#210 – Integrity Idea 040: Set Integrity Boundaries

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.  You can find more Integrity Ideas at Integrous | Integrity Ideas (integriosity.com)

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.

“Set Integrity Boundaries” falls into the “essential” category.  Faithful leaders and those they lead need to know where they won’t go before they get there.

INTEGRITY IDEA: Set Integrity Boundaries

“Set Integrity Boundaries” is about faithful leaders identifying, establishing and communicating the integrity lines the organization will not cross in how it operates.   It recognizes that people are more likely to stay behind a line if they know what is expected before they are faced with the decision whether to cross it.

Integrity lines go beyond legal lines and even ethical lines. Rather than being reliant on standards set by the kingdom of the world, integrity lines are based upon the Re-Imagined Purpose and Re-Imagined Values of an organization pursuing faithful integrity through business a better way toward Biblical flourishing.  They are boundaries that help the organization stay aligned with that purpose and those values and with the Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities that form the foundation of that purpose and those values.

Where the organization’s Re-Imagined Values serve as a plumbline to keep the organization heading in the right direction, integrity boundaries serve as guardrails to keep it from inadvertently running into a ditch.

The real-time moment of someone’s line-crossing decision is likely to be influenced by factors such as emotion, fear of failure, a desire to “succeed”, time-pressure, and worldly-pressure–all of which can push a person toward an action that undermines the faithful purpose and values of the organization.   Having a boundary defined before that moment will help the person stay on the right side of the line, particularly when they trust that the organization’s leaders will support the decision even if it is costly to the organization.

“Set Integrity Boundaries” recognizes that leading with faithful integrity calls for a “Should We” rather than a “Can 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 boundaries (e.g., law or ethics) are seen as obstacles to 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).

• 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.  Rather than being an obstacle to pursuing the organization’s purpose, in a “Should We” culture boundaries are a tool for helping the organization pursue its purpose and live its values.  “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 help them to live out the organization’s values.

Perhaps the best-known Biblical example of “Set Integrity Boundaries” is Daniel (and his friends Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego).  Daniel determined his boundaries and refused to cross them.  First, in the face of a requirement to eat the king’s food and drink his wine, he resolved that “he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. (Daniel 1:8).  Later, even after learning that the king had signed a decree forbidding the worship of any other god, Daniel “got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.” (Daniel 6:10).

Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego were faced with an edict to bow down to the golden statue of King Nebuchadnezzar or face death.  They refused, trusting that God would deliver them.

More recent history gives us the example of Eric Liddell of Chariots of Fire fame.  In the 1924 Paris Summer Olympics, Liddell elected not to compete in his strongest event because the heats were held on the Sabbath.

We are aware of several more modern business examples of people setting and honoring boundaries–here are two:

A Personal Boundary. A young associate at a large investment bank had been told by a mentor to prayerfully set “boundaries”–things he saw as contrary to his faith values–as he began his career, because it would be difficult to establish boundaries on the fly.  One of the things he identified was not wanting to work for a client in the gambling industry.  One Friday, his managing director asked him to step in on a time-sensitive project (needed to be done over the weekend) for a client in the gambling industry.  He explained his faith-boundary, expressing his willingness to help meet the client’s need but requesting that he be taken off the deal after the weekend project.  He courageously took a path that risked tarnishing his reputation at his firm and limiting his prospects there.  That trust paid off.  Several months later, his managing director shared that the young banker’s commitment to his boundaries had led the managing director to revisit boundaries he had once set years before (and then abandoned in pursuit of success).

An Organizational Boundary.  Henry Kaestner, one of the founders of Bandwidth.com, tells the story of a boundary faced by him and his co-founder David Morken in the early days of their start-up.  Because of their faith, Kaestner and Morken had vowed that Bandwidth would not serve customers in the adult entertainment business.  As Kaestner explains it, after two years the founders “were running out of the money that we had both had from previous ventures rapidly. . . . Things were getting desperate.” At this critical time, a salesman brought in a major contract.  After closing the transaction, Bandwidth learned that the customer was merely a holding company for adult entertainment companies.  Because of their faithful boundary, they cancelled the transaction at the “lowest cash point in our business” and determined to still pay the salesman his commission because he had done the requisite diligence.  Not only did they signal to their employees the importance of this integrity boundary, but by paying the salesman, they also sent a message to everyone in the company that the organization would stand behind employees living within its integrity boundaries.  Kaestner also notes that their decision “was also the very point from which our company turned around.

Both the young banker and the Bandwidth founders chose integrity.  Along with noting that “integrity is antithetical to the spirit of our age,” John Maxwell writes:

Integrity commits itself to character over personal gain, to people over things, to service over power, to principle over convenience, to the long view over the immediate.

It is the difference between business as usual and business a better way–business in alignment with the kingdom of the world and business in alignment with the Kingdom of God.

The young banker risked his career, and the Bandwidth founders risked their company and their personal finances, and they both saw God honor their decision.  Like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego, they pursued righteousness and trusted in God’s promises.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.  (Matthew 6:33)

Whoever pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honor. (Proverbs 21:21)

This brings to mind the words of James Hunter we have pointed to many times:

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.

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.

Just like proclaiming a faithful purpose and proclaiming faithful values, “Set Integrity Boundaries” is on the Proclamation Continuum. It establishes organization-wide rules as to practices and products that do not align with the Re-Imagined Purpose, Re-Imagined Values and Re-Imagined Culture of the organization.  Boundaries proclaim to the world (including employees) “this is who we are” and proclaim to employees “this is how we do things around here”.  Boundaries proclaim the organization’s heart in ways that help people make righteous decisions about actions and behavior–decisions that are often “antithetical to the spirit of our age.”

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.  “Set Integrity Boundaries” 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 and values into limits that should not be crossed.  For secular organizations, those limits will likely be based on standards set by the culture–whether ethical or merely legal.

“Set Integrity Boundaries” can also be Highly Overt if an organization explains the Biblical basis behind its boundaries.

STAKEHOLDERS SERVED: Employees, Customers/Clients, Suppliers/Vendors, 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.

“Set Integrity Boundaries” serves employees by setting expectations and giving direction on what matters.  It provides 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 Integrity Boundaries” 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 and what will not be tolerated by the organization and its people.

Finally, because “Set Integrity Boundaries” is 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 by reflecting to third parties a different way of doing business.

Integrity is antithetical to the spirit of our age. (John Maxwell)

IMPLEMENTATION

Implementing “Set Integrity Boundaries” requires prayerful discernment by faithful leaders committed to identifying all the ways in which their organization and its employees are at risk of drifting from its mission or sacrificing its values.  These risks are unique to each organization.

• Are there common practices in its industry (such as “bribery”) that are antithetical to the organizations purpose and values?  We devoted an entire post (Integrity Idea 019: Banish Bribery) to the subject of bribery, which we believe goes far beyond envelopes of cash passed under a table.

• Is there a risk that its vendors and suppliers engage in practices antithetical to the organization’s purpose and values, such as using slave or child labor, not paying fair wages, or engaging in bribery?

• Is there a risk that its customers would use the organization’s products or services in ways antithetical to the organization’s purpose and values, such as the exploitation of God’s creation, particularly humans?

• Is there a risk that its customers would pressure the organization’s employees to act in ways that undermine the organization’s purpose and values?

“Set Integrity Boundaries” also requires an honest assessment of the organization’s “real culture” to identify behavior, practices and expectations that may lead employees to take actions antithetical to the organization’s purpose and values.  We devoted an entire post to this topic (Integrity Idea 014: Understand Your “Real Culture”)

Such an exercise can only meaningfully be done after faithful leaders have “Proclaimed a Faithful Purpose” (Integrity Idea 002) and “Set a Values Plumbline” (Integrity Idea 013).

We believe “Set Integrity Boundaries” must begin with creating a “Should We” culture, which itself begins with an honest assessment by faithful leaders of where the organization may have a “Can We” culture.

As we have described in prior posts, 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.

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.  Integrity boundaries set a hard “SHOULD NOT” that employees can rely upon.

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” culturepeople 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?”

Way back in post #039 (Keep First Things First) we explained Integriosity® and said the key Biblical principles forming the foundation of Integriosity are embedded in the word itself–Integrity (and its components Righteousness and Kingdom) and Generosity (and its components Love and Humility).  They are the priorities faithful leaders need to “keep first”.

Ultimately, “Set Integrity Boundaries” is about identifying, establishing and communicating the righteousness and Kingdom lines the organization will never cross, no matter the cost–even if it were to mean the demise of the organization–even if were to mean being thrown into a fiery furnace or a lion’s den.

PERSONAL NOTE (from PM):  This post was inspired by a recent session of Faith in Financial Services (FiFS).  It utilizes material created by PRS.work, which thoughtfully merges “Public Reading of Scripture” passages from PRSI.org with Bible commentaries by the Theology of Work Project.  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.  Huge to the Grace & Mercy Foundation for their vision in starting PRSI.org and their support of these initiatives.   The PRS.work videos are an easy way for faith/work groups (e.g., faith-based ERGs) to learn, think about and discuss how God’s word informs their work.  Below is the one that inspired this post.

ESSENCE:  Integrity Ideas are specific actions a faithful leader can consider in leading faithfully through business a better way.

INTEGRITY IDEA: Set Integrity Boundaries

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.  “Set Integrity Boundaries” is about faithful leaders identifying, establishing and communicating the integrity lines the organization will not cross in how it operates, no matter the cost.  Integrity lines go beyond legal lines and even ethical lines. Rather than being reliant on standards set by the kingdom of the world, it is based upon the Re-Imagined Purpose and Re-Imagined Values of an organization pursuing faithful integrity through business a better way toward Biblical flourishing.  “Set Integrity Boundaries” recognizes that leading with faithful integrity 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.  “Set Integrity Boundaries” recognizes that people are more likely to stay behind a line if they know it is there before they are standing on it. It requires intentionality and trust in God.

Don't Compromise Your Beliefs at Work (from PRS.work)

Copyright © 2024 Integrous LLC.  Integriosity is a registered Service Mark of Integrous LLC.

Photo credit: Original photo by James Orr on Unsplash (photo cropped)