18 Jan #156 – Integrity Idea 019: Banish “Bribery”
ESSENCE: Integrity Ideas are specific actions a faithful leader can consider in leading faithfully through business a better way.
INTEGRITY IDEA: Banish “Bribery”
COVERT-OVERT CONTINUUM (six Continuums for action): Policies
COVERT-OVERT RATING (several levels from Highly Covert to Highly Overt): Highly Covert
STAKEHOLDERS SERVED: Kingdom
Most Integrity Ideas are practical actions toward implementing a bigger WHY for the organization. “Banish Bribery” is about prohibiting the receipt or payment of “bribes”, whether or not “legal”, which goes way beyond envelopes of cash passed under the table. It recognizes that leading faithfully through business a better way calls for a “should we” rather than a “can we” culture. A “should we” culture in an organization flows from a commitment by faithful leaders to lead the organization in pursuing a “WHY” that is bigger than maximizing profit, to live out a set of values that reflect and reinforce that purpose, and to pursue that purpose by doing the right thing, in the right way, for the right reasons and by supporting all workers in doing the same. It requires intentionality and trust in God. “Banish Bribery” requires an honest assessment of practices that may influence the “judgment or conduct” of others “with offers of money or favor”. Ultimately, it is about intention and “heart” and requires prayerfully reflecting on the real WHY behind giving or accepting things like payments, favors, entertaining and gifts.
Integrity Ideas are 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.
Integrity Ideas are practical actions toward implementing a bigger WHY for the organization. We believe some are critical (and necessary) steps in the RENEW/RE-ALIGN/RE-IMAGINE/RESTORE process. Others are just ideas to be considered if they feel like a good fit based on what leaders prayerfully discern is best for stewarding the organization toward its WHY.
“Banish Bribery” is essential to alignment with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities, because the Bible contains very clear warnings against “bribery”. You might be tempted to stop reading because “bribery” sounds like something you would never do–but we believe “bribery” is much broader than you might initially think. Read on.
INTEGRITY IDEA: Banish Bribery
“Banish Bribery” is about prohibiting the receipt or payment of “bribes”, whether or not “legal”, which goes way beyond envelopes of cash passed under the table. It recognizes that leading faithfully through business a better way calls for a “Should We” rather than a “Can We” culture–doing the right thing, in the right way, for the right reasons.
The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines “bribe” as “to influence the judgment or conduct of (someone) with or as if with offers of money or favor.” Our friend Dr. Skip Moen defines it as “a gift that carries selfish intention“. “Bribery” comes in many forms, some of which is legal and some of which is illegal. We believe practices undertaken to try to influence the “judgment or conduct” of others “with offers of money or favor” go way beyond what we usually think of as “bribery”.
For example, under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“U.S. FCPA”) it is unlawful for a U.S. person or company to offer, pay, or promise to pay money or anything of value to any foreign official for the purpose of obtaining or retaining business, but it is not unlawful to make any facilitating or expediting payment to a foreign official, political party, or party official the purpose of which is to expedite or to secure the performance of a routine governmental action. In essence, it isn’t illegal to pay a bribe to get a government official to do what they are supposed to do.
As we use the term “bribery”, we also mean activities such as entertaining or the offer of “favor” or gifts for the purpose of obtaining or retaining business, lobbying for political action or even securing donations. Of course, not all entertaining, favor or gifts are made with “selfish intention” or for the purpose of “influencing judgment or conduct”. Ultimately, it is about intention and “heart” and requires prayerfully reflecting on the real WHY behind giving or accepting things like payments, favors, entertaining and gifts.
Biblical Basis for “Banish Bribery”. The Bible is full of passages that warn against bribery. Here are just a few:
• And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. (Exodus 23:9)
• Whoever is greedy for unjust gain troubles his own household, but he who hates bribes will live. (Proverbs 15:27)
• The wicked accepts a bribe in secret to pervert the ways of justice. (Proverbs 17:23)
• Surely oppression drives the wise into madness, and a bribe corrupts the heart. (Ecclesiastes 7:7)
• You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. (Deuteronomy 16:19)
“Bribery” is clearly inconsistent with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities, which makes it inconsistent with business a better way. Paying or accepting a bribe not only causes the party receiving or offering it to “stumble” (Romans 14:13)–it also validates a worldly culture of bribery, corruption and manipulation. Looking to one of our favorite cultural commentators, Seth Godin observes:
The posture of, “cheat if you can,” is the belief in the ends at any cost. It degrades the system, because if everyone cheats, then there is no system left. . . . Sophisticated competitors, the ones who really want to win, understand that cheating destroys the very thing they set out to do. Because once cheating is normalized, the winner is the person who had the guts to cheat the most and destroy the system, not the one who deserved to win. . . . Our systems persist only when peers in the community step up and insist that the cheater stop.
“Can We” vs “Should We” Culture. As we have described in earlier posts, a “Can We” culture is a characteristic of business as usual. It is an organizational culture in which ends justify means and ethics or the law are seen as the only boundaries (or even obstacles) in the pursuit of the organization’s purpose.
A “Can We” culture is, in many ways, the product of Profit as Purpose fueled by Scarcity and Self-Interest dynamics. As we have noted in an earlier blog, Profit as Purpose does not support enduring values because it has no moral, ethical or Biblical foundation. Although “values” may have such a foundation, values in service to Profit as Purpose become a “means” to the “end” and the “means” will always adjust to fit the “end” (never vice versa).
Seth Godin has written about the ills of “the market” left to itself–the ills of business according to the world’s principles:
The marketplace is hyper-alert and never tires of finding overlooked corners of desire. But the marketplace is not wise. It’s blind, short-term and fairly stupid. Because it has no overarching goal. The market is nothing but billions of selfish people, trading this for that, without regard for what’s next. Left alone, capitalism will devolve into corruption, bribery and predatory pricing leading to monopoly. Left alone, capitalism will pollute rivers, damage our health and create ever greater divides. Capitalism gets us an opioid epidemic, the dark patterns of social media and doom scrolling. Because the market isn’t wise. It has no sense of time or proportion.
In a “Can We” culture:
• People are explicitly or implicitly rewarded for asking things like:
• “Is it illegal or does it violate any rule?”
• “Are our competitors doing it?”
• “Are we likely to get caught?”
• “Is it defensible if we are caught?”
• “Is our customer demanding it?”
• Competition (whether internal or external), a fear of losing sales or donations (both tied to the scarcity assumption) and a desire to increase sales or donations can lead to pushing (or even crossing) boundaries.
The problems of a “Can We” culture are many:
• Competition will drive behavior to the edges and beyond.
• It is unprincipled, condones risk-taking and has a short-term focus.
• It is toxic to the desire we believe is built into each human to do the right thing and glorify God and, because moral failures typically occur through EROSION rather than EXPLOSION, can even lead people to do things they never imagined possible and that they will ultimately regret. For example, at his sentencing, a hedge-fund manager described the impact of the incessant pressure to deliver returns:
“I was not aware of the changes that were happening in me that blurred the line between right and wrong. They came slowly over several years. I allowed myself to slip into the world of relativism where the ends justified the means. Quite frankly, it’s very hard to imagine how I became that kind of person.”
By contrast, a “Should We” culture asks “Whether or not we CAN do it (or get away with it), SHOULD WE do it?” “Should We” can call people to a standard higher than merely man-made laws or the current societal ethics–it can call them to the Biblical standards that they were created to emulate and it can call them to the organization’s values.
This kind of business a better way organizational culture only arises when there is a commitment by the most senior leaders:
• To lead the organization in pursuing a “WHY” that is bigger than maximizing profit and in living out a set of values that reflect and reinforce that mission.
• To lead the organization in pursuing that purpose by doing the right thing, in the right way, for the right reasons and by supporting all workers in doing the same.
• To maintain a long-term focus.
• To cultivate an intentional culture that reflects and reinforces those values and that purpose.
• To trust in God’s promises and sovereignty.
In a “Should We” culture, people ask things like:
• “Is it consistent with how we want to serve our stakeholders?”
• “Is it consistent with our values?””
• “Is it consistent with our intentional culture?”
• “Is it doing the right thing, in the right way, for the right reasons?”
• “Is it consistent with what we say we stand for and who we say we are?”
Bribery as Intention and Heart. Once again turning to Dr. Skip Moen, he has noted one place in which the Bible seems to paint bribery in a positive light.
A bribe is like a magic stone in the eyes of the one who gives it; wherever he turns he prospers. (Proverbs 17:8)
He offers an interesting insight into Solomon’s statement.
What Solomon observes is that the person who uses a bribe does so because he is convinced that the bribe will bring about his desire. It is a belief in control. If I can’t get what I want through legitimate means, then I will get it through illegitimate means. . . . Solomon’s insight is simple. If we let God take care of the circumstances of life and we faithfully manage the vertical relationship with Him, the need to control others disappears. When the need to manage my circumstances is given over to God’s hand, bribes are seen for what they truly are – attempts to act with sovereignty over others. You don’t have to hand over an envelope full of money to believe in bribes. All you have to do is manipulate life around you for your own ends. . . . Bribes come in all shapes and sizes but not a single one recognizes the God Who is.
As we said, not all gifts, entertaining or favors are “bribery”. To understand whether they are, we need to look–with ruthless honesty–at the WHY behind them. If that WHY is to “manipulate life around you” or “influence judgment or conduct“, it is “bribery”.
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.
“Banish Bribery” is on the Policies Continuum. It establishes an organization-wide rule as to acceptable behavior when dealing with vendors, customers and government officials.
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. “Banish Bribery” is Highly Covert (an action that would be taken by a secular company), because it is something any organization might do. “Banish Bribery” for a secular company might fall under the rubric of “being ethical”.
Because “Banish Bribery” calls for prohibiting even “bribery” that is “legal”, a faithful leader may need to explain to stakeholders the Biblical basis for taking actions that potentially put the organization at a competitive disadvantage. Business as usual and its assumptions of Scarcity and Self-Interest call for control and manipulation. “Trust in God” may require explanation.
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.
“Banish Bribery” is principally about choosing the operating principles of God’s Kingdom over the operating principles of the world-business a better way over business as usual. It impacts and builds for God’s Kingdom because it reflects to third parties a different way of doing business. Of course, it may also impact Employees, Customer/Clients, Owners and Suppliers/Vendors to the extent they are demanding a “bribe”, desiring to pay a “bribe”, or disadvantaged by the inability of the organization to pay or receive a “bribe”. This is particularly true when the activity is not usually thought of as a “bribe”.
You don’t have to hand over an envelope full of money to believe in bribes. All you have to do is manipulate life around you for your own ends. (Dr. Skip Moen)
The difficulty of implementing “Banish Bribery” will depend on how narrowly or broadly a leader wants to define “bribery” as well as the business environment and industry in which an organization operates.
At one extreme, a leader could decide that “bribery” just means illegal payments. This would be a fairly aggressive “Can We” approach. The most aggressive “Can We” approach would be defining “bribery” as only illegal payments likely to be discovered and punished. In a jurisdiction where corruption is illegal but common, many businesses operating according to worldly principles accept and engage in illegal bribery as part of business as usual.
We believe leading faithfully requires much more than merely a boundary of “is it legal”, but even that can test the courage and trust of a faithful leader in some situations. In many countries corruption is rampant. In this type of environment, “Banish Bribery” even at the most basic level of illegal payments to government officials can be a tremendous challenge. Here are four examples shared with us:
• A faithful lawyer shared that he won a court case for his client, but the court will not issue the decree without payment of a bribe. He has been faithfully resisting for nearly a year, but his client is anxious for resolution and the lawyer fears that his faithful approach may be detrimental to his ability to earn a living if prospective clients learn he will not “play the game”.
• A faithful businessman refused to pay bribes in order to service equipment his company had installed, which ultimately led to the demise of his business and division within his family.
• A faithful leader of a startup was bringing some equipment into the country and faced with the following choice at customs: pay several thousand dollars in cash and receive a receipt for half that amount or pay a duty of triple that amount (he chose to pay the triple).
• A faithful leader of a faith-based NGO established to train local entrepreneurs in faithful business practices (including not to engage in bribery) was faced with a demand for a bribe in order to register the NGO. She ignored the counsel of friends to “just pay it and start doing good” and refused to pay the bribe (and the registration was miraculously put through).
We believe leading faithfully in alignment with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities requires much more–it requires asking “Should We”. It requires an honest assessment of practices undertaken to try to influence the “judgment or conduct” of others “with offers of money or favor”. It requires prayerfully reflecting on the real WHY behind giving or accepting things like payments, favors, entertaining and gifts.
In some industries, lavish “wining and dining” has historically been used to “influence conduct” of customers. For example, broker-dealers have long been known to entertain customers lavishly to get or maintain business. Regulators recognized that this was problematic, and FINRA now has rules that limit gifts and entertaining.
Similarly, drug companies have long spent millions entertaining physicians and nurses in order to “influence conduct” by encouraging prescriptions for their drugs. This type of entertaining is now limited by regulations and codes such as the Federal Anti-Kickback Statute and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) Code on Interactions with Health Care Professionals.
In both cases, it was recognized that lavish entertaining “influences conduct”. But the limitations attempt to limit the nature and amount of the entertaining rather than get to the WHY. Undoubtedly, with business as usual organizations the entertaining that occurs within the prescribed limits is still “bribery”–still done with an intention to “influence conduct”–still done with a belief that it is “good for the bottom line” and furthers Profit as Purpose.
Here are a few questions to consider when assessing “Banish Bribery”:
• “Should We” make “facilitating payments” in corrupt jurisdictions? These are payments that are not illegal under the U.S. FCPA because they are “merely” paying a corrupt official to take an administrative action they are otherwise required to take.
• “Should We” give gifts to customers at Christmas or to thank them for business even if not prohibited by any applicable law or ethics code? “Should We” accept such gifts?
• “Should We” take customers on trips or to leisure events even if not prohibited by any applicable law or ethics code? “Should We”, as customers, accept invitations to such trips or events?
• “Should We” take donors on trips or to leisure events (e.g., “President’s Retreats” or “President’s Weekends”) even if not prohibited by any applicable law or ethics code? Should we, as donors, accept invitations to such trips or events?
By suggesting the questions, we do not mean to suggest the answers are obvious. Our God is relational, and we are made in God’s image.
• “Wining and dining” can be legitimate “breaking bread” to further relationship.
• Gifts can be an honest expression of gratitude and appreciation.
• Taking an action that “seems” contrary to God’s commands may be a “third-way” action that honors God’s commands (e.g., Joshua honoring his commitment to the Gibeonites obtained through deception even though it was contrary to God’s command).
All depend on the honest WHY and require prayerful discernment.
In many situations, “Banish Bribery” is counter-cultural, and counter-cultural actions by a faithful leader require courage and trust.
As we discussed in post #091 (Trust in God), business as usual teaches to trust in people and money, but business a better way requires re-directing that misplaced trust in line with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities. A faithful leader of an organization committed to leading faithfully through business a better way will face challenges that require the utmost trust in God’s sovereignty and trust in God’s commands.
James Hunter warns: “To enact a vision of human flourishing based in the qualities of life that Jesus modeled will invariably challenge the given structures of the social order. In this light, there is no true leadership without putting at risk one’s time, wealth, reputation, and position.”
• Resistance is certain when challenging “the given structures of the social order” in a fallen world. The Bible warns that those following God’s commands will have trouble (John 16:33), be persecuted (Romans 12:14), suffer affliction (Romans 12:12), be accused of wrongdoing (1 Peter 2:12) and suffer unjustly (1 Peter 2:19). Resistance may come from employees, customers, vendors, owners, regulators and communities.
• “Dilemmas” are likely. Because an organization is operating in a fallen world, there may not be “easy answers” to organizational challenges–leaders are likely to be faced with choices that involve two imperfect alternatives. There may be times when the best stewardship will require difficult decisions that seem at odds with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities. In that case, the challenge will be taking the time to ensure that the decision is coming from prayerful discernment rather than fear, anxiety, a desire to control, or cultural complacency–prayerfully choosing a path based on a balancing of God’s commands and then trusting in those commands and God’s sovereignty.
• Risks are necessary when facing resistance and resolving dilemmas in line with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities. As Hunter observes, “there is no true leadership without putting at risk one’s time, wealth, reputation, and position.” The first principle of Righteousness (a component of Integrity) includes not only doing the right thing, in the right way, for the right reasons, but doing doing what’s right regardless of the personal cost–trusting in God’s commands and God’s sovereignty.
Leading faithfully through business a better way in the face of resistance, dilemmas and risks requires faith, and faith requires trust in God. Turning again to the writing of Dr. Skip Moen:
Faith is my active attitude of total reliance on God’s absolute trustworthiness. That means that my “faith” is demonstrated in the action of putting myself in His care, no matter what the circumstances! Until and unless I act on His reliability, I just don’t have faith. I might have a set of written beliefs that I can recite, but I won’t have any active relationship. Faith is only found in the action, not the declaration. . . . If faith is the action of trusting Him, then I either act or I don’t act. I either trust Him, or I try my own way. There is no half-full measure here.
PERSONAL NOTE (from PM): As a young lawyer, I experienced the “bribery” of financial printers. They regularly invited bankers and lawyers to expensive dinners, Broadway shows and sporting events in the hope that they would recommend the printer when a client needed to print their next prospectus. In fact, it was thanks to financial printers that I attended my first NFL game and my only Ryder Cup.
Financial printing was a very competitive business, and keeping lawyers and bankers happy was one of the ways they competed (they would find you a three-pound lobster at 2:00am if you asked–which was small consolation for staying up all night waiting for revisions to a document). In many respects, they were selling a commodity and relationships were the basis of competition.
Was it wrong of me to accept those invitations? Honestly, that never occurred to me. It seemed like one of the few “perqs” of being an overworked young lawyer. As it turned out, no client ever asked me to recommend a printer–but that doesn’t justify accepting “gifts” that were clearly designed to “influence conduct”.