Sales and Sales Management Blog

February 21, 2008

Guest Article: “From Ethics to Integrity: How to Make Doing What’s Right a Way of Life,” by Randy Pennington


From Ethics To Integrity: How To Make Doing What’s Right A Way Of Life
by Randy G. Pennington

In the best of all worlds, ethical behavior would be the expected way of doing business. Employees at all levels would make decisions based on the personal commitment to honesty, integrity and fairness. They would carry out their duties, promote the organization’s ideals and maintain the trust of their customers, suppliers, co-workers and communities. In this perfect world, no one would succumb to temptation and the lure of expedience. Unfortunately, there is no perfect world.

We live in a world where trust has deteriorated into widespread cynicism. The increased demands of a highly competitive market have forced us to consider short cuts once dismissed as unthinkable. Scandals and improprieties (real or imagined) reinforce the belief that playing by the Golden Rule is now passé. Bed fellows abound at a time when true partnerships are needed to meet the challenges of building strong relationships.

Written Codes Are Not Enough
Written ethics codes and value statements are the traditional response to the challenge of unifying the organization’s beliefs and behavior. They are intended to provide direction and ensure consistency of expectation and performance. They have worked in many cases. In others, written ethics codes have been routinely ignored while behavior that is, at best, questionable becomes the order of the day. Written codes and value statements are necessary, but they do not ensure integrity in word and deed. They are merely the first step in a long and difficult process that moves the organization from ethics compliance toward a commitment to integrity in products, services and relationships. Only then will the inspiring values statements that hang on the wall be transformed into performance that promotes trust, mutual respect and commitment to doing what is right. Behavior that destroys organizational integrity is more likely to occur when these five factors have greater impact than written codes and value statements:

The culture makes it okay.
Adlai Stevenson said, “Laws are never as effective as habits.” Most people know, for example, that the law dictates the speed limit. Yet, many routinely exceed it based on habit. An organization’s culture is demonstrated by its habits. Overlooking or even rewarding questionable behavior sends the message that it is condoned or even encouraged. A study done by John Delaney and Donna Sockell at Columbia University reported that 40 percent of respondents who chose to act unethically were rewarded, either explicitly or implicitly. Determine the habits that send messages about the importance of rules and standards and you will discover the aspects of the organization’s culture that influence integrity.

Systems reinforce behavior.
Systems are the tools to promote efficiency and consistency. They are powerful vehicles for developing habits though repetitious performance. Effectively designed systems in areas such as compensation, performance management and purchasing are important components of an environment that has grown beyond compliance to ethics and embraced integrity as a way of life. Otherwise, systems can unconsciously promote behavior that contradicts the organization’s good intentions.

Pressure to achieve results with limited resources.
It is a challenge to maintain or increase productivity levels in times of decreasing resources. Leaders may be tempted to say “Get it done any way you can.” There is, however, an inherent danger in this message. Employees respond by cutting corners, and potentially open the door to actions that destroy trust and credibility. Directives must communicate the expectation of results and responsibility for how they are achieved.

People blindly follow the directions and example of others.
There are two situations where this could occur. The first is when an inspiring, charismatic leader persuades others to follow his/her direction regardless of the consequences. There are numerous examples of well meaning individuals whose judgment was clouded by the ability of a great motivator.

The second is when employees assume that the directives they receive from management should be followed without question. The assumption is that all decisions have been examined before they are implemented. The solution to blind compliance in both scenarios is educated employees that understand the organization’s mission and values, think for themselves and are willing to ask questions when they arise.

The lure of expedience.
Ben Franklin wrote that success is primarily a function of what you are and that one must master 13 internal principles to be achieve it. External trappings were the result rather than a primary indicator. That view has changed.

Our culture sends powerful messages that say success is based on what you have. The ends justify the means. The desire to have it all today can lead to short-term thinking, rationalizing actions and cutting corners.

Making the move from ethics to integrity.
Kathleen Purdy, writing in the June 1994 edition of “Ethical Management,” says, “What started out in many organizations as mere (ethics) compliance is now a very powerful process. One that weaves together many other programs aimed at change.” Leaders are discovering that successful products, services and relationships are all connected by a common thread — integrity. It goes beyond ethics, Total Quality Management, customer service and empowerment to build trust and commitment among customers, employees, suppliers and the community. The following ideas will help your organization make the transition:

Begin where your influence is highest.
Dr. Stanley Pearle, founder of Pearle Vision, is fond of saying, “The customer is smarter than you think. You must deliver what you promise. That is the only way to develop trust.” Lasting change is an inside out process. Individuals must change before organizations can change. A foundation of trust, mutual respect and commitment must exist internally with employees and suppliers before moving externally to customers and communities.

State expectations, but avoid a new “Integrity Program.”
The goal is to make integrity the guiding principle for products, services and relationships. New programs become the latest example of MBBS­p;Management By Best Seller. Instead state your expectations in an open, honest manner so that everyone understands their obligation to customers, suppliers, communities and each other. Explain that strategic initiatives such as TQM, empowerment, self-managed teams, new performance management practices and ethics codes are simply the tools to help the organization meet those obligations. Avoid any hype, admit you are constantly working to fine-tune your own performance and ask everyone to join you in the goal of making integrity the number one operating principle. Continuously remind everyone that the ultimate goal is on-going trust, loyalty and commitment of customers, employees, suppliers and communities in a way that insures everyone’s long-term viability and survival.

Design systems and structures that promote integrity, trust, mutual respect and commitment.
Systems and structures create habits in organizations. Each system should be judged by the following three criteria: Are we doing what we said we would do? Are we providing what we said we would provide? Does the system reinforce our commitment to integrity, trust, mutual respect and commitment? Organizational systems, both internal and external, send a message about our integrity that is more powerful than any ethics code or values statement.

Hold people accountable for achieving results in ways that promote integrity of products, services and relationships.
Leaders must reinforce that there is no “either/or” alternative. Results must be achieved through actions that demonstrate integrity in products, services and relationships. This message is sent through promotions, compensation, perks and the handling of performance that does not meet their expectations.

Educate to provide knowledge and skills then empower people to act.
The goal of ethics codes is often compliance with stated requirements. Focusing on integrity can empower every individual to recognize, confront and correct performance that diminishes trust in products, services and relationships. Individuals and teams should spend time discussing and understanding the impact of decisions and actions to acquire the knowledge to improve in the future. Skill building provides the tools that enable them to respond effectively when situations arise.

The number one characteristic people want from their leaders is integrity. We tend to trust leaders who walk their talk on a personal level. It is a crucial ingredient, but it is only the first step in a long process. Ultimately, leaders must become passionate in their zeal to move toward a better world that expects, encourages and promotes integrity in products, services and relationships.

Randy Pennington is a business performance veteran, author, and an expert in helping organizations build a culture focused on results.  Randy focuses on what works in your world – the real world – and he does it in a style that relates to people at every level of every organization.  Randy is the author of Results Rule: Build a Culture that Blows the Competition Away and On My Honor: Leading with Integrity in Changing Times.  Learn more about Randy at www.penningtongroup.com

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On another note, I’d like to point out an interesting post this morning at Job Profiles listing the top 100 sources to find the best talent in numerous industries.  If you’re looking to hire top talent–or if you’re looking for a new opportunity, you’re likely to find some sites you’re not familiar with.

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