The measurement of integrity

The Sunday Times Appointments Section today featured a fascinating article by Adrian Furnham of University College London, entitled ‘The managers who leave their integrity at the door‘. This article expands on the comments I made in the recent blogpost ‘The value of values’. We are all likely to know or have heard of the type of manager referred to in this article and certainly in my 20+ years in business I have had the displeasure to work with one or two. Luckily, however, this has been infrequent and I have generally been very lucky to work with some very professional people where ethics and integrity were high on their personal agenda and contributed to their success.

Furnham questions how you identify managers with little integrity and how companies can go about assessing the integrity of their teams…a tricky one, as he says, as if you question a manager who operates without integrity, he is unlikely to tell the truth!

Only through confidential interviews or questionnaires with peers or subordinates who have actually had time to get to know the practices of their colleague, will information emerge that clarifies their position on integrity.

Furnham suggests considering a series of statements in relation to your boss or colleague:

  • They are always trusted by people in the work group;
  • They always maintain high personal standards;
  • They always tell the truth;
  • They always put the organisation’s interests above their own;
  • There is always consistency between what they say and what they do.

If you believe that any of these statements are untrue, it is worthy of a closer review. It is not sufficient to talk about integrity in the values of the business. But what should a company do to assess the values of their key team members?

It is here that 360 degree appraisals are of value, not as a one-off solution but on an annual basis. If the right questions are asked, such as questions on the points listed above, it should be easy to find individual issues and points where a consensus is reached on an individual’s behaviours by a team. All results should be shared with the level above the manager of the person being assessed…ie the level beyond those covered in the 360 degree review.

As Furnham says, ‘Integrity has to be modelled from the top. Integrity issues need to be discussed, not pushed under the carpet. And everyone should know that integrity will be assessed annually, and the organisation has zero tolerance of unethical behaviour.’

The value of values

Company values…just how valuable are they?

Many businesses set out to create a collection of values. This may be done in a variety of ways, including:

  • Engagement with staff to identify the values present in the business and any elements that require additional work
  • A set of values discussed at a high level and imposed by the senior management
  • Consultants or senior team members working collaboratively with staff at all levels in the business to create and communicate a set of values that they want to see embedded in the way staff behave

Ultimately there are a number of challenges with any of these methods and, in fact, with the whole process of implementing a set of values within an organisation. Without full staff engagement in the process, it is incredibly difficult to gain their buy-in and ultimate delivey on an ongoing basis.

Values will never be adopted or respected if the Directors and senior team are not seen to be living and breathing the values themselves. In fact, if the senior team are acting in a manner which is viewed as contrary to the values, it can be hugely damaging to the culture and behaviours within the business.

An example of this may be the inclusion of values around investment in staff. If the management then remove investment in training as a result of financial pressures, it will immediately be perceived by staff as being contrary to the values and therefore implying that the values are disingenuous hype.

Equally, if integrity features as a value of the business, there is a clear association with honesty. This means that staff will expect managers to be honest about the financial state of the business, projects and plans. Potentially unfair or unethical treatment of staff will rightly receive much greater criticism, and cynicism will actually start to damage the level of engagement staff feel, ultimately delivering the opposite output to that desired.

So, if you are considering launching a set of values, think carefully about them, what they are and how they are communicated and built into the DNA of your business.

  • Consider any impact that future financial constraints may have on delivery against the values before launching them to the staff.
  • Ensure that people can be measured against them and build these measures into performance reviews, recruitment processes and inductions.
  • Never launch values because you think it will help the business be perceived in higher regard by staff…only 100% delivery on an ongoing basis will achieve this. 

Values must be developed collaboratively and introduced by engaging with the staff. Everyone must live the values all the time – in everything you do, whether in teams or alone.

And most importantly, if the values are to really add value to the organisation as opposed to damage it in the extreme, this has to start from the top.