02 Nov #145 – Integrity Idea 013: Set a Values “Plumb-Line”
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: Set a Values “Plumb-Line”
COVERT-OVERT CONTINUUM (six Continuums for action): Proclamation
COVERT-OVERT RATING (several levels from Highly Covert to Highly Overt): Highly Covert
STAKEHOLDERS SERVED: Employees, Customers/Clients, Suppliers/Vendors
Most Integrity Ideas are practical actions toward implementing a bigger WHY for the organization. Setting a values “plumb-line” is Re-Imagining and communicating values that reflect and support the organization’s bigger WHY. Values in an organization are critical because they serve to translate the bigger WHY into an aligned culture–they are the plumb-line that keeps the organization’s culture in line with its purpose. They become guardrails for the behavior and actions that create the culture. Of course, first an organization’s leaders need to Re-Imagine (or at least identify) a faithful WHY and then articulate it clearly. Re-Imagined Purpose forms the cornerstone of the organization, but Re-Imagined Values complete the foundation. In order for the foundation of values to shape an organizational culture that aligns with the cornerstone of purpose, “Set a Values Plumb-Line” requires commitment, reinforcement and ownership. Values proclaim to the world (including employees) “this is who we are” and proclaim to employees “this is how we do things around here”. Values proclaim the organization’s HEART in ways that help people make decisions about actions and behavior.
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. We usually say that some Integrity Ideas will feel like a good fit, and others will not, and that the choice should be based on which approach is best for stewarding the organization toward its WHY. This is different.
We don’t view “Set a Values Plumb-Line” as an option–the optionality comes in how covertly or overtly those values express their grounding in faith. The choice should be based on which approach is best for stewarding the organization toward its WHY.
Before diving in, we thought we better address the question that may be in some people’s minds–“What is a plumb-line?” There is a picture of one at the bottom of this post. It is a device that craftsmen use to keep things aligned. Do a search for plumb-line in a Bible app and you will see even God used them (e.g., “And I will make justice the line and righteousness the plumb-line . . .” Isaiah 28:17).
INTEGRITY IDEA: Set a Values “Plumb-Line”
Our second Integrity Idea back in post #128 was Proclaim a Faithful Purpose. That Integrity Idea MUST be implemented first before “Set a Values Plumb-Line”. Only with a faithful Re-Imagined purpose is it possible to begin to Re-Imagine values, because the values should align with and support pursuit of the purpose. If Re-Imagined purpose forms the cornerstone of the organization, Re-Imagined values complete the foundation.
But the foundation requires the right cornerstone. A purpose devoid of a moral compass (e.g., profit maximization) does not support enduring values. If, for example, profit maximization is really the purpose behind a culture (even an intentional and healthy culture), then stated values can change to adapt to the current or perceived demands of employees, vendors or customers–values become a tool to achieve profit rather than “the right thing to do” and “who we are”.
Values in an organization are critical because they serve to translate the purpose into an aligned culture. 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.
Values are the plumb-line that keeps the organization’s culture in line with its purpose. They become the guardrails for the behaviors and actions that create the culture and shape the organization’s destiny
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.
Just like proclaiming a faithful purpose, “Set a Values Plumb-Line” is on the Proclamation Continuum. Values proclaim to the world (including employees) “this is who we are” and proclaim to employees “this is how we do things around here”. Values proclaim the organization’s HEART in ways that help people make decisions about actions and behavior.
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. “Set a Values Plumb-Line” is Highly Covert (an action that would be taken by a secular company) because every organization, secular or faithful, can (and we believe should) translate their purpose into values that will help shape a culture supportive of that purpose.
“Set a Values Plumb-Line” can also be Highly Overt if an organization explains the Biblical basis behind each value.
STAKEHOLDERS SERVED: Employees, Customers/Clients, Suppliers/Vendors
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. “Set a Values Plumb-Line” serves employees by setting expectations and giving direction on what matters. It provides guidance and guardrails. It lets employees know what is expected of them, what they can expect from their co-workers and managers, and what they should require from those people they supervise.
“Set a Values Plumb-Line” also serves Customers/Clients and Suppliers/Vendors by clearly reflecting the heart of the organization and letting those constituents know what to expect from the organization and its people.
Be clear and consistent about how we do things around here. (Seth Godin)
As we explained long ago in post #056 (Nature of Business), an organization’s full intrinsic Kingdom value–the flourishing it could unleash–can only be realized if its purpose, values and priorities align with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities. “Setting a Values Plumb-Line” means identifying values that reflect and support the organization’s Re-Imagined purpose and align with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities.
When considering whether you have already “Set a Values Plumb-Line”, here are some questions to consider:
• Do you have a faithful purpose statement?
• Do you have values that reinforce a faithful purpose statement and are enduring?
• Do your values reflect Biblical priorities?
• Do you have organization-wide buy-in and regular reinforcement?
• Are your values understood by all stakeholders, including customers and vendors?
• Would your employees say the real values of the organization they experience daily align with its stated values?
• Do the most senior leaders hold each other accountable to the values?
• Do leaders make, condone or expect exceptions to the values when adhering to them might be costly or risky?
• Do you have policies and practices in place to recognize, and support, people who exemplify your values?
• Do you have policies and practices in place to identify, and correct (or eliminate), people who undermine your values?
These questions can’t be answered (at least not honestly) without input from employees. Faithful leaders seeking to lead faithfully should consider the best way to obtain honest input from across the organization, at all levels.
In order for values to shape an organizational culture that aligns with its purpose, we believe it requires commitment, reinforcement and ownership.
• Commitment. An organization’s values needs to be a embraced from the top to the bottom. If the leaders aren’t committed enough to having values they are willing to write down, they aren’t really committed to being held to, and holding others to, those values. If the leaders aren’t committed to a set of values, no one else in the organization is likely to be committed to them.
Commitment by leaders to a set of values means the leaders must be willing to live by those values in their own behavior, to permit others to hold them accountable to those values, and to be willing to hold others in the organization accountable to those values.
Commitment by leaders to a set of values means the leaders stand behind those values even when its costly, like when it means losing a lucrative customer or holding accountable (and even eliminating, if necessary) a highly productive employee.
As we emphasized back in post #079 (Real Culture, Purpose and Values), regardless of what is posted on the website as an organization’s formal values, the human beings in the organization will manage and perform based on what they perceive to be the real values. The website may say “Integrity” is a value, but if the message communicated by managers is that employees are rewarded for “winning”, whatever it takes, then Integrity will be eroded to uphold the real value of “Winning at All Costs”.
When we think of real world examples of a gross mismatch between stated values and real values, Enron is the first example that comes to mind. Its stated values were Respect, Integrity, Communication and Excellence!
We like how author and marketing guru Seth Godin describes what “commitment” requires–what it takes to “Set a Values Plumb-Line”:
The attitudes you put up with will become the attitudes of your entire organization. Over time, every organization becomes what is tolerated. If you reward a cynic merely because he got something done, you’ve made it clear to everyone else that cynicism is okay. If you overlook the person who is hiding mistakes because his productivity is high, then you are rewarding obfuscation and stealth. People are watching you. They’re not listening to your words as much as they’re seeking to understand where the boundaries and the guard rails lie, because they’ve learned from experience that people who do what gets rewarded, get rewarded. Be clear and consistent about how we do things around here.
• Reinforcement. For an organization’s values to shape its culture in a way that reflects and reinforces its purpose, those values must become so ingrained in the hearts and minds of employees that they inform and guide their actions every day and in all they do.
That takes constant “proclamation”, not only by repeating the values (e.g., on the website, prominently on walls and in written materials, to name a few) but also by rewarding behavior that exemplifies the values and refusing to tolerate behavior that undermines the values.
Reinforcement replaces values as marketing tools designed to attract employees and impress customers and vendors with values that employees understand as WHO WE ARE HERE and customers and vendors see as WHO THEY ARE THERE.
• Ownership. Somehow, for an organization’s values to drive and define its culture, which drives and defines the behavior of its people, those people need to embrace the values.
That can happen from the top down–leaders announcing values and then methodically and consistently living them out and reinforcing them 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 values been established, but “buy-in” is needed one way or another.
It is important to distinguish between “ownership” of the values and “ownership” of the reasons behind the values, particularly if those are overtly faith-based reasons. An organization can require employees to live within the guardrails of its values even if they are tied to faithful inspiration, but it can’t require them to embrace or even accept that inspiration.
While the specifics will depend upon the organization and its leaders, we believe implementing “Set a Values Plumb-Line” with commitment, reinforcement and ownership means:
• Developing stated values the organization’s leaders are prepared to live by (even when it may be costly).
• Ensuring that all personnel (and prospective personnel) understand and “buy into” the values.
• Ensuring all other stakeholders (e.g., customers and vendors) understand the values and the organization’s commitment to them.
• Putting the values in customer and vendor communications.
• Regularly reinforcing the values in the organization (including from the highest levels of leadership).
• Recognizing personnel who exemplify the values.
• Ensuring people know they will be supported in upholding the values, even at the cost of a customer, sale or project.
• Holding the most senior leaders to the values and being prepared to terminate even the most productive person who is unwilling to live by the values.
• Being prepared to forgo a lucrative customer, sale or project that endangers the values.
• Asking “SHOULD WE” rather than “CAN WE” when assessing questions that challenge its values.
David Block, Founder and CEO of Previnex, shared a quote that we believe beautifully captures the proper role of values as foundational elements defining the heart of the organization, rather than strategic tools for achieving its goals:
We live a better life when we let our values shape our dreams and our priorities rather than letting our dreams and our priorities shape our values. (Unknown)
PERSONAL NOTE (from PM): When starting Integrous, selecting the values I wanted it to stand for was a high priority. I settled on Excellence, Loyalty and Integrity and call them our “Core Virtues”. (They are in that order because the first letters spell “ELI”, which means “God” in Aramaic. It is what Jesus cried out from the cross.)
The Integrous core virtues are included in our engagement letter with a client, together with an acknowledgement by our client that they accept the importance of these core virtues to who we are and agree to cooperate with us in upholding them throughout the engagement. If you would like to know more about what they mean for our work, you can see them explained here.