In our country, and indeed all over the globe, we are facing so many crises that we hardly know which one to address first.
But one issue that is rarely identified as a real crisis, which I believe is at the root of so many of these other problems, is a crisis in integrity. So many problems would be greatly diminished or perhaps even disappear if people had acted with integrity and honor.
Pluck a few current events out of the headlines: the housing crisis precipitated by bad loans based on false information . . . the rogue UBS trader who lost $2 billion of his company’s money by making unauthorized trades . . . the high-ranking government officials or elected representatives who never get around to paying their taxes until they get caught . . . identity thieves who destroy innocent people’s credit by "borrowing" their financial and personal information . . . the movie star who gets drunk or high and goes on a rampage of rants and abuse . . . and I could go on and on.
How do we combat this? You’d think in the loudmouth, instant video world of the Internet, it would be difficult to hide. Instead, our culture seems to accept that some people will just behave badly and we should put up with it.
No, we shouldn’t.
We need to draw the line somewhere. We should be able to expect people to live up to reasonable standards. We have an epidemic of blaming others for mistakes, or worse, attempting a cover-up, rather than taking responsibility and swallowing a few bitter pills. We need to teach kids that their actions have consequences, and then apply those consequences. And we need to be prepared to forgive those who are truly sorry for their behavior, and not just because they got caught.
Does that sound terribly old-fashioned? I think it should never go out of fashion.
As I have said so many times before: If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.
Assuming the leadership of an organization understands the importance of integrity, the next important decision involves the quality of the people who are hired to work for it.
Many years ago, when I was first hiring employees for my fledgling envelope company, I would check references and ask around for information that would influence my decisions. As tempting as that sounds, in this environment, it is foolhardy. Responsible companies need to perform background checks to expose any red flags that aren’t clearly evident.
I have recently begun working with Merchants Information Solutions, which helps companies with background screening and identity theft solutions. The Merchants’ Integrity Test is designed to help companies avoid high-risk hires by highlighting potential problem areas, like criminal behavior, lying, hostility and substance abuse. Tests like these are not expensive ($10 to $20 each). Considering the damage a bad hire can do to your company and your customers, it’s a bargain. Consider this scenario: An employee who has access to corporate or client credit information, and chooses to steal that information, could cost the company much more than the actual money stolen.
Recovering from an ethical breach sucks the energy out of the most successful operations. Overcoming mistrust and rebuilding relationships is a costly, time-consuming process. Often, the road to restoring confidence is marked with detours, and occasionally, a dead end.
I am encouraged by the buzz I’m hearing from my colleagues who are returning the topic of integrity to the forefront of their business conversations.
I recently introduced my friend, sports and business icon Jerry Colangelo, who hosted Integrity Summit 2011 in Phoenix, put on by the Integrity Business Institute, which Jerry cofounded. This event was organized to educate executives, managers and decision-makers on the importance of making integrity the number one organizational value. Doing the right thing is essential to success, and it avoids destructive and costly issues.
At the summit, we heard from nine other speakers whose occupations ranged from the corporate counsel for the Go Daddy Group and computer parts giant Avnet to a jeweler, an FBI agent, real estate developer and the general counsel for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona. Their backgrounds and experiences spanned the spectrum of business enterprises. Yet every speaker echoed the same message: integrity is an essential component of a successful company.
And, I would add, a successful individual.
Mackay’s Moral: Doing the right thing is never the wrong thing to do.