Posted by: kevinliebl | September 20, 2009

Business Integrity and Respect

IntegrityGiven the current job market, I have been thinking lately about how limited the classic resume is in terms of communicating personal characteristics such as integrity, respect and passion.  It is unfortunate that the first review of candidates is based entirely on a piece of paper that is one-dimensional.  This reinforces the argument that we all need to build a strong network so that we have internal sponsors who can verbally communicate some of our personal values.

On a recent blog post, I received a comment that offered an outstanding quote on Integrity.  It was a quote from 1998, by a Captain Conway, a platoon commander at the USMC’s Officer Candidate School.  He said, “Integrity is like virginity.  Once you lose it, you can never get it back.”  In my opinion, this is very accurate.  I see too many people in business, that are willing to compromise their integrity and business ethics – “just this one time”.  It is as if it is a white lie and the ends-justify-the-means.  The problem with this approach is that it is a very slippery slope.  You do it once and the next time is much easier.  We read every day about the executive who siphoned hundreds of thousands (or millions) of dollars out of the company.  It seems each time, they started with a forged business dinner and that turned into a forged business trip and the rest is history.

The other issue is that your reputation cannot be repaired.  We have all worked with, and known people in business who have demonstrated that they will cut corners and walk over people – as needed.  This may have been effective for them in the short term, but it clearly tarnished their reputation in most people’s eyes.  This is extremely difficult to repair.

Respect is another critical business element.  There are plenty of examples of great political, military and business leaders who ruled with a draconian fist and were extremely effective.  However, I can point to twice as many business leaders who built an environment of trust and respect that were just as effective.  Leading soldiers into battle and leading employees in business are two different activities.  Employees can quit and get a different job or worse yet, they can ignore or undermine you.  I recognize that every leader has a different style.  However, research has shown, leaders do not need to be feared to be effective.  Treating a team with respect and building a positive culture will produce greater value in the long run.  Employees who have gained the respect of their manager, feel good about their contribution and are able to go home to their families with their heads held high are far more effective than employees who are yelled at and talked down to.  No project or job is more important than an individual’s self-esteem.

There was a time when employees stayed with companies for 20 years and felt they needed to put up with the difficult boss.  Today, they have options and have no problem leaving.  Building a positive culture of integrity and respect are critical to motivating and retaining talent.  Your thoughts?


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  1. Kevin, I agree totally with your comments about integrity. I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes by Abe Lincoln: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” How often have we seen an otherwise honorable person be undermined by the temptations of power?

  2. The era of “company loyalty” seems to have passed with the children of the Great Depression, who were simply grateful to have a job and left those jobs (with company approval) during World War II because of their patriotism, an even more profound form of loyalty to country. From the 1970s through the 1990s, business went through several post-WWII recessionary cycles — which ultimately changed the complexion of the workforce. The disposable society permeated the marketplace: we waste paper/plastic, and, likewise, employees are not so indispensable. No surprise employees retreated from the notion of company loyalty and opped for a more mercenary (read: self-preservation) approach. Will new social media approaches deployed by companies create change? After all, employees now are becoming directly involved in company marketing and brand promotion, via blogging, Twitter and other tools. Social media has the power to turn an employee into a brand of the company. The individual can become an integral, indispensable company asset. Or will social media simply provide yet another means to keep a resume active and circulating for the move to the next company?

    • Joel,

      Great comment! Yes, I wonder what impact social media will have on this phenomenon. On one hand, it could drive more independence because individuals are taking control of their own careers by personal branding and recognizing they need to look out for themselves. This is similar to the transition from a pension to controlling our own 401k. On the other hand, as you noted in your comment, it may bring companies and employees back together since employees are taking an active role in branding and marketing the company through social media tools. I also wonder whether the overall effects of “crowdsourcing” will drive more of a crowd/tribe impact on future employment roles. Will the traditional “company” affiliation be replaced by the “crowd” or “tribe” movement that is evolving? Time will tell, but it is sure to have a significant impact on our careers and certainly our children’s careers.

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. Interesting post, Kevin. I think that our online brand is playing more of a role that ever before in how we are perceived by employers/colleagues/clients.

    We always have options, whether we chose to take advantage of them or not. And I think the expansion of social networking has exponentially expanded those options.

    Thanks again for a stimulating post.

    To your continued success,
    Christine Elisabeth von Malsen Hueber
    Your Exclusive Social Network Strategy & Business Management Solutions Expert
    +1 530.582.8091 Direct

  4. Kevin, you are working on the premise that companies WANT their employees to stay for 20 years. I wonder if this is no longer true. What is valued today is youth and “new ideas”, not experience. It used to be that during downsizing, the rule was “last hired – first fired.” Now I see many companies using downsizing as an excuse to get rid of upper and middle management employees in order to replace them with cheaper hires.

    Remember that sweet lady Peggy in customer service who used to bring in cookies every Friday? Well, Peggy has been replaced by some faceless person in Malaysia who can’t pronounce my street name, despite the many excellent English lessons.

    I worry that the new corporate culture is NO corporate culture. You ask, “Why is integrity and respect overlooked in the workplace?” It’s simple: Because today, integrity and respect get trumped by the bottom line every time.

  5. Kay,

    Unfortunately, your are correct. My premise is that short-term profits do not outweigh long-term gains. You are correct in saying that companies don’t want employees to stay 20 years. However, they are missing the benefits of having employees stay 10 years (vs. 3 years). Statistically, employees are shifting jobs every 18-36 months. It takes 12 months to get an employee up to speed in many cases. Short-sightedness is having a negative impact on corporate success.

  6. I believe integrity, ethical and moral behavior has left the executive ranks in most companies. If you only look at the statistics revealing the ratio of executive pay to employee pay and the increase over the years you are left with the impression that greed and discounting the value of people is prevalent. This is substantiated by many large companies presenting themselves as champions of service to the community, yet while making a substantial profit they have significant layoffs putting thousands of people on the unemployment roles. Is this considered service to the community? How do employees view the executive team in this environment?

    I have come to the conclusion that profit and the related executive benefits are currently the driving factor in most businesses today (bonuses, stock options, etc.). I go back to my youth when my Father was employed by Skil Corp and there was a recession in the late 50’s or early 60’s. Skil operated 3 shifts 5 days a week. When it became obvious that there needed to be a reduction in expenses due to market conditions Skil did not layoff a single person. The moral option they chose was to employ 2 shifts and a 6 day week with every employee working 3 days and still keeping his job. Does anyone think this could happen in today’s world? or is it easier to layoff a faceless number?

  7. You can no easier change the culture of an organization than you can change the DNA of its leaders.

    Whatever happened to the “smartest guys in the room” at Enron? Most of them got rehired. Sure, some went to jail. But most of them immediately got picked up and made some fantastic short-term profits for their organizations.

    The real shame is the pretense that organizations are not designed and run for the short term profit when in reality they are. They are ashamed to be audacious, so they try to be something that they are not. It’s flimsy and transparent and usually forgotten in a few months or years.

    The other real shame is that there are organizations out there built for the long term, delivering profit to the organization and giving employees a real sense of a meaningful contribution. W.L. Gore comes to mind, as does ServiceMaster (in the Bill Pollard days), and Gillette, P&G, and Wells Fargo (before they got drunk on Wall Street).

  8. In the words of Covey, “you can’t talk your way out of situations you behaved yourself into.” Employees will only show loyalty when companies begin to realize that employees truly are their most important asset. Unfortunately, most companies only pay “lip-service” to taking care of their people. Most executive decisions are P&L based. It’s that simple. Good luck getting something funded if it involves a longer term strategy and investment in staff. Instead of implementing strategies to retain their best employees, most corporations are driving them out the door with cost cutting initiatives. All you have to do is take a look at the benefits reductions in healthcare, 401K contributions, stock options, tuition assistance, childcare etc… Add the explosive growth of off-shoring and you’ve got a powerful combination of executive behaviors that we’re now trying to “talk our way out of.”

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