What is Integrity, Really?

Cathy's Tuesday TipA key component to workplace ethics and behavior is integrity, or being honest and doing the right thing at all times. People who demonstrate integrity draw others to them because they are trustworthy and dependable. They are principled and can be counted on to behave in honorable ways even when no one is watching. Stated simply, acting ethically and with integrity is “doing the right thing.” Hope you enjoy Cathy’s Tuesday Tip! – Cathy

What Is Integrity—Really? By Susan M. Heathfield

Integrity is one of the fundamental values that employers seek in the employees that they hire. It is the hallmark of a person who demonstrates sound moral and ethical principles at work.

A person who has integrity lives his or her values in relationships with co-workers, customers, and stakeholders. Honesty and trust are central to integrity. Acting with honor and truthfulness are also basic tenets in a person with integrity.

People who demonstrate integrity draw others to them because they are trustworthy and dependable. They are principled and can be counted on to behave in honorable ways even when no one is watching.

Integrity is another fundamental value that you recognize when you see it in the behavior of a co-worker. But, it’s hard to describe adequately to provide a picture that produces shared meaning. So, the following are examples of integrity as it plays out—or should—every day in the workplace.

  • The CEO of the company kept the employees up-to-date on the struggles the business was experiencing with clear and frequent communication at team meetings. Employees felt as if they knew exactly what was happening.They were not blindsided by the CEO’s request that they all take a 10% pay cut so that the company could avoid layoffs or furloughs for the time being. The employees also felt confident in the turnaround plan they were following as they had helped develop it and they trusted their CEO.
  • John was a developer who had taken a path, that was not working out, to optimize the process the code was supposed to create. Rather than patching together a solution that was not optimum, but that would allow him to save his work, he went to his team.He explained the dead ends he had run into and that he thought that they could create problems for the continual development of advanced features for the software product in the future.The team discussed and worked through the problem. John scrapped all of his code and started from scratch with the team’s input. His new solution gave the team the ability to expand the product’s capabilities easily in the future.
  • Barbara went to the women’s restroom and used up the last bit of toilet paper in her stall. Rather than leave the dispenser empty for the next employee, she tracked down the location of the toilet paper and replaced the empty roll. Sure, it took her five minutes, but she didn’t leave the next employee in a bind.
  • Ellen missed a deadline for an important deliverable her team was supposed to have developed. Rather than throwing her team members under the bus, even though they hadn’t delivered as promised, she took responsibility for the missed deadline.She addressed the problems with her team and they put in place safeguards that would keep them from underperforming again. Team members recognized their contribution to the failure but there were no repercussions because Ellen took responsibility as the team leader. (They also recognized that a repeat failure was not allowed.)
  • Two team members were discussing another team member’s failure to perform. They talked critically about the individual’s lack of skill and imagination. They criticized his follow through efforts and his production. Paul entered the room in the midst of the gossip and discussion, listened for a minute, and then, interrupted.Does George know that you feel this way, he asked? How will he ever improve if no one talks to him about his perceived failures? There may be reasons that we don’t know about. Reasons that we could help him overcome.Let’s plan to speak with George so that we can pull the team together to best get the project done. Who wants to approach George? Let’s have this conversation quickly so we don’t screw up the project.
  • Mary, the HR manager, was approached by an employee who wanted to formally complain that her boss, a senior manager, was bullying her. Mary immediately investigated the situation and discovered that indeed, the manager was acting in ways that could be considered bullying.Other employees had experienced the same behavior. Several employees had brought to his attention how his actions made them feel (Brave souls.) Mary asked the complaining employee how she wanted the situation handled. The employee asked Mary to mediate a conversation because she was afraid to talk to him on her own.Mary set up a meeting and was able to facilitate the conversation. She also warned the manager that he could not retaliate against the employee. I’d like to say that the manager stopped the behavior. But, he did not.Mary finally went to his boss, a Senior VP, who intervened—powerfully. Then, the behavior changed. This story is an example of employees doing the right things, having professional courage, and demonstrating personal and professional integrity at each step.
  • A customer asked Mark, a customer service rep, whether a software product would perform certain functions that she needed. These capabilities were the deciding factors in whether she would purchase the product. Mark thought that the software would perform the needed tasks and told her so.However, he also indicated that he was not positive, that he would talk with the other reps and the developers and get back to her that day with an answer. After talking with the others, he discovered that one capability was missing.He called the customer who decided to purchase the product anyway as she had been unable to find one that did a better job.

In big ways and small ways, in visible or invisible situations, employees have the opportunity to demonstrate their integrity—or lack of it—every day. If you’ve hired the right people, their integrity should shine forth.

Now that you have had a chance to consider stories of employees who were ethical and demonstrated integrity in the dealings with customers and coworkers, you’ll want to take a look at the opposite.

The number of acts that you may see in your workplace daily that indicate an employee’s lack of integrity are breathtakingly simple and complex—and noteworthy.

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