“We look for three things when we hire people. We look for intelligence, we look for initiative or energy, and we look for integrity.” — Warren Buffett.
Business integrity means closing the gaps between intentions and actions and ensuring that all interactions — with employees, customers, regulators, suppliers and investors — are aligned with the stated aims and purposes of the organization or company (Diligent Insights). Brené Brown says it best: “Integrity is choosing courage over comfort, choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy; and choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them.”
We have all heard about, or work for, for-profit corporations and businesses and nonprofit organizations that damage their reputations, credibility and bottom lines — despite having legal and regulatory compliance programs — because they may lack the necessary tone at the top and the message that the overarching goal is to be true to the mission.
Ethisphere measures, studies and celebrates the World’s Most Ethical Companies®. These companies have outperformed the U.S. large-cap sector by 14.4 percent over a five-year period. The EY 15th Global Fraud Survey found that customer and public perception, business performance, and recruiting and retaining talent were all higher-ranked benefits of integrity, not a means to avoid regulatory scrutiny. These companies are risk intelligent — they establish a culture in which everyone is responsible for integrating business objectives and processes with the organization’s larger purpose.
If a company or organization approaches diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) with a superficial training program, or regards Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) criteria as another compliance requirement or standards intended to appease those who are socially conscious, overall company value will likely be diminished.
According to the US SIF Foundation (Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investing), as of early 2020, investors held $17.1 trillion in assets chosen according to ESG criteria. Stan Choe of the Associated Press says, “Sustainable investing has gone way past fad to become one of the steadiest forces on Wall Street.”
Almost all businesses and organizations large and small are experiencing difficulties hiring and retaining qualified employees. The pandemic’s effects are consequential. Individuals and families are rethinking priorities and goals. People want to work for organizations that have a strong sense of corporate purpose and are employee-affirming. (Diligent Insights).
In 2016, a survey by Robert Half® Management Resources reported that 75 percent of workers cited integrity as the most important attribute of business leaders. Yet, in 2020, ECI’s report, “State of Ethics & Compliance in the Workplace: A Look at Global Trends,” found disappointing trends: 20 percent of employees work in ethical workplaces, pressure to compromise standards is the highest it’s ever been, more employees are reporting misconduct and retaliation rates have increased greatly.
It’s time for a reckoning. It’s time to think about value for all stakeholders; and to define winning by offering high-quality services and products that we can stand behind proudly, with integrity. That’s smart business.
Barb Smoot is president and CEO of WELD. Becky S. Cornett is a member of WELD External Relations Committee.