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How to (Really) Install and Activate Integrity at Your Company

how to build a company that values and practices integrity

The era when people praise a company for its quality product is long gone. More and more, customers do not buy your product or service just because, for example, yours is cheaper than the competitor's, faster, or got a better design, etc. A huge portion of nowadays customers would like to 'choose' to buy your product or service because they agree with your philosophy, culture, or influence you bring out to the world. They might have been a customer before, but today they want to become a fan.

Apple is a great example. You've probably met someone who only purchases Apple products. IPhone's camera may not be as good as the Galaxy of Samsung's; nonetheless, they would, without hesitation, choose iPhones because they trust and admire the brand.

Integrity is one of the must-have ingredients to possess for any company that wants to increase its branding power. When your action lines up with your speech, you gain people's trust, both from inside and outside. Your employees will stay loyal more than ever and you will attract top-notch talents with ease.

In fact, many companies acknowledge this. They include 'integrity' in their philosophy statement to utilize the profound, sustaining benefits of it. Unfortunately, too many companies treat their ethical code as a mere legal box to check. Employees are asked to check a box to confirm that they’ve read the material and that might be all that is for the company to boldly claim "We advocate integrity." You can try sweeping the matter under the rug and keeping it there for a while. When a crisis happens, however, which is most likely inevitable to every business no matter what industry you are in, it will haunt you with a hefty price.

We are a professional commercial property restoration and emergency management company. One of the things we have learned for the last 60+ years of operation is that establishing, mobilizing, and advocating integrity is absolutely the best investment you can make. Although it is not a cheap investment, we can confidently confirm that in the end, you will be pleased that you've made that choice before.

Over the years we have developed several practices to encourage people to be proactive and stay ahead of the ethical revolution.

It Starts from the Top

For any company that wants to advocate integrity, it is (almost always) the leadership that actually moves the needle. If you are in a managerial role and above, your attitude, behaviour, and decisions set the company’s ethical tone. The higher your position is, the more powerful your influence will be. You always have viewers. Your action speaks louder than your words. If you cut corners for immediate monetary gain or allow top performers to break the ethics code, your employees take it as "the way to act."

There is nothing wrong with setting up ambitious goals. Leaders who vividly vision a brighter future and consistently motivate their employees to join the new revolutionary movement often achieve a great deal. When it comes to 'how to deliver the desired result', however, leaders must be particularly careful not to give implicit permission for bad, even illegal behaviour.

In 2020, six eBay employees were criminally charged after allegedly engaging in an aggressive cyberstalking campaign against publishers of an e-commerce newsletter, critiquing the company. They sent the critics live cockroaches and spiders, pornography, a bloody pigface mask, a preserved pig fetus, and a funeral wreath. They also attempted to secretly install a tracking device on their car. Why? Because an eBay executive ordered the team to crush the critics through "Whatever. It. Takes.". It stands to reason that eBay will suffer the ruined reputation, at least for a while.

How Often Do You Talk About It?

It does not matter how many times the word 'integrity' appears on your company's website. If it does not get talked about often, it is as good as non-existent. Many companies ask newly hired employees to watch a third-party online ethics training course then assume integrity will naturally occur. It will not, unless leaders talk about it openly, frequently, and explicitly. Let every member of the team know the significance of it and it must be applied to everyone, no matter one's ranking.

Openly talking about integrity includes creating a simple, convenient reporting system to report violations. We have heard several cases where hard-earned top-level talents decided to leave their companies because they were not comfortable with unethical behaviours tolerated within the team and the reporting system was either non-existent, untrustworthy, complicated to reach, or ineffective. Once an issue gets reported, how the investigation process works also needs to be transparent to anyone who is curious about it. If not, suspicion and distrust will soon fill the room.

Repeat after Repeat

By nature, we humans are forgetful. Take 'Rule 7': People need to see a message at least seven times before it really sinks in. Don't expect that people all of sudden will act differently after your once-a-year email or seminar. To get your point across, repetition is key.

Don't be afraid to use your creativity to deliver the message. Rather than watching a boring outsourced video, throw fun, creative approaches to cover the issue. For example, you can come up with scenarios for plays in which leaders get to participate in. Be specific and practical as much as possible. Include situations both light and heavy such as a manager embezzling money, a team planning a 'Let's get drunk' party, a boss propositioning his/her junior, and an employee stealing coffee bags and stationery products to make money out of them. You can also include 'real cases' from the above point to demonstrate what should be done in a particular situation.

The key here is to create an environment in which employees get to experience the significance of integrity and actively participate in the movement repetition. Engrave integrity in every heart of your teammates. When your employees are constantly inspired and on the same page with confidence, your company will powerfully resonate with today's values-minded customers.

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