Freedom & Business Foundation publishes a Religious Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Index (REDI) ranking businesses on their commitment to recognizing and supporting religious diversity.  In the REDI Index 2022, leaders included American Airlines, Intel, Dell Technologies, PayPal, Texas Instruments, Equinix, Target, Tyson, AIG, Google, American Express, Ford, Intuit, Accenture, and SAP.

STAKEHOLDERS SERVED: Employees

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.  “Promote an ERG” is about caring for, valuing, “seeing” and empowering Employees.

We believe all employees have the right to bring their whole self to work. (PayPal)

IMPLEMENTATION

We believe faith-based ERG’s tend to exist more often in large organizations, particularly those that are public corporations.  They also tend to arise through the efforts of employees from the bottom up rather than the efforts of management from the top down. Management may create the framework for ERGs generally, but it is employees who often present a proposal for a faith-based ERG.

There are many resources available to a leader who wants to “Promote an ERG” by empowering employees to create a faith-based ERG or to an employee who wants to pitch the creation of a faith-based ERG to their organization.  We believe at the forefront of the faith-based ERG movement is the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation and the great work being done there by Dr. Brian Grim, Kent Johnson and others.  In addition, some leaders of faith-based ERGs have been proactive in networking and organizing leaders of other faith-based ERGs to share best practices.

In addition to publishing the REDI index and numerous online resources, the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation hosts an annual conference bringing together faith-based ERG leaders to share their experiences and insights.  The Foundation is not specifically focused on Biblical faith-based ERGs–they promote religious diversity at work for all faiths and emphasize the benefits of interfaith dialogue and understanding in the workplace.

In some organizations, ERGs exist informally.  A former Goldman Sachs employee shares how an informal Christian affinity group developed and spread through the sharing of a daily devotional message.  At others, the faith-based ERGs are part of a larger formal ERG program, with new groups having to go through an approval process.

Some organizations feel more comfortable permitting a single faith-based ERG, which can form subgroups based on different faiths.  Other organizations permit ERGs based on specific faith beliefs.  Like all Integrity Ideas, there is no “right answer”–it is what represents the best stewardship of the organization toward its Re-Imagined Purpose.

We want to paraphrase (hopefully fairly) some “coaching points” presented by Kent Johnson in a recent talk:

• Make clear that permitting religious expression at work is part of a broader initiative of valuing all people.

• Present the focus on religious expression at work in the context of the larger purpose and values of the organization.

• Be clear and honest about the organization’s motives in permitting religious expression at work (and avoid hidden agendas).

• Identify and empower grassroots initiatives.

• Persuade people with the benefits of permitting religious expression at work rather than forcing it upon them.

• Document a specific vision of religious expression at work and what it might look like.

• Follow internal processes that allow interested parties to weigh-in on planning and execution.

• Help employees organize and implement faith-based ERGs in a way that respects and includes others.

• Seek advice and guidance from those who have been down the path.

For those who have, or are considering starting, a Biblical faith-based ERG, one tremendous (and free) “plug-and-play” resource for helping ERG members think and talk about how their faith and their work intersect is the material created by PRS.work.

• Thoughtfully merging “Public Reading of Scripture” passages from PRSI.org with Bible commentaries by the Theology of Work Project, PRS.work has created a series of videos, each of which is designed to support a one-hour session.

• A video consists of Bible passages and a related commentary from the Theology of Work Project, all of which both appears on the screen and is read aloud, perfect for sharing on Zoom or Teams.  With the video lasting approximately 20-30 minutes, the rest of the hour can be used to discuss the material.

• The sessions are very professionally produced and the Theology of Work commentaries are extremely well done, regularly teasing insightful work-related revelation from Biblical passages.

PERSONAL NOTE (from PM):   I first heard the term “ERG” in early 2020 (just before COVID).  I was speaking with Bill Peel (one of the pioneers in the faith/work movement), and he asked me if I was “going to the ERG conference next week in DC“.  I replied “No, I didn’t even know about it” (not disclosing that I didn’t know what an “ERG” was).   When I looked up “ERG” online, I realized it was short for Employee Resource Groups, which I had known about for several years.  When I was involved with my friend Eric Welch in organizing the Professionals and Marketplace Track for Movement Day, we invited leaders of a few Employee Resource Groups to speak. I did attend the conference, which turned out to be the first Religious Freedom & Business Foundation summit.  It was at that event that I had the privilege of meeting Kent Johnson and Brian Grim.

I can personally vouch for the the PRS.work material.  I have been participating in a weekly session of PRS.work teachings through Faith in Financial Services (FiFS).  Huge thanks to all those involved in FiFS, including Tom Cole, Andy Mills, Paul Gojkovich and Will Messenger.  Thanks also to the Grace & Mercy Foundation for their vision in starting PRSI.org and their support of these initiatives.

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