Improved Performance With Steadfast Integrity

March 16th, 2009
Jim Thomas

Alabama entrepreneur, Press L. Thornton, started up a lumber business with one employee. Three years later he was doing 3 $million in sales. Asked the secret of success, he replied, “Integrity above all.”

Why ‘integrity’? Because those who rigorously insist upon it reap concrete benefits: competitiveness, profits, and influence. Their offshoots are loyal clients, a growing membership, and the confidence of customers, investors, vendors, regulators, community and society. By-products are the timeless, priceless intangibles of trustworthiness and sterling reputation.

Is it of greater gravity than ever? Monumental evidence declares an emphatic “Yes.” .
Look around. The news is replete with accounts of wrecked reputations and ruined careers, evidencing major integrity lapses. Commonplace are episodes that result in the firings of executives and employees. Reports abound of unbelievable sums expended
for legal fees and penalties. In conspicuous cases, the entire organization collapses.

The words ‘performance’ and ‘integrity’ warrant a closer look. Unmistakable is the meaning of strong performance. Its manifestations are consistent growth and development, equitable fees and higher profits—generated by superior services and products.

More difficult is a true definition of integrity. In practice, it is clear to all; in the abstract, it is vague, indefinite, and illusory. The word is invoked to describe everything from upright conduct, to the condition of Old Master paintings, to the boundary lines of states and nations. Ask for a definition; a dozen are forthcoming.

Professor Ben W. Heinemann makes a precise point. He writes in his important book on integrity-related performance, that it means:
A tenacious adherence to both the spirit and letter of formal rules and regulations;

Commitment to core values of honesty, candor, fairness, reliability and trustworthiness—values which infuse the creation and delivery of superior products and services, and which guide external and internal relationships.

Editors of The New York Times once responded to the question of what virtue is most important? They concluded integrity is the first great virtue and published the statement, “Without Integrity all other virtues turn to sand.”

How, then, is integrity combined with effective execution and strong performance? Dr Heinemann, and others, offer proven methods aimed at present day realities:

a. Immerse in all operations, systems, and processes the integrity ethic. This includes its true meaning, its fundamental motivations, and principles that govern its practice;

b. Emphasize through training and development a pervasive culture of integrity, one that deeply penetrates;

c. Promulgate, publish, and post a bold-letter integrity manifesto—visible to all, a reminder to everyone;

d. Issue a guide for staff and employees—in the form of pamphlet, book, on monograph—one that identifies integrity issues and circumstances for “open eyes.” For example:

Conflicts of interest
Improper payments
Ill-advised contributions and gifts
Payments to third parties
Excessive travel expenses
Solicitations of bribes and kickbacks
Regulations and contractual provisions allowing dual, even multiple interpretations.

The task is uneasy. It consumes precious time; it interrupts productive work. It demands leadership from all and stringent consideration—if steadfast integrity is to fuse with the missions of higher performance and greater competitiveness. The best authorities maintain that despite the strain and the cost this job is a fundamental obligation. As Dr. Heinemann puts it, “It is whether you win or lose. It is how you play the game.”

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