Jeannette Seibly
Profiles International
Waco, TX

Integrity and ethics provide the legal, financial, environmental, safety, customer relations and human resources fabric of a business. These values naturally and profoundly impact the future of the enterprise and its employees, not just their current situation.

Most companies claim their “number one” asset is their people, yet spend more time and effort in buying copiers, printers or laptops than on selecting, managing and developing people! It is a common and unfortunate ethical disconnect with their stated mission and values.

Your employees, and the manner in which they are treated, are clear reflections of your company’s ethics and integrity. “Walking the talk” includes your hiring, selection and leadership development practices and how you value your employees.

Personal integrity focuses on individual values and is reflected in the way each person handles his/her own life. In a healthy business environment, professional integrity must also be considered. This requires deeper and broader examination, since decisions and actions impact a wide range of others (employees, stockholders, investors, customers, suppliers and vendors). In the past decade, the public has seen the disastrous effects of questionable professional ethics. Consider the costs of integrity deficits: “It won’t matter as long as no one finds out.” “The numbers can be made to reflect what I’m saying.” “We can cover the losses before they become public.” Ongoing court cases remind us how deeply such ethical lapses can get leaders, and employees, into life-destroying trouble.

Ethics and integrity are a two edged sword; positive values pay off. Recently, an association awarded a business owner “Leader of the Year.” Subsequently, they discovered he didn’t qualify. (The business owner let them know, after finding out his employees had submitted the data.) The dilemma, since it had already been made public: “What do we do?” They acknowledged the business owner for his honesty (his business increased), and then awarded the correct person her award. Their members use this as an example of how to handle mistakes with integrity and honesty.

When employers hire people, they also hire the person’s personal values. Merging corporate culture into personal ethics can be complicated if the two don’t match. Assessing prospective employees for integrity and ethics should be an important step in selection. Appropriate assessments can help clarify, for both your business and the candidate, how well he or she will fit within your company – and how happy each of you will be with the match.

As a business leader, you have inherent responsibility as a role model. You set the tone and image of your business by action and attitude – by your ability to “walk the talk” authentically and naturally.

One easy and elementary example of behaving with integrity is being on time for meetings. If you are continually late, others will believe these meetings are of little importance, no matter what you say to the contrary. (Think, you’re not “walking the talk.”) Another example is failing to return phone calls after you’ve left a message on your voice mail indicating you return all calls within 48 hours. Do these seem unimportant? Remember, exceptions and inconsistencies loom large to those around you. When employees and customers are at odds with a company’s ethical standards and policies, we see it as a direct reflection on management.

Ethical leaders take the pulse of how others see them; are they competent in communications, problem solving, planning, implementation and human relations? Are they perceived as fair, ethical and honest? Multi-rater assessments, executive coaching and valid assessments of strengths and weaknesses help ensure these pulse-takings are grounded in reality. Ethical organizations take time to communicate and reinforce their corporate values consistently and clearly. Ethics and integrity are incorporated into daily activities and are the basis for dealings with others. Ethical leaders steer a course above reproach, even if unpopular. They do what they say they will do, at the promised time. They work hard to select and hire people with personal integrity, which fits well with their business integrity.

The alternative can be costly. A candidate went through the interview process with a business; after the interview, she was promised a contact regarding their decision within two weeks. Two weeks came and went; no phone call. Her own calls were not returned. The candidate subsequently went to work for one of their clients. A few months later, her new employer was selecting vendors for a highly desirable contract. Not surprisingly, the first business was not the selected supplier. When asked why they had been eliminated, her reasoning was clear: If your company cannot make a simple, promised phone call, how can you be expected to handle more difficult business issues ethically and with integrity?

Remember, highly ethical companies “walk the talk!”

John Borrowman