By Al Watts, Founder, inTEgro, Inc.
With all the apparent lapses of integrity we’ve witnessed, why are we not seeing more attention paid by the HR and HRD world? What should the roles of HR and HRD professional be? Here are three reasons it may be difficult to get our arms around integrity, and suggestions for helping leaders and their organizations function at the highest possible level:
1. We have trouble defining “integrity.” Part of the trouble may be focusing on only one of its dictionary definitions, the one about “sound moral principles, uprightness, and honesty.” Webster’s other two definitions, the first two, are about being “whole,” “unimpaired,” and “sound.” When we associate integrity only with the “moral uprightness” part, sometimes it’s lumped together with “all that ethical stuff” and disconnected from mainstream business or human resource strategy. When we look at the whole picture, though, including being a “whole, unimpaired, and sound” organization or leader, we begin to see how we may be underestimating integrity. I like Howard Gardner’s definition of “Good Work”—work that is ethical, engaging, and effective (in other words, productive and profitable) —and now think of leaders and organizations that typify “good work” as “Triple-E” leaders and organizations. Integrity’s comprehensive definition comes as close as anything I’ve seen to what’s at the core of triple-e leadership and organization cultures.
It seems odd that there isn’t an adjective for “integrity.” If we can have ethical, engaging, or effective leaders and organizations, why can’t we have “integrious” leaders and organizations that typify all three? As it turns out, until about the mid-19th century, the word “integrious” did appear in standard dictionaries. I was pleasantly surprised not long ago to discover that there is a movement to reintroduce the term to our vocabulary; you can learn more about that at theintegriousproject.com.
2. We don’t know how to “do integrity.” If we have a hard time defining integrity, then it’s difficult to make it operational. Where do we start? How can we develop more “integrious” leaders and craft more “integrious” organization cultures? When I set out to answer those questions, my research and reflections on 30 years of consulting yielded four dimensions that exert the greatest simultaneous impact on effectiveness, engagement, and ethics:
A good step before attempting to improve something is measuring it. For that reason, I use the Organizational Integrity Surveyfor some projects, which yields a pretty good reflection of how well organizations and their leaders are managing these dimensions. Low scores in particular areas serve as excellent catalysts for what to do next. Results shared with all partners and associates in a professional services firm retreat led to concrete plans for improving clarity of strategic direction, closing gaps between espoused values and practices, and introducing more meaningful measures. (Please see below to download the Leadership and Organizational Integrity Model graphic.)
Statistician E.P. Box was right when he said: “All models are wrong, but some are useful,” and we have to remember that, as Alfred Korzybski put it, “a map is not the territory.” Nevertheless, this model, or map, has been a useful one for making integrity more operational.
3. We don’t know how integrity pays. We may have an intuitive sense that it does, but how does it actually contribute to the bottom line? Evidence abounds, whether we’re looking at ethical, effectiveness/productivity, or engagement payoffs. To use just one recent high-profile example, how much would Rupert Murdoch and News Corp have saved if they had early warnings of serious gaps between espoused principles and actual practices? What impact do you think events that are unfolding will have on engagement of remaining employees and stock price? Here are a few more ways that navigating these four integrity arenas well pays dividends:
Identity—Ifan important cornerstone of integrity is clarity around purpose, values, strengths, and limitations, what happens without that clarity? Whether insufficient clarity or lack of unity around strategic intent, for example, how does that impact engagement and productivity, and what does that cost? You wouldn’t have to search far to uncover the costs of an executive who is blind to his shortcomings or of an organization without a clue about soft spots in its culture.
Authenticity—Standing up for what we say we believe is a primary driver of trust. I agree with Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz: “Winners use trials as opportunities to reinforce their values, not abandon them.” Consistency between espoused principles and actual practices builds employee engagement, as well as consumer trust; that’s money in the bank. It is much less likely in truth-telling organizational cultures that organizations or leaders will be blindsided by some internal or market reality that could take them down.
Alignment—To paraphrase Emerson, sometimes leaders’ and organizations’ actions speak so loudly we cannot hear what they are saying! Conflicting signals about strategic priorities, or hiring, training, performance management, and pay practices that don’t reinforce goals and values reduce efficiency and engagement. As just one example, think about the negative impact on morale and performance when someone who is clearly not aboard with organizational values or strategies gets hired or promoted.
Accountability—In their book, “The Oz Principle,” the authors did a good job describing the costs when people are busier seeking someone or something to blame instead of taking responsibility. Accountability includes measuring and paying attention to what matters; when critical indicators are overlooked, including things such as safety measures or incidents of ethical violations, eventually there will be a price to pay.
Here are a dozen suggestions of ways HR and HRD professionals can play a proactive role positioning integrity as a practical business strategy and crafting moreintegriousorganizational cultures:
Integrity may be one of the most important, but most difficult to make operational, factors contributing to leadership and organizational excellence. Hopefully, the concepts shared here will help pave the way for HR and HRD professionals to play an influential role.
Al Watts is a Twin Cities-based consultant and founder of inTEgro, Inc. For nearly 30 years, he has served public, private, and not-for-profit organizations and their leaders as a resource for strategic planning and organization development. He is the author of a new book that this article is based on: “Navigating Integrity—Transforming Business as Usual into Business at Its Best.” For more information, visit http://www.integro-inc.com/Home.aspx
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