Integrity

“It is Attitude, not Aptitude that determines your Altitude” – Zig Ziglar

We often hear the word Integrity, especially in our working environment. Although there are many definitions of integrity, I would like to suggest we use the word to represent a situation where a person acts according to what she/he says.  “Walk the Talk” is a more popular expression of integrity.  In short, a person of integrity always keeps her/his promise.

In a broad sense, integrity is a very important aspect related to ethical conduct.  Integrity is one of the foundations that makes a person behave ethically. Transparency, one of the prime aspects in exercising Good Corporate Governance, goes hand-in-hand with integrity.  If you act with integrity, you are not afraid to disclose any of your decisions or actvities at work.

In an organization context, people may only perceive another person as a person of integrity as opposed to what they sometimes jokingly called an “Omdo” person (Omdo stands for omong doang; this is a Jakarta’s slang for a person who only talks, but never acts).

Why is it not easy to judge the “real” integrity quality of a person? One of the reasons is because the real test of integrity comes only in a situation where a person acts when nobody sees.  Persons may behave and act differently when nobody sees as opposed to when everybody sees.

One may calculate the risks of being caught in doing misconduct activities, while others will always act with integrity regardless the situations. One good example of a situation where persons act with integrity is when a Moslem, during the fasting month of Ramadhan, can successfully complete their fast, even when “nobody” sees.

Collins (2004) in his seminal book “Good to Great” suggested that organizations should give strong priority in selecting the right “passengers” in the “bus”.  Collins used the Bus as a metaphore of a company , and the Passengers as the employees of the organization which have strong characters, including Integrity.

For our organizations, integrity helps to improve organizational performance in general. Imagine an organization in which each member keeps his/her promise.  Deadline will be met. High quality services or products will be achieved and the activities will be conducted within the budgets agreed.

The working climate in an organization where the players have a strong value of integrity is characterized by trust, positive relationship and high productivity. Working with others in this kind of organization will create happiness and produce a productive environment.

For instance, a good supervisor will act with full care and responsible in leading his/her team in executing a dangerous operation.  Not only does he follow the rules that are written, but he exercises far beyond the written materials by implanting the spirit of the rules in leading his/her teams.  He acts beyond his call of duty.

In a broader sense, when we select outside business partners or vendors, it is also very important that we choose firms with high level of integrity, so promised can be kept and the quality delivered will be outstanding.  In this kind of situation, a detailed written contract is of course required, but we know that such a contract will never be sufficient in the absence of integrity.

Nevetheless, people in organizations do not always have similar belief in exercising integrity.  There are differences in how a person reacts to similar situations, especially when the person has freedom to choose his decision.

Based on the level of exercising integrity, I would say that there are three levels of Integrity as practiced by every person. The first one, which we call HAWKS represent those who act with integrity only when there are strong enforcement from outside.  Hawks will abort its efforts to pursue his victims only at a presence of strong winds and other extreme situations which may sacrifice him.

In organizations, this person has a tendency to violate his promise whenever it will be beneficial for him/her.  The Hawks will certainly gain a short term win, however, the victims of the hawks will not be happy and may decide not to do activities with Hawks.

At the corporate level, Good Corporate Governance movements and other laws enforced by superior outside bodies are meant to tame these Hawks.  Within the organization, strict regulations and detailed codes of conducts are practiced to prevent its members from exercising this Hawk behavior.

The second group, which I called the DOVES, consists of people who obey the rules and kept their promise because they see the benefits for her/himself in doing so.  They play it safe, flying at the tree top level to avoid strong wind and always flock together.

In organizations where enforcement is enacted consistently, many Doves are created.  Order is always the theme of the day. Although Doves fly together within certain patterns, they usually reach their destination after a series of irregular pattern of flying.

Last but not least is the group of GEESE. Geese fly in high altitude although they know they have to face strong winds.  They reach far countries by giving their frank efforts to each other.  In their unique spearhead formation, each member must be willing to sacrifice to be in the front tip of the spearhead formation, negotiating with strong head wind to pull the rest of the team in traveling the long journey.

People with Geese qualities practice integrity not because of their fear of strong wind or rainy days or any strict regulations.  They do it not just for her/himself but for the benefit of the whole team so that the team will be able to reach very important common objectives.

“Leaders” in this group support other group members while flying in the front end of their spearhead formation and they are willing to change their roles. Whenever the goose is exhausted from the strong resistance of the headwind, he will be replaced by other group members.  Every group member should keep its promise to be in the front position for the benefit of the group.

In a real organizational setting, a good example is illustrated by Jon Huntsman (2005), a CEO of a Fortune 500 Chemical Company, who kept his promise when his company was in financial trouble.  Huntsman went to the banks to borrow money not for surviving his chemical companies but for continuing the operation of a Cancer Hospital which he already promised to provide funding.  He kept his promise! (From Winners Never Cheat, 2005).

So, where do you belong?

*This article is published in One IndoAsia, November 2007.

Sukono SoebektiSukono Soebekti, Senior Consultant  PPM  Institute of Management, Jakarta

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