Getting to the Heart of Integrity in the Workplace
What is integrity? It seems like every company has this word listed in their core values. Everyone talks about integrity about how much of it they have but what does having integrity really mean? The formal definition defines it as “a firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values”. Other definitions include “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles” or “the state of being whole and undivided”. I believe that Integrity is character that truly comes from the heart and cannot be changed or polluted by circumstances or adversity. Dr. S.M. Davis, a former Baptist pastor and counselor once wrote “integrity is a determination of the heart. Integrity is the unwavering determination to do right no matter what.”
So now that we know what true integrity is, what does it look like in the workplace? Well, given the growing list of corporate scandals (you already know about them so I won't waste space by naming the companies) in the media lately, we know what happens when a company or leader’s integrity is called into question. The aftermath can be devastating. Today it only takes one social media outcry to damage a company or a leader’s reputation forever.
Many businesses and leaders are under the false allusion that just because they are obedient to laws and policies it means they have true integrity. While it’s true that laws and policies play a role in making sure leaders and businesses do the right thing, ethical failure is a sign of a deeper issue that no policy can truly fix and that’s integrity. True corporate and leadership integrity goes beyond obedience to compliance laws and HR policies. True integrity in the workplace is infectious and bleeds out into every aspect of the business.
Laura Hartman one of the authors of the book, Business Ethics: Decision Making for Personal Integrity and Social Responsibility, writes:
“An ethical environment or culture would be one where employees are empowered and expected to act in ethically responsible ways even when the law does not require it”.
So how can we create cultures of true integrity in our companies that is rooted in a deep, unwavering desire to do the right thing and serve others no matter the cost no matter how inconvenient it is to us?
1. Putting Others Before Ourselves
We live in a very individualistic society where we only think of others when it has an impact on us directly. Our work environments are often very self-centered. We are focused more on what others can do for us instead of having a heart of service. True integrity is self-sacrificial and is committed to adding value to others and it’s not always comfortable, easy, politically correct or cheap.
Leaders who wish to create a culture of real integrity must ask themselves how they can take the focus off their own agenda and add value to employees, customers and other stakeholders daily. This is where good HR leaders can really add value. As HR professionals, we should always be looking for ways that we can add value to the employees and stakeholders that we serve. They are looking for companies who are selfless and who are continuously creating a culture where others can shine freely. A culture of service will shape the way we do marketing, finances, human resources, operations, etc.
2. Place a High Value on Transparency
People are tired of being lied to. It’s that simple. To create a culture of true integrity, companies need to be transparent enough that employees, customers and other stakeholders won’t have any reason to doubt their trustworthiness. Every day companies face temptations to hide the truth. I’m not saying that companies must reveal everything about their business as we must also protect the privacy of those we serve. But companies must learn to own their failures, right the wrongs and recognize how business decisions impact everyone around them.
3. Decide Ahead of Time to Do the Right Thing No Matter the Cost
Companies often wait until they are in a crisis (or sued or indicted) to decide that they will do the right thing. But leaders who have real integrity decide before they even come aboard with a company or start their own businesses, that they will do the right thing no matter what the cost because they already have the heart of a servant who values others over themselves. Before they hire anyone, great leaders who value integrity should ask “Is this person going to do the right thing ahead of time and at all costs”?