Integrity Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be


Courtney Sander 2015By Courtney Sander

Integrity is all the rage in the E&C community.  It’s a buzzword in our profession and in the general public.  But is integrity all it’s cracked up to be?  Nope.  Integrity simply means that you’re “living up to one’s highest [self-imposed] standards.”  The quality of and adherence to your organization’s values contribute to the reputation of your organization.

When I first began thinking about integrity as a quality or state of being instead of an always-commendable value in and of itself, my entire perspective on business ethics best practices was turned upside-down. What do you mean integrity isn’t always a great thing?!  What do mean integrity is not a value?!

Sure, integrity can be something quite admirable, but it can be something unfavorable, too.  Integrity is “soundness of moral character”, but who’s judging?  Morals vary from culture to culture.  If a person believes that stealing clothing from a retailer is morally acceptable and he always steals, he is a person of integrity.  If that person decides to pay the retailer for the clothes, he himself is no longer a person of integrity.  However, because he has paid for the clothes, he’s now acting in such a way many people believe is right and moral.

Remember, integrity is not a value, but it can be valued.  Integrity is not interchangeable with “honesty” and “fairness”.  Integrity can be something you ask of your employees.  You do want your employees to have integrity when they represent your organization, and consistently demonstrate your organization’s values.

Your organization must demonstrate its values through its code, leadership, and everyday dealings.  Maintain a sense of organizational awareness and keep up with what your stakeholders value most so that you can aim for integrity.  When your employees act with integrity based on your organization’s values, they build value for your organization.

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  1. I think the beliefs you wrote about are what has brought ethics to the forefront as exhibited by so many discussions. You say that a criminal who does the right thing is no longer showing integrity? “If that person decides to pay the retailer for the clothes, he himself is no longer a person of integrity.” Likewise, by your standards a mass murder has integrity until they decide to not to kill 1 person, then they are no longer showing integrity.
    There’s too much confusion, which is the sad state of our society, regarding what is right and what is wrong. This type of confusion leads to the Enrons that we see on an all too frequent basis. There is way too much justification of bad behavior by claiming “my truth”. You are correct in that different societies have different beliefs in what they deem right and wrong, however the best example(s) are still effective after 3,500 years. There is a black and white to certain behaviors being right and wrong and often “judgement” isn’t required, just some common sense. An excellent place to start is by going back 3.5 millenia to the Ten Commandments.

  2. Integrity is NOT rocket science. Mr Parks is correct–right is right and wrong is wrong. Regardless of culture. Integrity is a matter of human and organizational character. Anything less is wrong, unethical, criminal or all of the above

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