Integrity as a Competitive Advantage
Actually, I do. But it seems like a long time since leaders displaying integrity was the rule rather than the exception.
Instead of working together to effectively govern the country, Republicans, Democrats, AND others pander to the extremists in their parties. At the state and local levels, our elected officials seem more concerned about getting re-elected than doing the right thing for their constituents.
On the business side, the scandals continue. The more we learn about Wells Fargo and their culture of shady, often illegal, activities, the more we cringe. As the Equifax data breach unfolds, we are left wondering if they are more concerned with covering their rear ends than doing the right thing. Considering the sensitivity of the data they’re supposed to protect, the amount of time between discovering the security breach and making it known was appalling. And three senior executives are now under investigation for selling nearly $2 million in shares after the breach was discovered but before it was announced.
Compare that with the response from McNeil Consumer Products, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, during the tainted Tylenol crisis. The company joined with national media to issue mass warnings about the potential danger. They launched an immediate recall of all bottles of Tylenol – more than 31 million – on the shelves of stores and pharmacies. They also offered replacement capsules to those who turned in pills already purchased, and a reward for information leading to the capture of the perpetrator(s).
Between Wells Fargo, Equifax and McNeil/Johnson & Johnson, which behaviors lead us to trust?
Seven Steps to Building Trust
Integrity encompasses a wide variety of behaviors, but it all starts with trust. In business, trust is the belief that management’s actions, words and deeds will benefit all stakeholders, not just those who run the company. For trust to exist, customers, employees, suppliers and stockholders must believe that you will act in their best interests as well as your own.
How do you build or, if necessary, restore trust?
- Have a clear and compelling mission. Get clear on and share with others why your company exists and the difference you make in the world. It doesn’t have to involve curing cancer or eliminating world hunger to be compelling. Making a positive difference involves a lot of little things every day.
- Model your company’s values. Too often, organizational values are nothing more than words on a plaque hanging on the wall. Live your values – even when it’s hard to do. Incorporate them into everything you do – hiring, serving customers, managing, communicating, promoting, terminating… Measure how well you live them to maintain focus and alignment.
- Treat people with respect. This involves more than just being polite. Respect means aligning your words with your actions, following through on your commitments, and doing what you say you’re going to do. It means thinking about impact on others constantly. It means adapting, at times, to the needs of others versus exclusively relying on your style.
- Provide truthful feedback. Let employees know what you expect from them and where they stand in terms of performance, even when it’s negative. Telling the truth goes a long way toward building trust.
- Be open to feedback. Create an environment where people are encouraged to express their opinions, including criticism. Then listen when they do. If managers and employees don’t know how to give constructive criticism, provide training. For example, teach them how to focus on issues rather than people or personalities when giving feedback.
- Keep employees up to date about the decisions being made and why, especially those that directly affect how they do their jobs. Keep customers and vendors informed of changes that could affect your relationship with them. It is near impossible to over communicate.
- Develop a culture of accountability. Nothing erodes trust more than tolerating employees who continually violate company values and/or consistently underperform against expectations. It will also drive away your best performers. Note and track agreements on actions. Follow up. Make sure there are consequences when promises are not kept.
Above all, keep the information flowing. In today’s social-media world, secrecy breeds suspicion. When you withhold information, people think you’re hiding something. In the absence of information, they will fill in the gaps with their own interpretation of reality, usually based on untested attitudes and beliefs rather than concrete data. (We call it MSU – people make stuff up – and it is almost more negative than the truth!).
Keep in mind that you can’t demand trust; it has to be earned. This comes from every day behaviors. And once broken, trust takes a long time to get back. So be open, honest, transparent, and take full responsibility for your actions. That way, when people think of integrity, they will think of you and your business.
There are plenty of leaders out there doing the right thing; they just don’t seem to make the headlines as often as their less principled counterparts. To end on a positive note, here’s a nice article from Fast Company that shines the spotlight on seven leaders who did the right thing – even when it wasn’t easy.