Is integrity making a resurgence?

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Karen Natzel, BridgeTower Media Newswires

In my line of work, methods to improve performance, productivity, quality, accountability, leadership, morale, or what have you, seem to go in and out of vogue. Often, an old concept gets recycled and repackaged (teamwork to collaboration, engagement to empowerment, or performance management to career coaching, for example). In recent times I have witnessed organizations explore how to be more adaptive, nimble and “agile;” leaders learn how to tap into their “emotional intelligence” to connect and inspire; and professionals benefit from a “growth mindset” as a way to make space for possibilities and manage stress.

Many of these organizational development concepts get revisited and re-examined for good reason. We evolve with our experiences and have a different – and hopefully deeper – understanding of what it takes to lead an organization. External forces also influence our organizational trends and priorities. Case in point, there has been a massive spike in investment and attention to diversity, equity and inclusion as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement. Many organizations that were already committed to this path have escalated their efforts, and those newer to the social change are paying attention to the cues that are becoming organizational norms.

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Value-based culture building

When I do culture building work with my clients we often start by examining their core values. Are they in writing? Are they well-known, understood and practiced by all? Does your reputation mirror your stated values? Do clients and colleagues speak about your people and your work in a way that affirms how you want to be known?

Recently, in working with a leadership team to revisit its core values, we determined that the list, while compelling, was too long to be memorable. A tighter collection would be easier to commit to memory – and to practice. In a collaborative exercise, we went from eight core values to three. These three values now define the essence of the team’s culture – driving how the leaders think, act and relate to each other.

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Integrity in one’s values

When you and your team steadily demonstrate alignment of core values with your actions, you have integrity in your values. They must be consistently modeled, especially by leadership. Integrity is reflected in walking the talk. When there is alignment, positive reinforcement helps demonstrate that the value is meaningful, appreciated and expected. When there is a misstep, constructive feedback, in the context of the violated value, needs to be provided immediately for a course correction.

If your organization values accountability, and a project manager successfully drives the project to completion, you are being true to that value. If you state that you value “innovation,” yet there is little room for mistakes and no forum or time for creativity, it is merely a buzzword. If “responsiveness” is a stated value yet team members fail to respond to emails or phone calls, or complete tasks in a timely manner, there is a lack of integrity in that value. Alignment, when actions match intentions, builds credibility and trust – the foundation for a healthy organization. It also fosters predictability, which can positively impact efficiencies and team dynamics (i.e., less drama).

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Integrity as a value

Several of my clients have named integrity as a core value. For them, it is fundamental in how they operate. When faced with a difficult situation, they ask themselves, “What is the right thing to do here?” When they have made a commitment, they know integrity requires them to follow through. It is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles guiding how they show up.

I also see integrity as an expression of authenticity. If I am behaving in a way that is true to who I am, then when my self-expression mirrors my beliefs, I am being true to myself and acting from a place of personal integrity.
The reward of this self-awareness and practice is increased confidence, better decision-making, more capacity to embrace accountability, stronger camaraderie, and more peace.

I started this column with an inquiry as to whether integrity was gaining a resurgence. My sense is that people are hungry for something in which they can believe, yet highly skeptical of its likelihood. The best possible way to build trust and cohesiveness is to lead from a place of integrity. We need a sense of being whole; we crave the kind of stability that integrity offers. It is never too late for integrity to make a comeback.

Take the K Challenge:

Examine your values. Are they clear? Compelling? Celebrated? Practiced daily? These are your guiding principles that define and support you. Understand why they matter to you so they can serve as inspiration.

Integrate. From job descriptions to onboarding to performance management and professional growth plans, make your organization’s values an integral part of who you are and how you operate.

Give positive and constructive feedback in the context of your values. If you are tolerating a lack of integrity in a value, you are sending mixed messages. People will not be perfect in their execution, but it is essential to keep the conversation alive to ensure the values have a chance of shaping the culture and brand you want.

Assess value alignment. If you do annual employee surveys, consider building in questions about how well the organization is living up to its stated values. When I conducted an internal survey for a client, we discovered that two of its values, “fun” and “transparency,” had dipped significantly – no doubt due to the massive changes the firm was undergoing. Armed with this awareness, leaders committed to improving with a specific game plan.

Practice training that allows employees to wrestle with how to identify and live by the core values in real-world scenarios.

Make your next decision through the lens of your core values.

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Karen Natzel is a business therapist who helps leaders create healthy, vibrant and high-performing organizations. Contact her at 503-806-4361 or karen@natzel.net.