Any company can put words on paper and talk about what their values are. But if people aren’t living business integrity in everything they do, it won’t matter what you say.
“If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.” – Former Senator Alan K. Simpson
Integrity is important for businesses and individuals alike. You can think of ethics as the twin of integrity: Business ethics are the code of morals adopted by an organization, representing the values the company runs on. Every stakeholder who interacts with the organization — including clients, customers, suppliers, employees and shareholders — will be affected by these morals. That’s why it’s so important for a business to have clear ethical standards.
Of course, having the standards in place is only part of the story — the easy part. Any company can put words on paper and talk about what their values are. In fact, nearly every company does. But as the headlines continually remind us, the ethical failures and breaches of trust still happen. Creating and communicating a code of values and ethics is important, but if people aren’t living by those standards in everything they do, it won’t matter what you say. Customers and the public will ultimately judge the company by what it does.
Where does the disconnect happen? Most of the time, the breakdown starts somewhere at the top. If an organization says these are our values, ethics and behavioral expectations, but leadership, key executives and middle managers don’t live by them, it’s going to be pretty tough to get anyone else to, at least in any kind of consistent way. Employees will see that the company doesn’t really stand behind those values or care about delivering the value it claims to provide. As a result, the employees won’t care about it, either.
And employees aren’t the only ones who’ll notice.
As Integrity Solutions Executive Partner Larry Roberts points out, “Customers will determine whether they receive value from you and determine whether they are valued by you…and every touchpoint you have with these individuals will determine whether they receive value or feel valued.”
That means every person who interacts with or in some way impacts a customer must be providing value and making them feel valued. Those two forms of value are experienced one-on-one with every individual who’s part of the customer value chain. Crucially, this is where a business’s integrity shows up. It’s reflected in the reliability and trustworthiness that a business demonstrates in every single interaction and transaction. When both ethics and integrity are present in a company, everyone can count on the words being backed up with corresponding actions and behaviors. When they’re not, the result is confusion, disappointment, disgust and dysfunction, both inside and outside the organization.
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Here are seven great principles of business integrity for companies, their leaders and employees at all levels. Charles Evans Hughes said, “A man has to live with himself, and he should see to it that he always has good company.” The same is true of businesses.
- Trust. Customers and clients want to do business with a company that is trustworthy. When trust is at the core of a company, it is easy to recognize. People know they can rely on the character, ability and value provided, and they feel valued in every interaction.
- Quality. A dedication to high quality standards across the board shows that the company is committed to standing behind what it does and delivering the value it promises. Companies that regularly put out shoddy work or provide inconsistent service are telling customers and would-be customers that they really don’t care about them.
- Follow-through. Trust is built on follow-through, on meeting your obligations and commitments as promised. Follow-through also means being transparent about potential problems that might affect the timing or the end-result. It may not be the best outcome, but you can salvage the relationship by being upfront and honest.
- Corporate Citizenship. As Deloitte noted, “Stakeholders today are taking an intense look at organizations’ impact on society, and their expectations for good corporate citizenship are rising.” It’s not just customers who care. Employees are increasing looking to work for companies that contribute positively to society. There’s even evidence of a direct correlation between CSR index ranking and profitability.
- Value Creation. Businesses are designed to create value, but in ethical companies, people view value creation in multiple ways — the company’s profitability is just one of those lenses. They also feel obligated to create value for customers and “do right” by them. As such, it becomes a mutual exchange of value, one that builds strong bonds of loyalty.
- Willingness to Change. Companies only change if there is a willingness to change and, specifically, a willingness to keep getting better. This starts with leaders who are willing to change and listen to other opinions. Getting feedback from team members and employees is the best way to understand different perspectives and improve the company for the future.
- Respect. Last but not least is respect. Regardless of titles, ages, gender, race, positions or any other differences, everyone should be treated with respect. This goes for employees as well as the public at large.
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