Recently, the idealist in me has been feeling worried about the level of skepticism with which I have been approaching different people and situations. I love how Mumbai offers the opportunity for roadside shopping, but it worries me that it means that vendors will begin the bargain with a much higher rate than they actually expect (and therefore how much your purchase is actually worth), and that what you eventually pay depends on your bargaining skills.
Visiting a service provider means being targeted with offers and supposed benefits by sales people, to the point that it leads to that awkward moment when you mentally make a note never to come back again in spite of the fact that you otherwise quite like what they have to offer. You knew the service that you wanted, you trusted them not to oversell. What worries me more is when in the organization one sees an open flouting of values and very little action is taken. It speaks volumes about the value of integrity in our world today (spoken like the true skeptic that I warned you about in the first sentence!)
It led me to think about how much we ignore the effect of a lack of integrity on the reputation of us as individuals and of organizations at large. Before I go into how we can manage for integrity, I will begin with a very basic level of advocating the need for it.
As a consumer of the product your organization delivers, whether I buy it or not depends on how much I trust you. For me to even begin to think about (or hear about) your organization and its product, I will rely on your reputation. And if it smells even slightly of a lack of integrity, our association is likely to be marred by it.
The only two scenarios when I might not adhere by this is when not too much is at stake (at least not too much of my own) or when yours is the only organization that delivers that product I need. Therefore, if I have a choice and the time, and you have a reputation of a lack of integrity, I will do an about turn and head towards your competitor.
When it comes to managing for integrity, there are two ways of looking at it – compliance driven and culture driven. Compliances are a must and even convince your employees that the organization is fair and will protect them at all times(for example when it comes to compensation equity or addressing grievances). It ensures that legalities are followed both at the individual and organizational level. However, compliances need to be continuously revisited to ensure that they are exactly what your organization requires at that point in time.
The challenge sometimes is when it is culture driven. Here are a few starting steps that you might want to reflect on when you are working towards managing for integrity inherent to culture:
- Your leadership lives your core values: It is important to see that the leadership holds the organization’s core values in high regard. Modelling behaviour can be extremely crucial when it comes to ensuring that the culture inherently remains aligned to integrity. People in the organization are subconsciously looking up to the leadership team to define the company’s values and what the ideal form of behaviour should be. This makes it more likely that a slight deviation will have a massive impact.
- A culture of transparency, ownership and accountability: While these may seem like disparate values, they are actually quite interlinked. When individuals walk into an organization that encourages and exhibits transparency at every possible corner, it becomes an inherent value that supports people taking ownership of what they know that they are responsible for, teams being more accountable for their responsibilities and ecosystems of support, and people feeling far more satisfaction because, if nothing else, they know that any unfairness will be evident. Thereafter, the compliances that the organization has in place will ensure that people feel a sense of parity.
- Communicating clear consequences for lack of integrity: This is a tough one. Sometimes ensuring that people in the organization know that a lack of integrity is actually being met with clear consequences is difficult, especially because such cases are confidential and sensitive. However, giving big picture data without giving out details of how a lack of integrity is being dealt with/reduced might be a good place to begin at.
Like I have mentioned above, these are only the first few steps towards managing for integrity through creating that kind of culture. Given that creating and maintaining culture is an extremely complex aspect of organizational development and people management, the need to stay true to the culture that we want in the long term is even more. It is a time consuming process, and patience is the key to achieving the turn-around.