“Show of hands – who in this group has integrity?”
It’s the uncomfortable introductory question Robert Chesnut asks every new employee attending his presentations. Chesnut, General Counsel of Airbnb, has made a career of asking that question.
At Better Business Bureau, we’re a bit obsessed with the topic, too. We are constantly evaluating the ways businesses can signal their integrity to customers. At the core of the BBB is our vision to create a marketplace where buyers and sellers can trust each other. Through accrediting trustworthy businesses, we seek to do more than virtue signaling. We’re creating and promoting a system where businesses extol ethical behavior through their voluntary association with the Better Business Bureau.
But we know businesses can’t check a box and be “done” with integrity. At BBB, we are constantly looking at ways businesses can act fairly and honestly, no matter the situation. And boy what a situation 2020 has been. Businesses have been under pressure like never before. The moments to snap and snip are aplenty.
And yet some businesses have sweated bullets without throwing punches. They’ve exhibited immense amounts of calm in tough situations with customers. They’ve chosen to do the right thing, even when it’s the costly thing.
Integrity In Action
Sure, there are examples of businesses behaving badly. But those anecdotes don’t move us forward in our understanding integrity. In thinking about integrity, a local house cleaning company instantly came to mind. This BBB Accredited Business was awarded our top accolade last year. The Torch Award for ethics is given to a business that exemplifies our core values at BBB. The owner of this company, Amanda, told us how even though she’s a one-woman show and still getting her business legs beneath her, she wants to treat her customers right. For Amanda, that means cleaning with nontoxic products. Those products cost more, but leave behind no harmful chemicals, Amanda explained.
These days, Amanda is facing a myriad of hard decisions. With her children headed back to school only two days a week, she’s left to homeschool them the other three days a week. That means Amanda misses out on vital business revenue.
“Or I’ll have to clean at night to catch up,” she explains. “It will be two full-time jobs but only getting paid for one.”
If Amanda opts to lose three days’ worth of work altogether, she fears her family will fall back into “extreme poverty.” But with young school-aged children at home most of the week, Amanda knows she must help her family, too.
When asked whether she would start using cheaper cleaning products to save a buck, Amanda replied emphatically, “no.”
That, folks, is what integrity looks like, in action.
Webster’s definition of integrity is:
“the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.”
In short, honesty. But a dictionary definition is a bit like one of those “Live. Laugh. Love.” signs from a craft store. They seem like they should be inspirational but ring hollow.
Integrity Takes Intention
According to Ron Price, founder and CEO of Price Associates, carving out your own definition of integrity is vital to the longevity and success of your business. Price has been teaching integrity in business for more than 40 years. When asked what his personal definition of integrity is Price says this:
“I actually think of it two different ways,” he says. “The first is what most people think and that is, are you consistent in the way you behave whether somebody’s watching or not? The second part is integrity in the context of wholeness, or consistency in you as a person.”
What kind of consistency is Price talking about? He says you can evaluate consistency by answering this question:
“Are you the same person in different roles and situations,” Price queries.
So, we asked Price, how important is integrity in the workplace?
“It’s actually critical if you want to have a business that’s successful and satisfying over time,” he says. “The key to defining integrity in business is what’s the real value that you’re bringing to your customers? It’s not a scheme that somehow people buy something that later they wish they hadn’t. It’s about did you really provide significant value to them that helped them to be more successful or improved the quality of their life, satisfied a need. That’s really the fundamental question of integrity in business.”
Amanda created her definition of integrity and sticks to it. That definition and her dedication to it, allows Amanda to add value to her customers’ lives.
Though it’s tough to do, whittling away your own definition of integrity is not only important, it’s an indicator of your business’s success (We’ll get to that in another blog. We don’t want to waterboard you with the integrity firehose.).
To get started on your integrity homework, set aside 10 minutes. Get a piece of paper and pen. Start journaling about what integrity means to you. How do you define integrity? What does integrity mean to you in the context of family, work, and community? How can you present yourself as a person of integrity?
Answer those questions well and you may just be able to raise your hand when someone asks, “Who in this group has integrity?”