How often do you bring up this subject to your business partners, peers and staff?
Unless you’re bucking the norm, I’d guess not much. That’s because we, in the business world, have a herd mentality. And no one is talking about integrity.
No, sadly, it’s not customary to take a step back. To really sit and think about what we’re doing, and whether it’s right or wrong.
The customary excuse is, “It’s business.” We wash our hands of anything that we, in our heart of hearts, know to be wrong. The stuff that, when we are in bed at night alone with our thoughts, keeps us tossing and turning until the morning light.
At the end of the day, however, integrity is what defines us. It’s what people will remember about us, long after we’re gone.
No one remembers your money or your house or your business. They remember your deeds – how you have acted and what you have done unto others.
So how then, do we define integrity?
More than a value statement
Let me guess: At some point, your organization created a value statement. Maybe it was during an executive retreat, and it was a little add-on when you also created your mission and vision statement.
The value statement was filled with all kinds of platitudes. Naturally, you threw “integrity” into the mix.
“We will operate with utmost integrity.”
“Our employees will conduct themselves with integrity.”
Then that value statement gets hung on the wall and never looked at again.
Look, I’m not slamming value statements. I just think they’re the first step, and no one knows how to get to the next step: Defining what integrity is to your company. To your family. To yourself.
Brenda Barnes notes that a reason why integrity is so different is that “everyone defines it differently.”
That’s true. And it’s nearly impossible to define, because it’s like “quality.” You know it when you see it, but it’s something that is hard to qualify and quantify.
I think it can be done. I think it must be done. I have a few suggestions on how to make it happen.
Quantitative and qualitative measurements of integrity
Every time my company assesses a business operation, we take a two-pronged approach.
First, we consider the quantitative performance by looking at the company’s financials – profit and loss, budget vs. actuals, statements of cash flows – all the telltale signs of the health of the patient.
Next, we look at the qualitative nature of the organization. What is the culture like? Is the staff happy? How do they resolve conflict? How do they treat their people when times get tough? Measuring the qualitative is tough, but surveys and other research tools can help.
What’s important is that both methodologies help you get things documented. In the end, you have a paper trail of a company’s performance, and it’s something you can use to assess its present and future value.
Why not apply the same approach to integrity?
You can use the same methodology to evaluate integrity in your actions.
When you’re faced with a difficult decision, why not assess the quantitative effects of choosing Option A. Do you value short-term cash over long-term viability of a company? Get it in writing.
And how do you handle qualitative decisions? Is an environment that breeds conflict and resentment something you feel good about? Get it in writing.
You see, by documenting your thoughts on what is and what is not integrity, you’re making a commitment. You’re formalizing a plan. According to a study by CoSchedule, a business that writes down a marketing plan is 5.38 times more likely to be successful than one that does not.
You’re writing down a plan for being successful and doing the right thing – always!
Once that’s done, you need to take the second step. And it’s one that’s just as critical.
Don’t rationalize your way out
Brenda Barnes notes the second difficult thing about integrity is the innate human ability to rationalize behavior.
I see this all the time, especially on the transaction side of mergers and acquisitions. I see big companies on Wall Street taking advantage of little companies on Main Street. It’s eat or be eaten, right?
That’s fine, when competition is fair and the market decides the fate. But what happens when integrity is cast aside? Is it right to only celebrate the mergers that win, without scrutinizing the human destruction they left in their wake?
There’s a phenomenon that occurs in a crowded public scene. If someone is in distress, or being victimized by a crime, people will often ignore the incident. They’ll wait for someone else to jump in and save the day.
As I enter the twilight of my career in this industry, I am realigning my business to ensure I am not one of those who ignores cries for help. I am working hard, every day, to come to the aid of those in this industry who suffer from our collective lack of integrity.
There is hope
Am I sounding off like one of those old-timers who recall the good old days?
Maybe. Because I do remember the good old days. I remember when a handshake meant something. When common sense and morality guided us, not lawsuits and legal proceedings.
Those days are not gone, however.
I take heart in the fact that some of my young millennial clients are showing the inherent nature of any generation: They are rebelling against the shortcomings of those before them.
I am seeing these young entrepreneurs eager to learn, even more eager to do good. Success is paramount, sure, but not at any cost.
Their minds are open to the concept of integrity. Every day, our world becomes theirs, and I’m happy to watch them take ownership and conduct themselves honorably.
Our children are showing us the value of integrity. Let’s follow their lead.
End of story. Or should I say, the beginning?
Rock LaManna, President and CEO of LaManna Alliance, helps printing owners and CEOs use their company financials to prioritize and choose the proper strategic path. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.