Is There Room For God When Prioritizing Values?
Many organizations are labeled as faith-based. But can this apply to a well-established manufacturer that has grown to be a large, diversified, global enterprise?
Armstrong International proudly proclaims itself as a faith-based business.
Founded in 1900, Armstrong is a private, fifth-generation family-owned company, based in Three Rivers, MI. With more than 3,000 people employed around the world, Armstrong provides businesses with intelligent system solutions that improve utility performance, lower energy consumption and reduce environmental emissions.
What they do is not necessarily the most glamorous work. But it’s the kind of work that quietly makes a difference – in more ways than one.
The same is true of the Armstrong culture.
The company motto at Armstrong is: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It’s what is often referred to as the “Golden Rule”. It’s also Bible-based, as stated in Luke 6:31 “And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.” (see also Matthew 7:12)
This motto is the foundation of the Armstrong culture, which is also reflected in their 11 values. (Note: I believe 11 are too many values as it’s hard for employees to remember them all. But I respect the underlining intent of these values.)
Of great interest to me is their first value. In fact, it’s the one that gets most of the attention – and is referenced most often:
Faith in God, family and job (in that order)
Yes, that’s exactly the way it is listed, and the way it is discussed inside the company. It’s also they way it was formerly laid out by the previous president and CEO, David Armstrong.
As the fourth-generation leader of the company, David led the company for many years, until he passed away unexpectedly in 2010, at the young age of 52. In addition to being a sought-after speaker, David also authored five books, his last one titled Hanging By A Thread, published in 2008.
In this book, David links the success of the company to the fact it has always followed the golden rule. It’s also very clear that he encouraged employees to make daily decisions based on the company’s values.
This fact was confirmed by David Casterline, the Corporate Director of Communications at Armstrong, when I had the privilege of speaking to him by phone. Casterline also shared with me the Armstrong Culture Card that every employee receives, in every part of the world they work. This wallet-sized card includes the company’s Motto, Vision, Promise, Core values, eight Decisions Drivers (all starting with the letter “s”) plus Four E’s (Environment; Energy; Education; and Enjoyable Experiences). Lastly, it includes a statement from the current president and CEO, Patrick Armstrong:
Faith in God, family and job (in that order).
The steadfast commitment and practice of our core values by our employees have guided Armstrong through difficult time and prosperous times spanning more than a century. As our fifth generation enters our family owned company, I pledge to uphold these values and continue the legacy of leadership that will serve as a lasting foundation for centuries to come.
If anyone ever had any doubt, faith in God comes first at Armstrong.
Faith at Work
In support of this first value, David Armstrong highlights in his book the most significant contribution he felt he ever made to the organization that bears his name. It was when he established a full-time Corporate Chaplain in 2004.
For David, this decision did not come easy. As described in his book, some people thought the idea of a corporate chaplain was silly. Some thought it would be viewed as “cramming religion down employees’ throats.” Others pointed out the potential problem of employees playing the chaplain against supervisors. Even feedback from trusted employees demonstrated that fear surrounded this idea:
- Too much gray area
- Lawsuits waiting to happen
- Inappropriate for the workplace
- People will laugh
- We’ll be a joke of the industry
- Just plain unnecessary
In the end, David made the decision to appoint Dan Lane as the Corporate Chaplain of Armstrong International. A key reason was the company’s values. As David writes:
I looked at our core values and our pride in the sanctity of our faith-based work environment, and the question was no longer, “should we do this” It became simply, “Why haven’t we done this?”
Since the appointment of a Corporate Chaplain, Armstrong has set up a non-denominational chapel on-site in their corporate office, which is open to all employees, retirees and their families. According to Casterline, to-date there have been four weddings performed there.
In addition, employees have also voluntarily organized regular prayer meetings, Bible study at noontime, and an email prayer hotline to multiply the power of prayer for friends and employees. They have also established a corporate Benevolence fund, administered by the corporate Chaplain, to minister to the special needs of employees, their families and retired pastors and ministers. And last, but not least, some have discovered faith in Jesus for the first time through the ministry of the Corporate Chaplain.
There’s even a life-size mural of the Ten Commandments in one of their manufacturing facilities in Three Rivers.
So have there been any complaints?
David states that he never once received even one complaint about the Corporate Chaplaincy. On the contrary, he received many expressions of thanks and gratitude.
While some might worry this will have a negative impact on the business, Casterline said that customers and visitors to their office often say, “How do you guys do this?” To this, Casterline responds “Because we can… and as a privately held company, we’re putting it out there and saying exactly who we are”. Many visitors simply respond with, “Wow! Wish we could do that where we are, but we could never do that!” As a sign of positive acknowledgment, Casterline says it’s not uncommon to hear a customer say, “Where can I put in my application to work here!”
Now, it’s important to note that Armstrong employees don’t have to be attending a church to seek and receive help from their Corporate Chaplain. As David was fond of saying, “I’m not trying to build a church.” What he did desire was for everyone at Armstrong to know that “it is okay to have your faith in gear 24/7.”
A CEO’s Promise
At the end of Chapter Six of his book, David Armstrong highlights 11 promises for his company:
- Give God a job in our company.
- Pray for each other.
- If we are Christians, let it show in how we conduct our business.
- Bring faith to work.
- Pray because it strengthens our relationship with God.
- Remember that temptation makes choosing right from wrong difficult, but knowing right from wrong is easy.
- Never check our sense of right and wrong at the office door.
- Tell and re-tell the stories of our faith and our company, so we won’t forget who we are.
- Give God an office at our company.
- Read the Bible which contains 365 commands to “fear not.” I believe this is the most repeated command in the Bible. This is to remind us daily that we will face hardships that provoke fear.
- Believe God will not wink when we sin. Not even for the sake of good business.
This list serves as a useful checklist for any organization that wants to put God first.