I often get to facilitate visioning workshops where management teams or entire organizations determine their organization’s vision, mission and core values. Whenever we get to identifying core values, there’s always someone or some people proposing Integrity as one of their core values. I have no problem with that. If it is indeed their core values, that’s well and good! I have a very strict criterion for helping companies identify their core values. This criterion is are the leaders of the organization capable of modeling them?
This is what Collins and Porras say about what core values are; “Core values are the essential and enduring tenets of an organization. A small set of timeless guiding principles, core values require no external justification; they have intrinsic value and importance to those inside the organization.” It’s an enduring tenet that the company must align with whether it rewards them or punish them. In this society and country, demonstrating integrity will both reward and punish you!
There’s a very good reason for demanding integrity from your people. It’s the easiest way to explain compliance, avoiding pilferage, and committing to what people agree to do as they are paid for. However, integrity can have an empty meaning very fast when leaders of the organization, from the top to the front line can’t model them. They become meaningless slogans. When an identified core value like integrity loses its meaning in the eyes of the people, the other core values are also put to question and when people are not seeing visible examples of how they are demonstrated, they lose interest in the whole exercise and get their cues from how their leaders act. When they feel they are being cheated, they cheat back, or those who truly have integrity as their personal core value feel misaligned and go away if they can afford it.
90% of the time, when someone recommends integrity to be part of the core values, they change their mind whenever I ask, can you model it? As an organization, can you demonstrate integrity in your decisions and actions? The room would go silent, people will start thinking of a way to justify integrity even when, they don’t pay their taxes right, they bribe government, they get personal commissions from suppliers, or even if they don’t give employees what they’re due according to law. I tell them there is no such thing as limited integrity, or selective integrity. It defies the meaning of the word itself.
In my entire career, I only worked for one company that truly embraced the value of integrity. When that company was bought by global investment company, that value was eliminated, and the character of the company changed drastically. I only have seen a handful of companies who truly demonstrate integrity. Many of those who put it as their core value don’t really show it and you can immediately see how the rest of the core values are just there for posterity and are way away from how people conduct their work and business.
I believe integrity is important. To demand integrity from your people is to model the way in demonstrating it. People follow their leaders. Not what they say but what they do. The easy hint that people are not following what you say is maybe because you don’t follow it yourself.