Why Truly Successful, Ethical Companies Rarely Talk Much About Integrity

I was writing an upcoming Weekly Ethics Thought on integrity and found myself struggling to find examples of great, ethical companies who talk much about it (integrity). It seemed like an odd paradox to me until it occurred to me that so many of the organizations I admire don't really need to talk much about integrity – they're too busy modeling and reinforcing it their behavior both internally and with their customers and communities.

When one looks around, though, integrity is seemingly on everyone's lips these days as the 'it' business word of the moment. In those too-rare companies with values statements, integrity is usually trumpeted at the top of the list and integrity shows up more and more often in employee performance reviews. As it turns out, I think these are lousy and destructive trends. Here's why – it's not that I'm somehow 'anti-integrity' but, rather, that few people can actually tell you what they think it means.

Ask around and I'll bet you are likely to find the same thing I have which is that most people in business define integrity more or less in the "I-can't-really-define-it-but-I-know-it-when-I-see -it" style. That gives employees nothing of value to work with for the same reasons we are all admonished not to use phrases like "bad attitude" on performance reviews. If you can't give explicit behavioral examples of what you want and expect from employees, they have no basis on which to either modify or evaluate their behavior. 

It seems to me that unless you can give employees clear, specific, relevant, and meaningful examples of what you mean by integrity, it has no place in your corporate lexicon. Period.

Look at the leaders, managers, companies, and associations you admire. Do they really say all that much about integrity? My money says that, if they even use the word much at all, they probably spend waaaaaay more time talking explicity and persistently about what it actually means in real, live observable, 'do-able' terms.

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