Adherence to moral and ethical principals; soundness of moral character; honesty. That's how the Random House College dictionary defines it.
Today when we think of integrity in business most of our thoughts gravitate to the recent history of gross injustice to business integrity. Enron, WorldCom, Tyco, Arthur Andersen, and the mutual fund industry just to name a few. But these are textbook examples of integrity loss. Hollywood would be hard pressed to come up with better stories than the ones we have witnessed in the last three years. In fact the federal government is trying to legislate integrity back into the marketplace as evidenced by the passage of Sarbanes-Oxley, one of the most important pieces of legislation since the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.
So much for the headlines. Thankfully, most will not have to deal with what these executives had to deal with. But every day, integrity in business is being challenged. These challenges won't make the evening news, but they will shape the future of most companies and the future of most executives' careers. I have had many conversations with executives on this matter, and some of these leaders are part of the walking dead. These are executives that have slowly eroded their integrity. There is no single occurrence or defining moment. The erosion happens over time and has a cumulative affect on the executive's performance as a leader and as an individual. Their principles and character have deteriorated to a point where they are half the person they were when they started the role. Interestingly enough, this erosion tends to happen when the executive is trying to satisfy the expectations of others while going against what they know is right. By leaving their own Wisdom (as my partner likes to call it) they stop bringing to the table what they were hired for and in the long run lose the role they were conforming to keep. Some examples of conforming are when:
• Your Boss states that you're spending too much in R&D. You cut it even though you know that new products are essential for your group's success.
• The CEO needs more dollars for their budget. They cut your expenses by 15% but keep the top line the same.
• You need to grow sales and expand your territories, yet your Boss cuts 20 heads from the budget.
• At the same time you're told to "turn this business around," you're also told to be more understanding of your people and not to drive them so hard.
• Your peers feel that you are not acting like a team player when discussing critical business issues that affect them all. No one wants to tackle these big issues.
• You are told that Manager A is not good for your group and to do something about it, yet you feel that A is one of your best performers.
There are many more I can think of and I'm sure many more you have experienced. So when this phenomenon occurs of being told to do the opposite of what the facts would indicate, how do you stay with your Wisdom? That is where Integrity and Character come into play.
One thing to always remember is that you were hired to run your group, company or corporation, not to roll over and do what they who hired you ask you to do. Interestingly enough I have found that those who have hired my executives are at times one of the biggest blocks to the executives' success. The only larger block to success is the executives' ignorance of themselves and their effect on their organizations, but that subject I will keep for another article.
Your responsibility is to bring the facts forward, as you know them. At any time your Boss can choose to ignore them, but it is your responsibility to inform them of the effect the decisions being made will have on the company. Even though this information is not greeted with joy, it is treated with respect in the long run, because it is your moral responsibility to bring it forward (not just for the company but also for your own self-respect and Integrity). This bringing forward of facts as you know them needs to be done tactfully and with business data. You also need to show them that whatever decision they make, you will do all that can be done to make the new plan or organization a success.
The reality is that once you agree upon a budget or action even though it is not yours, you will be held responsible for it. Therefore, disagreement with others is not the true risk in this situation, but rather, not bringing forward your data is the real risk.
So remember, your moral responsibility is to present what you know to be true and drive forward with your professional will to achieve what is possible. Your integrity depends on it.