Trust is like the air we breathe — when it’s present, nobody really notices. When it’s absent, everyone notices.” — Warren Buffett
Integrity in business is an essential ingredient for sustainable, long-term, business growth and success. It can be hard to define and difficult to measure, but you know it when you see it, and it’s clear when it’s not there.
What is it?
The dictionary principally defines integrity as: "The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles."
It’s also defined as "the state of being whole and undivided." This concept comes from "integer," which is Latin for untouched, pure, honest, and sound. In other words, when you act with integrity, you do so in all scenarios, whether you are at the little league field, in the company board room, or speaking with a client. You don't present a different face to different people. You're whole.
In broad terms, integrity is doing what you say you're going to do even when there's no one there to see you doing it. It also means owning up to your mistakes and remaining accountable.
Integrity in Business
It’s obvious that acting with integrity can be hard to do; it’s equally obvious that we all want to be treated that way by others. So how can integrity be built into day-to-day business situations? Several specifics that can help transfer this from an attractive concept into practice include:
- Be honest to a fault. As a business, you have an obligation to not only tell the truth at every turn but to also not hold back information that could be considered useful to employees and customers. And if you make a mistake, admit it!
- Meet every commitment. Whether you make promises or not, customers have expectations. This means that your products and services work correctly, solve an issue, and add value. Understand these types of commitments and honor them at all costs.
- Treat everyone the same. Do you tend to pay more attention to larger clients than smaller ones? Remember, integrity is about being the same person (or company) in every situation. This means that everyone gets equal treatment regardless of how much they may contribute to your bottom line.
- Show respect. At a basic level, be considerate and courteous to people. Understand different perspectives when it comes to positions, ages, races, and cultural differences, and aim to treat everyone with kindness and respect.
Why is integrity important in business?
Integrity is more than something that sounds catchy on a corporate website or marketing piece. Plenty of companies promise that they have integrity but don't back it up through action. The truth is that practicing integrity provides many benefits to your business. When you, your employees, and your business acts with integrity, some interesting things begin to happen.
- Stronger reputation
As a business, your reputation is vital to your success. Customers, suppliers, business partners, and investors all need to trust that you know what you're doing and are operating a sustainable business.
When you act with integrity, this helps build your reputation. Likewise, doing things that lack integrity can spell your quick demise.
- Employee satisfaction
Employees are simply happier when their company has integrity as opposed to when it acts like a snake in the grass. Adelphi University released research concluding that employees who saw their managers as having high integrity also had higher job engagement, job satisfaction, health, and life satisfaction.
- Better quality
It usually follows that happier employees will also be more productive ones. A company that is displaying integrity is more likely to produce higher quality products and services. This is particularly the case when that company is dedicated to addressing any and all issues to improve the customer experience.
- Clearer focus
Not being on the level or treating everyone differently is a lot of work. You're presenting a different face to different people and will have to keep track of it all to remain consistent. When you have seamless integrity between your personal and professional life, this frees up a lot of time and energy and allows you to focus on what's important.
- Stronger results
Consumers appreciate ethical companies and will often award you accordingly. Ethical Consumer, which has been tracking consumer spending since 1999 in the UK, reports that spending through companies that are considered "ethical" has nearly doubled over the past seven years.
It is different from being well-intentioned
There's a common misconception that integrity is the same thing as doing what is best for customers. In some cases it is, but if you're lying to your customers or keeping information from them, this isn't acting with integrity.
In short, if you're presented with a choice in which someone might benefit, and someone might be harmed, integrity dictates that you'll choose the one where no one gets harmed, even if there is no upside for your business.
Safeguarding your organization's integrity
Once you've established integrity, your organization should do everything possible to hold onto it. Trust takes a long time to build with customers, but it can be lost in the blink of an eye.
In today's digital world, being authentic is vital to earning and maintaining the public's trust. Consumers have more options than ever, so compromise your integrity to save a buck or save face, and you could find that many will move to competitors and be quite vocal in doing so.
Integrity in Finance
In the world of finance, people assume that integrity exists – although this isn’t always true of course. Just ask the former employees or customers of Enron or Worldcom. The compliance functions that go along with finance (audits, etc.) seek to measure and enforce integrity, but ultimately, it is a choice of individuals and organizations. For information to be understood and relied upon, the integrity of the CFO is essential.
CFO Selections takes integrity in business seriously, and the results speak for themselves. Our experience has resulted in us enjoying many benefits including the following:
- Trust- Customers want to do business with companies that are trustworthy.
- Reputation - Integrity is one of the best ways for your company to set itself apart from competitors.
- Thought Leadership - Integrity is seen as a top leadership quality which is reflected in your thought leadership and allows your team to have the greatest impact.
- Opportunity - Operating as a company with integrity will open the doors to new business opportunities.
Do you have questions or need help? Please contact us here!
About the Author
Kevin Briscoe is the Executive Manager for CFO Selections. He is responsible for establishing and implementing goals and strategies for the firm. His professional career spans over 20 years in finance, accounting, and operations in publicly traded corporate and small, closely held settings.
Kevin excels in financial analyses and accounting operations, implementing internal controls, and creating and implementing organizational systems. He has held ownership and management positions, demonstrating an outstanding ability to provide effective leadership in increasing profitable growth throughout his career.