Organizations that put integrity at the heart of their business operations will be more resilient and better placed to navigate disruptions caused by COVID-19, according to global consulting firm, EY. At Better Business Bureau, operating with integrity is one of our core standards of trust, and we mandate accredited business uphold those standards. So, it’s no surprise that we strongly agree with EY’s stance.
But what does it mean to truly put integrity at the core of your business?
For starters, it’s not just a mission statement. Integrity must be institutionalized and developed at the C-suite, at the junior-employee level and across the board with third-party vendors. The issue, however, is that embedding integrity across the organization often falls short due to a lack of enforcement, according to EY’s Global Integrity Report 2020 Webcast.
EY surveyed 3,5000 individuals across the executive, board, management, and junior levels in 33 different countries. The survey was conducted between January and February of 2020, and then again in April after COVID-19 hit. The survey found major gaps between how integrity is viewed by junior employees versus how it’s viewed and acted upon by higher-ups.
- To start, 46% of respondents believe their managers would sacrifice integrity for short-term financial gain. That number increased to 51% when asked about senior management, highlighting that junior employees don’t trust their seniors.
- The majority of board members (67%) said they think management frequently talks to staff about the importance of integrity. But only 37% of junior employees felt the same, underlining the fact that these “talks” are not happening as often as boards think.
- Moreover, 32% of junior employees believe unethical behavior is tolerated if the behavior is coming from a senior manager of higher performer. What’s more shocking – 34% of board members actually agreed. This data illustrates a real disconnect around how certain employees are treated, even when in the wrong.
With these kind of statistics, we can see how important it is for businesses to communicate the value of integrity and treat all staff members the same. In doing so, business owners and executives will build trust with their teams. At BBB, we understand the very real benefits of trust – when it’s there, it pays dividends in talent retention, productivity, and increased revenue.
But building trust doesn’t stop at your junior employees. Integrity and trust must also be maintained with third-party vendors and partners. The EY data shows us that the level of trust here is still too low, with only 34% of organizations feeling “very confident” that their third parties abide by relevant laws, codes of conduct and industry regulations.
“Organizations should be looking hard at their third parties,” said Liban Jama, principal for EY’s U.S. Forensic and Integrity Services. “During this crisis there has been a renewed intention of managing third party risks, but it needs to be a data-driven and tailored management process.”
Business owners of all sizes first must define what integrity means to them. Then, they should look at the following four areas to embed integrity in a way that aligns an individual’s actions with the organization’s objectives:
- Data Insights
- Internal controls
COVID-19 has and will continue to highlight the importance of trust in all of those areas, but particularly around data privacy and insights. EY advocates there is a way to safeguard data while ethically leveraging its value, especially now when sharing personal information and health data is becoming normalized.
EY found that 74% of respondents expect enforcement of data protection regulations to increase in the future, post-COVID-19. So, it will be critical employees are trained to understand data integrity and their own responsibilities to protect it.
“Uncover the blind spots,” said Maryam Hussain partner for EY’s UK Forensic and Integrity Services. “Consider two questions and one action: What types of misconduct have we seen in our industry? What would be early signs of misconduct that we could see in the data? Then, your action would be to put signals in the data or tools to see the smoke before the fire.”
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