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Values statements are helpful, but they’re not nearly enough. The “culture champions” — those organizations that make integrity a way of doing business — are the ones that stand apart from the rest.

The Value Of Integrity

How important is integrity in business? In its Culture 500 Index, MIT Sloan Management Review/Glassdoor includes integrity as one of the ‘Big 9’ values — those values that are most frequently cited and that “are linked to a variety of desirable outcomes like financial performance, innovation and employee engagement.”

And of those nine, “Some values matter more than others,” the researchers note. They single out integrity upfront as a critical factor for companies that made the list of the 21 Culture Champions in the index.

It’s a good bet that integrity is one of your organization’s values, too. Qualities like honesty and business integrity in some form are on nearly every corporate values statement. A whopping 57% of Fortune 500 companies have Integrity as one of their stated values or in their mission statement. It’s by far the most common word listed across the Fortune 500.

But having these core values in place doesn’t mean your employees know what they mean in a practical sense. And it doesn’t mean they are actually applying the values to their work every day. If it did, there would be a lot more Culture Champions on that list.

In fact, Gallup research shows that just 23% of U.S. employees strongly agree that they can apply their organization’s values to their work every day. This is a big deal. As Gallup points out, values-driven cultures are better prepared to navigate crises, because they keep people aligned behind a common purpose. Values and integrity are also important to your customers — and your bottom line.

So, what can you do to make sure business integrity is more than just words on a values statement in your lobby or break room? What can companies do to embed the behaviors, skills, beliefs and attitudes of business integrity into the culture of their company? First, we need to get clear on what we’re talking about.

What is Business Integrity?

Business integrity is about a code of morals adopted by an organization, representing the values and principles the company runs on. To truly have integrity is to consistently align your thoughts and daily choices with strong values to create the right behaviors in every interaction with colleagues and customers. Put another way, it’s about integrating your inner and outer — outwardly acting and behaving in a way that reflects your inner values and guiding principles. Integrity exists because of who we are, not just what we do.

In business, integrity is essential for establishing trust and mutual respect between leadership and employees, buyers and sellers, and between organizations. It’s also a powerful motivator. When people act with integrity, it elevates their sense of purpose and value. It energizes and inspires them. And it frees them up to focus on the needs of others.

This is critical, especially for those working in sales and service roles. Customers today are infinitely more knowledgeable than they used to be. They don’t have to come to you for product information, and they’re certainly not looking to be “sold to.” They’re looking for problem solvers, who will think in terms of what’s important to them and how to address their needs. When sales and service professionals are driven by integrity, their perspective on the customer relationship shifts. They think in terms of how to deliver the most value in the customer’s eyes, not just how to move more product.

On the flipside, when people’s actions aren’t aligned with their values, it can create negative situations or roadblocks that hinder success, productivity and profitability. These might play out in the form of:

  • Fear
  • Mistrust
  • Customer defection
  • Low employee morale, engagement and productivity
  • High employee turnover
  • Lack of respect for leaders
  • Lack of meaning in job roles

And that results in a lose-lose all around.

How to Put Business Integrity Into Practice

Clearly, companies have work to do when the vast majority of employees say they don’t feel they can apply their organization’s values to their work every day. Here are some strategies for building a values-driven culture where everyone acts in a way that reflects your commitment to business integrity:

Clearly define it:

  • Make sure you have clearly articulated your mission, vision and core values.
  • Clarify expectations and accountabilities to act on them.

Share and Celebrate Real Examples of It

  • Stand behind your product or service; empower customer service reps to offer replacements or refunds before being asked.
  • Follow-through on promises. This can also include a salesperson or customer service rep being proactively transparent about potential problems that might affect promised timing or an end-result.
  • Being overt and transparent- understanding the real needs of your customers (salespeople acting as problem solvers vs. product sellers).
  • Share corporate social responsibility and charities the organization supports with their time and money.
  • Share some of these real-life examples with customers through your website, in company newsletters, etc. to show they’re truly valued. And ask them for examples when they have experienced integrity in action!

Lead and Model it:

  • Leadership must live and practice the values, serving as role models for integrity through their actions, not just their words.
  • Leaders need to coach to values and hold people accountable to embodying the values as a key factor in their success.

Commit to developing it:

  • Implement training that helps people carry out the values as part of their daily responsibilities.
  • Training should focus on developing an inner passion to deliver on the company’s brand promise.
  • Emphasize continually and creatively searching for ways to understand the needs of your clients and provide them with more value.
  • Make sure everyone has the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to be highly confident and productive.

In an increasingly disruptive world, values statements are helpful, but they’re not enough. The “culture champions” — those organizations that make integrity a way of doing business — are the ones that stand apart from the rest. Focus on building a values-driven culture, grounded in business integrity and ethics. It’s the best way to keep your employees engaged and your customers loyal. It just might be your most important competitive advantage.

About the Author
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Mike Esterday

Partner and CEO

Mike Esterday first discovered his talent for sales when he ranked number one out of 6,000 sales professionals in his...
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