“Integrity is how you act when no one is watching, when no one knows what you’re doing. It’s always telling the truth, clearing up misconceptions or partial truths. It’s never knowingly hurting anybody or anything. Integrity is keeping our commitments.”– Steven W. Vannoy
Integrity and ethics provide the legal, financial, environmental, safety, community and customer relations, and human resources fabric of a business. These decisions naturally and profoundly impact the future of the enterprise, and the future of its employees, not just the present situation.
Most companies claim that their “Number One” asset is their people, yet spend more time and effort in buying copiers, printers, or laptops than on selecting, managing and developing people! It is a common and unfortunate ethical disconnect with their stated mission and values.
Your employees, and the manner in which they are treated, are clear reflections of your company’s ethics and integrity. “Walking the talk” includes your hiring, selection, and leadership development practices, and how you value your employees.
Personal integrity focuses on individual values, and is reflected in the way each person handles his/her own life. In a healthy business environment, professional integrity must also be considered. This requires deeper and broader examination, since decisions and actions impact a range of others (employees, stockholders, investors, customers, suppliers, vendors). In the past decade, the public has seen the disastrous effects of questionable professional ethics. Consider the costs of integrity deficits: “It won’t matter as long as no one finds out.” “The numbers can be made to reflect what I’m saying.” “We can cover the losses before they become public.” Ongoing court cases remind us how deeply such ethical lapses can get leaders, and employees, into life-destroying trouble.
Ethics and integrity are a two edged sword; positive values pay off. Recently, an association awarded a business owner “Leader of the Year.” Subsequently, they discovered he didn’t qualify. (The business owner let them know, after finding out his employees had submitted the data.) The dilemma, since it had already been made public: “What do we do?” They acknowledged the business owner for his honesty (his business increased), and then awarded the correct person her award. Their members use this as an example of how to handle mistakes with integrity and honesty.
When employers hire people, they also hire the person’s personal values. Merging corporate culture into personal ethics can be complicated if the two don’t match. Assessing prospective employees for integrity and ethics should be an important step in selection. Appropriate assessments can help clarify for business and candidate, how well they will fit within your company–and how happy each of you will be with the match.
If you are a business leader, one easy and elementary example of integrity is being on time for meetings. If you’re continually late, others will believe these meetings are of little importance, no matter what you say to the contrary. (Think, you’re not “walking the talk.”) Another example is failing to return phone calls after you’ve left a message on your voice mail indicating that you return all calls within 48 hours. Do these seem unimportant? Remember, exceptions and inconsistencies loom large to those around you.
When employees, and customers, are at odds with a company’s ethical standards and policies, they see it as a direct reflection on management.
Ethical leaders take the pulse of how others see them: Are they competent in communications, problem solving, planning, implementation, human relations? Are they perceived as fair, ethical, honest? Multirater assessments, executive coaching, and valid assessments of strengths and weaknesses help insure that these pulse-takings are grounded in reality.
Ethical organizations take time to communicate and reinforce their corporate values consistently, and clearly. Ethics and integrity are incorporated into daily meetings and dealings with others. They steer a course that is above reproach, even if unpopular. They do what they say they will do, at the promised time. They work hard to select and hire people with personal integrity, which fits well with their business integrity.
The cost of the alternative: A candidate went through the interview process with a business, who promised to contact her regarding their decision within two weeks. Two weeks came and went; no phone calls, nor were calls returned to the applicant when she initiated contact. The candidate, being of an enterprising nature, went to work for one of their clients. A few months later, her new employer was selecting vendors for a highly desirable contract. Not surprisingly, the first business was not the selected supplier. When asked why, the former applicant gave a simple reason: If you cannot make a simple phone call to a potential employee, how will you handle more difficult issues ethically, and with integrity?
Remember, highly ethical companies “walk the talk!”
© Jeannette L. Seibly & John W. Howard, 2006
Jeannette Seibly, Principal of SeibCo — your partner in developing work and career strategies for selection, results and growth, we improve your bottom line! JLSeibly@gmail.com
John Howard, Ph.D., owner of Performance Resources, Inc. helps businesses of all sizes increase their profits by reducing their people costs. His clients hire better, fire less, manage better, and keep their top performers. firstname.lastname@example.org