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Integrity Matters in Business – From Hiring to Selling

Integrity is doing what is moral, truthful and ethical, even if that means it isn’t going to benefit you or your company.  It is one of the hardest traits as a parent to instill in children, even harder as a manager trying to instill in your employees that lack it and worse yet as an employee trying to live it out when it doesn’t exist at the highest levels of an organization.

Integrity in practice is something that can require choices which could result in being left out of certain decisions, not always making the sale, losing out on a promotion and getting less accolades than co-workers willing to overlook it.    It also allows less stress and sleeping well at night.

Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.  -CS. Lewis.

We can look at the #metoo movement and see how widespread the lack of integrity has spread at a very obvious level.  From politicians to hollywood elite to technology executives – the lack of integrity shown has had a ripple effect demanding change on how women are treated in the workplace unseen in this country before.  But the lack of business ethics don’t stop there.   It isn’t always the big things that have the biggest impact on your company.

Most Executives claim they don’t want to hire people that lack integrity.

When things are black and white, sure.   I am sure they mean that.  Major issues (sexual harassment, insider trading, etc) cause public scandal, impact bottom line, cause brand damage and the social pressures that accompany them easy to point at how “those” types of employees aren’t best for our business.  That is the easy stuff.  It is the other, smaller, integrity issues that come into play each and every day that are often overlooked by even the most well meaning executive…especially if overlooking it means more funding, revenue or clients coming in.

How do you identify someone’s level of integrity while interviewing?  You ask about their ethical boundaries and what they are willing to do, ever so slightly, for the greater good of the company.

Your willingness to bend the truth to achieve a sale or investment means you have an integrity issue.

I know that is hard to hear.  I would go so far as say your willingness to encourage a coworker or employee or your willingness to overlook what is being asked shows that as well.

A number of executives use a version of that statement as a common interview question used to determine the integrity in an applicant. “If we needed to imply a certain client…”  “If we were about to close a big deal and they asked if we could deliver X by Y date but we knew it would take at least a month longer…” “If you saw a manager…”

Warren Buffet says that of all hiring factors, integrity should be the number one when making a hiring decision.

The willingness to tell a white lie, overlook actions or bend the truth to help the company close a big client is seen by many trying to justify a lack of ethics and integrity as a standard of doing business, especially in technology. However, it is those behaviors that are creating a culture of winning at all costs at many organizations in our industry and while creating short term wins, will create long term failures.

The main reason it will create long term failure is when you do things the wrong way, you get caught.  A client will know a year down the road the product still doesn’t have the feature your promised them in order to sign.  They will see the lack of support or service that you implied was there, when it wasn’t.   They will notice when you have no women or minorities in leadership roles.

In today’s economy, buyers talk and their conversations matter.   It isn’t just the big stuff.

How can we identify (and fix) integrity issues in our workplace?

One of the hardest parts of an executive role is having to have discernment between what we want to hear, what we are being told by people we trust as the truth, and filtering any agenda someone may have for saying such things.  Too often in trying to solve ethic and integrity issues in the workplace, our Ego’s and “yes team” come in to play to confirm for us everything is ok with how we are behaving.

Integrity is a rough word to hear you or your company lacks, so we get defensive and when we get defensive we don’t have an openness to change.

If you really want to solve (or find) integrity issues in the workplace try these 5 steps:

  1. Listen, don’t Defend. Sites like glassdoor and fairygodboss have made it easier for us to identify ethical standards and challenges that happen inside businesses in a way we have never had access to before.  We can see from the people that work there what is really going on with women, minorities, etc – how employees are treated from their perspective.  We can read how people talk about their training and the expectations around client support.
  2. Conduct Meaningful Exit Interviews.  Exit Interviews are so important yet treated as such an afterthought by most organization to ask generic, low value questions.  When you have a number of people leaving a particular company, role, leader, etc there is a reason.  When people you feel have high moral character or disagreed with leaders leave, there is often a reason.  Make sure you are asking questions that matter and executive teams are reading the responses.
  3. Train Business Ethics at All Levels.  Not all lack of ethics inside a company are top down.  In fact, i’ve seen many cases where the executive team was just confused as to why people made decisions they did.  In some cases its low level leaders and workers trying to save payroll so they didn’t pay overtime.  Other cases, mid to senior level leaders trying to improve their report metrics and make themselves look better because sales was lagging.   Make sure you are doing regular training and your content isn’t just looking at the big things, but the little decisions as well.
  4. Look at your talent management.  I am a huge advocate of referrals…unless those referrals are used to create group think and eliminate diversity in your organization.  From referrals to interview rates to hiring rates – look at the numbers to see if it looks fair, if you have certain managers that are off target/metric that may need to be addressed, or if overall there are discouraging patterns.  Then, look at salary and income – do you have disparity there.  Just because you “can” pay someone less than they deserve because they were unemployed or underpaid at their last role, doesn’t mean you should or its the ethical thing to do for your business.  Finally, Are you not promoting or moving people that have spoken up?  Are people not promoted for “culture fit” reasons?
  5.  Look at ALL the Numbers – Even the ones you don’t like.  What do your NPS and Customer Satisfaction ratings say?  How do your Salesforce and ATS reports look?  Are you hearing and “hearing” or making excuses when people aren’t happy? If all you are focusing on is the good, it makes it much easier to give the white lie or imply something to be better than it is so you don’t look like you did something wrong.   When your positive reality seems different than those around you, its time to dive in and see what you may not have been told.


It is worth noting, ignorance can often mask as a lack of integrity at companies whose leadership is simply out of touch and surrounded by people sharing wrong information.  That is where these steps comes into play so strongly.  From a consultants or investors perspective it becomes a challenge to identify those cases because from the outside it is such a thin line and from internal perspective it creates a lack of integrity at lower levels to achieve this unrealistic expectation.  Ignorance can be just as damaging to the company and clients, but the core motivation isn’t to gain at another’s expense, lie/deceive or “win at all costs” which at the end of the day is a major factor in being able to turn a situation around and create a healthy, workplace, company and vendor/client relationship.


Sarah Brennan

Sarah Brennan is a recognized HCM industry analyst and advisor focused on improving the impact of technology on people, business and the future of work.  Sarah Brennan has been named a top global influencer in HR Technology by more than 50 publications and shared her insights at speaking engagements around the world. As Chief Advisor at Accelir, she partners with HR Technology vendors and investors as an advisor, interim CxO role and on engagements focused on growth strategies, product roadmap & market education/evangelism. She also works with corporate teams enhancing talent strategies.

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