Inside one company cafeteria, a handwritten sign above the stack of Styrofoam cups warns hot tea drinkers: “Adding Lemon May Damage The Integrity of This Cup.” Sounds formal, doesn’t it? The sign could simply say that acidic lemon juice may eat a hole in the cup, leaving readers to infer that hot tea could leak and seriously scald them.
But the formal-sounding sign uses the word integrity the way that an engineer would define it: The state of being whole, lacking no component part. When applied to a business, corporation or global operation, that kind of integrity is essential.
Sometimes, the slow erosion of enterprise integrity can start in small ways as seemingly harmless as that squeeze of lemon into a Styrofoam cup. One leak can lead to others. And before the business leaders know it, the enterprise isn’t functioning properly anymore.
With so much on the line, executives feel compelled to diligently guard the integrity of their enterprises. Such firm intent toward preserving integrity in all aspects of its enterprise can be contagious among an organization’s leadership.
We encourage managers and executives to consider three levels of enterprise integrity:
1. Maintaining basic organizational hygiene. Sounds clinical, but this idea gets at the notion of diligence about basic care — the daily to-dos essential to the health of the enterprise. They include:
- Monitoring ethical behavior of leaders and employees alike in all dealings and interactions.
- Staying true to promises or pledges to fellow leaders, employees, business partners, and customers.
- Applying the standard of integrity to all written communications, standard operating procedures, promises for performance and results, and the like.
2. Aligning operations with the enterprise intent. In this aspect of integrity, systems and processes are consistent with and support the business vision, strategy, principles, and values. And they should actually work. Too many times, processes seemingly work on paper and look fine in black and white. But ask employees about work-arounds and pain points, and they’ll often confess that what’s written doesn’t match reality. Getting real about what works and what doesn’t and having honest conversations about processes and systems can preserve or improve enterprise integrity.
3. Watching conversations at the leadership level. Executives and managers can strive to keep their conversations — in the boardroom and in the break room — aligned with the enterprise values, principles, and vision. No game playing, finger pointing, or manipulation. Those tactics have a way of trickling down, and that’s how erosion can begin. It is “walk the talk” in its full meaning.
In fact, this third level of integrity serves as the primary platform that allows an organization to achieve Breakthrough Performance rather than operating under a status-quo mentality. We define breakthroughs as unprecedented outcomes that lead to new possibilities for future results. An organization that generates breakthroughs in a reliable and consistent manner is an organization that has integrity in the truest sense — complete in form and function, as well as completely incorruptible.
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