As far as business values go, integrity is not one of my favorites. In fact, I think that it is a terrible value. Wait, before you run off and call me a heathen, I ask you to read on.
At a Targeted Branding presentation, one of the participants offered integrity as a core value. She was surprised and slightly offended when I didn’t jump in and say “That’s a great value!” Instead, I started on a small rant about how the word is misunderstood, overused, and frequently misused which generally renders it meaningless.
That being said, let’s look at what the word integrity means. Integrity comes from the Latin word integratus which means to form into a whole. According to Webster’s dictionary, integrity is: “adherence to a code of moral, artistic, or other values.” However, the most useful and beautiful definition I’ve heard was offered by another participant at the same presentation: “Acting in alignment with the things you believe in.”
About five or six years ago it became popular for very large corporations to adopt the ‘universal’ values. These were things like honesty, fairness, consideration, and integrity. It was as if corporate leadership thought that people would suddenly believe that their organization was a good corporate citizen simply because these words appeared on their website. I found it contemptible.
Adopting these so called universal values was nothing more than a platitude. It was a bandage that allowed the real troubles to fester out of sight. The problem is that the universal values are so vague and undefined that they can mean anything, which means they signify nothing, at least nothing useful.
Good business values are concrete and define a desired course of action by all and to all. They guide behavior and decision making when processes and procedures do not exist. And they are key to forming a company culture where all employees work in concert with each other for a common goal.
If you accept the definition of integrity as “Acting in alignment with the things you believe in,” then integrity is a terrible value. It does not provide any guidance on what things you actually believe in. And if you don’t know in what you believe, it is impossible to act in alignment with those things.
Integrity is also a terrible value because values are useless and valueless unless you have integrity and consistently behave in a fashion that is in alignment with those values. Therefore, in my opinion, integrity is assumed in companies and individuals that have values.
What I am more interested in is: to what do you have integrity? What are those things that are so important to you that you always follow them with integrity? Those values are interesting. Those values are worth exploring, documenting, and sharing.