What’s more important, having integrity or being known for it? Clearly, they’re both important. And it’s pretty much impossible to achieve the latter without doing the work necessary to have the former. But I got to thinking about what it takes to be “recognized for integrity” while reading EY’s 15th Global Fraud Survey: Integrity in the Spotlight.
One of the most intriguing findings in this year’s report is the following statistic: An astounding ninety-seven percent of respondents said it is important to “…demonstrate that their organization operates with integrity,” (emphasis added). The report goes on to say that respondents believe organizations that act with integrity are held in higher esteem by customers and the public, which in turn leads to better business performance. While not surprising in general, it’s the specificity of this finding that intrigues me: demonstrating integrity is identified as an imperative. If this is the case, what’s the most authentic way to do it? While there are countless ways to approach this challenge, a few specific things are common among enlightened companies that seek to make ethical behavior part of their brand image.
Tone from the Top
When an organization is recognized for integrity, it really means that its employees are perceived as ethical and act accordingly. Therefore, brand integrity is actually an expression the organization’s culture. Culture, in turn, is determined and reinforced by senior leadership. So demonstrated integrity starts with the tone from the top. But it doesn’t end there. It takes attention and effort to make sure an ethical culture is recognized by those who encounter it – namely your customers and business partners. So what’s next?
8 Steps to an Effective Compliance Program: Step 7 - Culture
Make your code of conduct public; publish it on your website for all to see – employees and customers alike. This public declaration is key. It’s the difference between a promise to yourself and a commitment to others. The latter is much stronger, and this small act makes a (literal) statement about the organization’s belief in business ethics.
A note of caution here: if your code is not clear about expectations for business ethics and integrity, perhaps it’s time to refresh it before publishing.
Make your workplace culture one that is hostile to those who lack integrity. This means: 1) encouraging employees to speak up when they feel something is not right; 2) taking reports seriously by investigating them; and 3) taking corrective action when improper behavior is discovered.
Employees with high ethical standards – the ones you want to attract and keep – resent it when they see others get away with dishonesty, harassment or other offenses. Taking decisive action in these cases is an internal demonstration of integrity that will manifest itself externally. It establishes in no uncertain terms that the organization values integrity and does not tolerate those who act otherwise. This will come through in the way your best employees treat each other, customers and everyone else they do business with. In short, they’ll be demonstrating integrity.
Finally, among the many intriguing findings in the EY report behind this article, there was one other stat that jumped out for me. While respondents were nearly unanimous about the importance of integrity (97%), they were far less definitive about who in the company is primarily responsible for ensuring that employees behaved accordingly. Fewer than one in four believed that individuals are primarily responsible. More than half felt that ensuring integrity was up to senior management and/or the board of directors. This deserves closer examination for sure. But in the meantime, it reminds us that tone from the top is still critical.