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THE PRINCIPLE OF INTEGRITY

Facing reality is difficult. Anaïs Nin famously wrote, “we don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are,” which underlines our propensity to view the world around us as we hope it to be. We struggle with reality because it asks us to own up – to be honest about our weaknesses, struggles, and doubts as much as our strengths, talents, and abilities. To face reality, as things truly are, requires us to be brave. This act of boldness is called integrity. Put another way: integrity is the courage to meet the demands of reality [1].

Integrity is as much a desirable trait for organisations as it is for individuals. Therefore, many businesses list integrity among their core values. They know that when organisations act with integrity, it attracts customers, builds reputations, and helps drive sustainable performance.

PRACTICES OF LEADERS WITH INTEGRITY

Leaders that want to entrench integrity into the culture of an organisation use the practices of accountability and feedback. When done the right way, accountability and feedback unlock the potential of an organisation. Yet, it is often misunderstood and applied in a one-dimensional way. Let me explain.

Many of us have a deeply held association between accountability and reprimand[2], which is a result of accountability done poorly. Some of us have a second connotation; that accountability is a periodic or annual event, often linked to performance reviews.

True accountability liberates everyone in the organisation, from CEO to frontline staff. It is a tool that helps people unlock their highest self [1]. It builds integrated character firstly for the individual, then the team, and ultimately the organisation. Accountability acts as an enabling tool that empowers businesses to deal with the ever-increasing volatile, complex, and ambiguous demands of the real world.

Conversely, low accountability levels are very damaging to team and organisational performance. Some of the symptoms include low team morale, unclear priorities across teams, poor employee engagement, low levels of innovation, poor team performance (not meeting goals), low levels of trust, and high staff turnover.

Accountability and feedback go together like macaroni and cheese. Executive coaches often advise their clients to get feedback, reminding them that “Feedback is your friend!”. Leaders that are not open to feedback are not accountable and are letting the opportunity to grow in the areas that matter most, pass by.

You may ask, “How should leaders keep people accountable?” Here are some of the critical building blocks for fostering a culture of accountability[3]:

  • Clear expectations – Being clear about what you expect and the outcomes you are looking for. Have a genuinely two-way conversation.
  • Clear capability – What are the skills a person needs to deliver what you expect? If the person does not have what is necessary, can they develop it? What is the plan for this? If no, delegate the work to someone else. Otherwise, you are setting them up for failure.
  • Clear measurement – During the expectations conversation agree on weekly milestones with clear, measurable, objective targets. If targets slip, jump in, re-think and re-plan.
  • Clear priorities – The work you expect the person to complete is now a new item on a list of priority tasks that need to be delivered. It may be necessary to coach them through a re-prioritisation process. The risk you want to help manage is that if everything is important, then nothing is.
  • Clear feedback – Honest, open, ongoing feedback is critical. It should be balanced and fact-based. Feedback on behaviour is as important as feedback on results.
  • Clear consequences – If you have been clear in all the above ways, you can be reasonably sure that you did what is necessary to support the person’s performance. At this point, you have three choices: repeat, reward, or release. Repeat if there is a lack of clarity. Reward people who succeed. Release those who are not exhibiting the values of the business and/or are not delivering according to expectations. The fact is that they are not a good fit for the job.

IMPACT OF INTEGRITY ON CULTURE

When leaders live out integrity by practicing accountability and feedback, clarity enters the workplace. It is a kind of clarity that elevates key employee engagement metrics:

  • “What is my role in helping the team achieve success?” (relevance);
  • “How are my performance and behaviour evaluated?” or “How will I know if I am performing well at work?” (measurement), and;
  • “I am valued as a person, my colleagues care!” (known and appreciated).

Teams that operate with clarity will almost always outperform more talented teams that are dysfunctional.

When accountability and feedback are woven into the cultural fabric of an organisation, it creates a highly valued work environment that impacts the quality of corporate governance and provides a foundation for solid long-term financial performance[4]. In short, it creates a great workplace.

These great workplaces are characterised by low employee turnover, high team morale, and increased outputs. As the culture of integrity spreads to relationships with customers, business partners, and suppliers, raised levels of trust speed up delivery of products and services. Individuals and teams grow in environments like this.

Businesses that embrace a culture of integrity are leaders in their industries, outperform competitors, and deliver sustainable long-term financial performance. As Dugger writes, “They are good businesses to work for, to work with and to own.”.

The bottom line is that when leaders hold their people accountable, they invest in them: their personal and professional growth, their character, their relationships, their strengths, and their personal challenges. When leaders hold their people accountable, they serve them. This is what servant leaders strive to do.

Author and Contributor: Willem Potgieter – Director @ TTLI (LinkedIn Bio: https://www.linkedin.com/in/willem-potgieter-23b9905/)

References:

[1] Cloud, H.  Integrity: the courage to meet the demands of reality. 2014.
[2] Raymond, J. Do you understand what accountability really means? 13 October, 2016. Harvard Business Review
[3] Bergman, P. The right ways to keep people accountable.
[4]Dugger, J.  The role of integrity in individual and effective corporate leadership. Journal of Academic and Business Ethics.

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