How to Lose Your Integrity

How To

When Merriam-Webster assembled their list of most searched definitions for 2005 one word lead the rest of the volcabulary.

Although this was a decade ago, this word is still a very important word – and a much sought after quality in the business world. The top word was “integrity”

The searchers were potentially hungering for the days when one’s words coincided with their actions under an umbrella of honesty and morality. There was a day when one could trust their supervisor to have concern for their interests and for the heads of the organization to be concerned about the future of the people working for them. You could work for a company your entire life and depend on them in retirement.

Yet in 2005 we saw cuts in pensions for retirees, the threat of double digit pay cuts, and hefty benefit reductions for workers across industries and supply channels.

Ten years later these activities are still somewhat commonplace.

For baby boomers, integrity in the business world seems to have vanished - evaporated from a glass once half-full.

People want to trust their customers, employees, and employers. At the same time employee theft is on the rise, pension funds are being raided, and customers are increasingly treated as interruptions.

Integrity slips away quietly even under the loud cries of those that inevitably see it happening. Customer complaints silenced by uncaring frontline employees or deaf managers and owners. Leaders isolated from the frontlines of the operations. Employees seeing owners buying beautiful new cars and homes while payroll and benefit deductions are reducing discretionary income.

Failed integrity is often the result of good intentions derailed by business needs. At Kmart in the mid-1990s there was heavy investor pressure to the number of out-of-stock items in the stores. Wall Street was bitterly complaining about Kmart’s slumping market share, blaming the empty store shelves as a customer turn-off. Anderson Consulting had been brought in to assist in determining a way to get the merchandise on the shelves, especially during ads. At first the program had noble intentions. A vendor report card would show each manufacturer which shipments were late so that supply chain impediments could be identified and eliminated. Unfortunately, red ink was beginning to show on initial balance sheets and the scorecard became a way to generate revenue through penalties. Kmart’s president at the time had used the same tactic to save a supermarket chain had previously led from almost certain bankruptcy. Before long the program was assigned huge income goals which destroyed many longtime vendor relationships.

As the manager of vendor development, I had been the most visible executive on the program in its early days, teaching vendors how to use the scorecard. As pressures built to generate revenue from the scorecard through vendor fines, I resisted. As the face of the scorecard, upper management spun off the compliance program and left the scorecard and training program under my responsibility while a different team was chosen to automate and expand the compliance program. As it grew to a nine figure income stream, my continued training and consulting duties solidified vendor thoughts that it was still my program.

Knowing what I know in hindsight, integrity would have taken me down a different road.

So it is with integrity. People do not judge your integrity by motives or intensions. They discern your integrity by outcomes.