In our uncertain economy there are two certainties:
- 1. Customers, investors, and employees are much more suspicious of business today.
- 2. No company or executive is immune from temptation, suspicion or true involvement in unethical conduct.
Consider the litany of global players like
and unfortunately hundreds more that have succumbed to bribery, conflicts of interests and dubious accounting practices.
There are various reasons raised regarding ethical scandals: flawed leadership, conflicting cultural practices, companies too big to track, or inconsistent education and enforcement. Regardless of the reasoning, what is consistent is that when scandal hits a company, reputations, sales and profitability are damaged. Furthermore, both personal and professional lives are destroyed.
In "Everyday Ethics, Everlasting Consequences," available at
, I refer to integrity as decision-making and conduct consistent with articulated values. In other words, "I can count on you to act a certain way based on what you have said and demonstrated over time."
Integrity is that dependability at the heart of relationships and corporate trust. Integrity is the magic that allows compromise, negotiation, partnerships, growth, planning and execution.
Everyone -- customers, co-workers, investors -- judges you, your people, and your company by a number of factors. Here are the five facets of how others view your ethical persona:
(words) -- Can you articulate your values with certainty and conviction? Can you deliver a persuasive foundation for your conduct and decisions? Do you have the strength of conviction to stand up and say something is wrong? Can you challenge moves by others despite popularity or opinions?
People judge you by what and how you say things and whether the values you espouse as guiding principles for your decisions and actions are demonstrated.
(conduct) -- Do you walk the talk? Is your behavior consistent and deliberate with your speech or are there "mixed signals"?
Clearly one of the biggest disconnects is people who are conflicted in saying one thing and doing another. From a corporate perspective, stated policies and guarantees cluttered with legalese and exceptions do very little to foster customer trust and loyalty.
(appearance) -- Over the years, and largely due to the influence of companies like
and other Silicon Valley-spawned tech companies, business casual and informal dress has resulted in very lax clothing standards. Taken to the extreme, many can get the impression that you're also lax about your business standards.
Do you look like a representative of the professionalism and values you espouse? Does your demeanor convey that others are in the presence of a person of conviction and vision? Is there a calm or chaos about you? Does your company maintain guidelines for physical plant, employee dress, or overall company appearance? The clean trucks and coordinated uniforms of
United Parcel Service
(friends, business associates, causes, and even clients)--Do you surround yourself with and involve yourself with the "right" kind of people? Are your colleagues and activities in keeping with the highest caliber of principled persons of like standards? Are you doing business with people of like values and principles?
Many companies have come under criticism for their expressed political, social and other issues. Companies' political support or views on sexuality, religious observances or other social issues can garner both support and anger. Individual and corporate brands are strengthened or detracted from by the issues, personalities and causes surrounding it.
(aspirations) -- Do you strive to become someone better? Are you contributing to your enterprise? Are you constantly striving to grow and transition to ever-higher goals that are both admirable and necessary?
Answering these questions helps you to become a person who is sought out and worthy of mentoring successive generations of professionals. Does you firm have a compelling drive to better the lives of its customers, improve a collection of problems, enhance the well-being of a troubling situation? In essence, does your company have relevancy that will extend beyond a few years, be able to sustain market ups and downs, and is worthy of support more so than your competitors?
This is very serious work. It is deeper than an advertising or public relations campaign. It is the work of serious leaders involved with governing, growing and garnering ongoing support for their firms.
When it comes to your company, how can you ensure a culture of integrity, confidence and trust? Consider the following five questions for integrity strength:
What norms, values, and standards should we set to guide our team and foster reasonable expectations among stakeholders?
This should reflect core beliefs, governance guidelines, community, industry and professional compliance. The crux of this exercise is to clarify and establish mutually beneficial expectations among all stakeholders. If you can't be confident in what others expect, there is no way to ensure you're delivering.
How can we most effectively communicate our standards and procedures and foster reasonable expectations among our stakeholders?
Communications methodologies, orientation, training, posters, newsletters and other tools and methods of spreading both the spirit and rules to ensure standards are enforced.
How can we know that our team follows our standards?
Audits, ethics committees, reporting systems including anonymous/ protection, must all be utilized to ensure compliance and ethical conduct is more than a periodic issue for an in-service or seminar.
How can we ensure we have the right people in the right places?
Recruiting, hiring, skills training, assignment, promotion, review, and discipline/ reward systems are all necessary to provide constancy and consistency in an ethics initiative. As in any component of developing members of your team, training in ethics cannot be a one-time, some time, or post-crisis event. There must be a commitment for ongoing, practical training that emphasizes how everyday decisions can and do have lasting consequences.
How can we encourage our team to follow standards?
Reward/ discipline systems, compensation schemes consistent with values achievement, and an inclusion of demonstrated ethics in performance reviews all contribute to fewer surprises. This is really the goal of business isn't it? Limiting the number of surprises in forecasts, production, delivery, service, and profits are all critical in having a grasp on the operations.
Certainly, an unethical act should be as infrequent and as predictable as possible. Any means of identifying problems or potentially difficult people or situations within the enterprise as early as possible, reduces the chances of a full-blown crisis.
The serious result of breaches in integrity is conflict, confusion, and chaos, none of which is good for building company sales, profitability or sustainability -- especially in times like these.
Vince Crew, is founder of REACH Development Services (www.REACHdevelopment.com). He has more than 30 years of Communications and Ethics experience and holds a master of science degree in marketing and communication, with an emphasis on "Leadership and Ethical Decision Making During the Lifecycle of an Organization." Vince is a national media expert on business innovation, strategic growth and leadership. He has been interviewed by Entrepreneur magazine, Fox Business Network, CNN, CNBC and more. Crew is the author of four books, including his latest, Everyday Ethics, Everlasting Consequences.