Trickle Down Integrity

We’ve all heard the quote: “These are the times that try men’s souls”. While that may be appropriate these days, I believe it might be better put:

These Are The Times That Try Men’s Integrity”

All you need do is listen to the news, or read the newspaper, and it becomes obvious that honesty and integrity are in jeopardy. The issue is less about the criminals and the Madoff’s of the world and more about our leaders in government and business. It doesn’t matter if you are a City Council member, or the owner of the smallest business. The “Oops Factor” is becoming a standard operating function. There seems to be a growing mentality that you (that’s a generic “you”) can do whatever is most expedient, and if you get caught doing the wrong thing…..Oops I Goofed … is going to solve the problem. Well, that might work once. Unfortunately, I see the “Oops Factor” being employed repeatedly across the business, governmental and personal landscape. Avoiding the political, “Cash 4 Clunkers” is the perfect example. First, we put in One Billion. Then, “Oops, we goofed”, and we need another Two Billion. That might be the Grand Daddy of “Oops”.

Each of us has an “Integrity Meter” and while you can view yours, others can often see it more clearly. Every time that “Oops” factor is used, the needle on your Integrity Meter moves a bit lower. Your meter is monitored, whether you like it or not. So, who’s doing the monitoring? The list is endless. The short list would include your customers (or constituents), your employees (or subordinates) and YOUR family. You might also include your neighbors, your friends and your vendors. All of these people have a vested interest inyou, to greater and lesser degrees. They expect, and often assume, you will behave with the highest level of integrity.

Earlier this week I received a check from a client. The client had over paid the amount due. I immediately wrote and mailed a check to this client for the over-payment. It was a small amount and, had I let it go, the client would likely have never noticed. But, if they did notice, I could easily have employed the “Oops Factor”. I’m not patting myself on the back for this. I’m sure most would do the same thing. However, this illustrates the ease with which we can drive the needle up or down on our Integrity Meter.

If you deal with a vendor in an unethical fashion, or use deceptive tactics in negotiations, a vendor can simply elect to no longer do business with you. Obviously, the same applies to your customers/clients/voters. Lowering your Integrity Meter will eventually lower your bank account, or stock value, or your vote count. Others are also impacted in different ways. If your employees observe you treating a vendor, or client, in an unethical fashion, you just sent them notice that it’s OK. Not only is it OK to treat others unethically, but it’s OK to treat YOU unethically. This might manifest itself in a falsified time card, misplaced (Oops Factor) petty cash or worse, embezzlement. If your children overhear a conversation that they know to be misrepresenting the truth, how far a reach is that to cheating on a test at school. Like it or Not—-Everyone is watching. If you don’t believe that—look on YouTube.

A colleague once told me “Never put anything in an email, or in writing, you wouldn’t want read in open court”. The point was, relationships change. The co-worker, employee, or spouse, that we are communicating with, and assuming a high degree of confidentiality, can turn on a dime. When that relationship changes, so do the rules. Anything you’ve said, or done, can now be exposed. However, if we treat the people we associate with in business and those people closest to us, with the integrity “they” deserve, we don’t have to worry about what we said, or wrote. (Think – Nixon White House Tapes)

We will make it through these trying times. Don’t let your “Integrity Meter” be a casualty.

(This post is brought to you by Bill Gelderman)