You’ve heard it said that integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching. What about when everyone is watching? At CEEK, we believe the foundation of integrity begins in plain sight. In a nutshell, it is when you and your organization “walk the walk and talk the talk.” Organizational integrity can thrive when leaders consistently speak and demonstrate positive ethical values in their actions, decisions, messages, and reward systems.
In preparation for this month’s wellness challenge, we connected with Dr. Guido Palazzo, Professor of Business Ethics at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. Dr. Palazzo has studied organizations such as Enron, Boeing, and several other organizations in the aftermath of significant ethical lapses that damaged the reputation and financial stability of the organization.
Dr. Palazzo conveyed that ethical problems of the nature experienced at Enron and Boeing always begin with small transgressions. When leaders tolerate small transgressions, it affects the stories that are told. Employees rationalize behaviors that are counter to professed values. Coupled with unreasonable or unchanging performance expectations during periods of disruption (e.g. market downturn) or high stress (e.g. global pandemic), little transgressions become big transgressions. Seemingly well-intended employees take short cuts because of a tolerated pattern of behaviors and narrow focus, or something Dr. Palazzo refers to as ethical blindness. And organizations often promote individuals to leadership roles based solely upon business results without regard for how they are attained. Once again, such decisions shape the stories that are told by employees within the organization.
Dr. Palazzo’s insights reaffirmed the founding principles of CEEK. We help organizations pursue and promote “pre-crisis integrity” via Intentional Culture Plans that serve as the foundation for organizational integrity. Consistent with our approach and supported by Dr. Palazzo’s research, we challenge you this month to take the following actions to prioritize and promote organizational integrity in the months, years, and decades ahead. Though he is a nice guy to get to know, taking these actions will ensure you don’t have to call Dr. Palazzo in the aftermath of an ethical crisis.
1. Identify and Challenge Small Transgressions.
This month, we challenge you to identify one or more currently tolerated behaviors that could lead the organization down a slippery slope. Perhaps an accountant rounds up (revenue) or down (expenses). Maybe, the organization tolerates the occasional “uncomfortable” joke. Identify such behaviors and challenge your team to hold each other accountable – without judgment or criticism. And if no one is willing to hold you accountable, acknowledge the occasional oversight to your team thereby setting the example.
2. Gather and Share the “Right” Stories
To combat any circulating stories that may validate questionable behaviors, initiate a repository of stories demonstrating ethical decisions that reinforce organizational values and desired behaviors. Encourage staff to identify and submit such stories. These stories should reflect situations where the potential existed for an unethical decision. Spread these stories throughout the organization. Celebrate such stories.
3. Adjust Expectations During Vulnerable Periods.
In the midst of the global pandemic and associated impact on the economy, has your organization adjusted sales or growth targets? During periods of significant stress, individuals and organizations are most vulnerable to ethical lapses. We challenge you this month to review the goals, objectives, and timeframes set for you and your team. Ask yourself if they are realistic and attainable. If not, engage your team to determine fair and reasonable adjustments.
4. Redefine Promotion Criteria
Many leaders and organizations tend to promote those within the organization who contribute most to the bottom line. Without clear criteria for integrity and the leadership values expected, such an approach will create the wrong story. “Spin the sale. Tell the customer what they want to hear. Close the deal!” This month we challenge you to review and update your criteria for promotion. Consider the Five Y’s of Leadership as a potential starting point.
Join us this month as we take these steps to promote pre-crisis integrity through a values-based culture that demonstrates integrity in all that you do. And if you desire a values-based culture that will differentiate your organization in service to your clients, colleagues, and community, contact us to learn how. “CEEK a Better Way®!”