Why Integrity Matters and How to Instill It into Your Culture
A product or service doesn’t live up to its promise yet the company makes no effort to identify or resolve the issue. A repairman arrives later than scheduled without notifying the client in advance and offering the opportunity to reschedule. A workplace deadline is missed without proactive communication from the responsible team about the delay or how they will own and mitigate the resulting consequences.
No, these aren’t things that happened to me yesterday. These are examples of out-of-integrity behavior, and such actions often go unaddressed (or even unrecognized). That’s because we are starting to become accustomed to them, but integrity-related issues are contributing and are often the root cause of serious problems within organizations. A shift in culture can help address challenges with performance, morale and teamwork — all of which suffer when integrity is lacking.
While integrity might feel old-fashioned today, it’s essential for creating an environment where people and organizations can thrive. In fact, in our consulting work, we have found integrity to be among the most essential and largely overlooked means of unlocking the full potential of people and organizations. And to be clear, this isn’t about ethics or morals. Integrity — among individuals and within organizations — is a commitment to keeping and honoring your word.
When people and organizations operate in integrity, they experience two key benefits: increased reliability and enhanced workability. These benefits enable them to reach new, otherwise unattainable levels of performance — clearly reflecting the power and effectiveness of integrity as a key lever for increasing individual, team and organizational performance.
How to Create a Culture of Integrity
We’d love to tell you that if you just hire really straightlaced professionals who seem to have integrity, you will instantly have a culture of integrity. But that’s not how it works. Anyone who’s ever held a job in an organization of any size knows that culture starts from the top. You can hire people who fit the culture, but maintaining the culture you desire requires a commitment from all levels of employees and communication with your staff about your expectations.
So, how do you do this?
Successfully establishing a culture of integrity requires everyone associated with the organization to share a common understanding of what integrity entails. And they must commit to it in all aspects of their work.
Set some guidelines.
Honoring a shared commitment to integrity means employees, leaders and board members, as well as those who work with the organization, such as contractors and vendors, consistently follow a basic set of guidelines. For example:
Do what you say you are going to do. This can come in the form of what you explicitly agree to do, the impression you give of what you will do, and/or what people have come to know and expect of you.
Communicate proactively. As soon as you realize you cannot uphold your commitment, clearly communicate what you can and cannot do in advance of any deadlines. This is an easy way to establish trust.
Own it. If you cannot meet the deadline or expectations, take responsibility for mitigating any upsets or breakdowns that occur as a consequence — ideally, in advance of the deadline.
For the record, I do live in the real world — and yes, I can read your mind right now. You’re correct in thinking that it’s virtually impossible to achieve this vision 100 percent of the time. But I firmly believe that when everyone within an organization understands what is expected and strives to honor their word, you’ll move forward with a culture of integrity that ultimately drives performance.
Empower your people.
Next, be sure you’re empowering employees at all levels to clarify, consciously consider and, when necessary, negotiate requests to ensure consistent delivery on commitments. When you do, you may find integrity proves to be your most rewarding competitive advantage.
Start Creating a Culture of Integrity Today
Not ready to dive all the way in? That’s OK. Use a project as a case study. At the beginning of a project, educate the project team on the meaning of integrity and what it means to live in integrity. Then ask each team member to make that commitment for the duration of the project.
The rule is simple: All promises — large or small — matter equally and must be kept. In the rare case that a promise cannot be kept, team members must give advance notice and own the resulting issues that may arise.
This commitment can be scary for some people. So, help them understand the importance of honoring commitments as well as how much better things will work when team members can rely on one another and trust that everyone has committed to these principles.
Upon completion of the project, meet with the team to discuss the practical challenges, lessons learned and tangible benefits associated with maintaining integrity. You can address how this approach affected them as individuals and as a team.
Every organization, every team and every individual will incorporate integrity into their culture in different ways. At Cliff Consulting, for example, we incorporate it into our first value: We give our clients our all and honor our word. It’s something we talk about in team meetings and with clients. It’s truly become a part of who we are.
Now, it’s your turn to make — and honor — a commitment to integrity. What you experience may astound you.