Instilling integrity in SingaporeansBY MARK BILLINGTON
Integrity is a little-understood feature of organisations and the individuals they employ. Yet it is much desired. The public, customers, clients – they all expect businesses, organisations and individuals to act with integrity.
Failure to meet these expectations can be detrimental.
Crises and scandals from both the private and public sector are frequently blamed on a lack of integrity.
However, what integrity is and how businesses, organisations and individuals can go about instilling, encouraging and acting with it, are questions about which there is widespread disagreement and confusion.
So, what is integrity? Having integrity involves speaking and acting consistently, based on certain ethical principles and commitments. It involves standing for something and is part of an individual’s identity. It entails openness, honesty and fairness.
Professional integrity also involves a commitment to the central values of the profession in question. Organisations have integrity if the above attributes are in place – and if their members or employees, as a whole, are seen to have and act with integrity.
While all recognised professions, such as the accountancy profession (and its professional bodies and regulators) have an important role in promoting integrity among its membership, organisations and businesses of all types should seek to encourage integrity – and actively monitor it.
The responsibility to promote integrity ultimately falls to organisational leaders but the human resources department also have an important role to play. Research shows that tone from the top is absolutely critical for organisational integrity.
The leaders must set out what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour and lead by example, in both words and actions. However, strong leadership is not necessarily enough in itself.
ICAEW’s recently published report – in collaboration with Leeds University in the UK – provides advice on which practical techniques have the most positive impact on integrity and also points out some things to avoid. It is not just about what you do but also how you do it.
Disciplinary procedures which are not open, reward systems which are unfair or partisan, advice that is not really confidential, all have the potential to breed cynicism, resentment and distrust.
Conversely, an organisation which takes ethics seriously, admits its mistakes, genuinely values its employees’ contributions, and practices what it preaches, can make its employees feel proud to work for it, and motivate them to go the extra mile.
The research underlying the report identified the most critical and effective factors in instilling integrity. Among them are having stated organisational values.
If properly embedded, a list of values can offer criteria for decisions which are not purely commercial, and can thereby offer a counter-balance to commercial pressures, which can be a threat to integrity. Having an open culture where discussions on ethical issues are encouraged and employees feel comfortable in raising issues and concern is also important.
Support for whistleblowing is yet another area highlighted as quite fundamental to encouraging and instilling organisational integrity. That is because it helps to promote openness in the organisation by allowing people to raise issues in a confidential setting without fear of repercussions.
It thus has an effect both on individual integrity – providing a route for people to ‘stand for something’ within the organisation – and also on organisational integrity, because it helps ensure consistent behaviour within the organisation.
While tone from the top, values, openness and allowing whistleblowing are all seen as being among the most efficient factors, there are many other techniques that can also help encourage employees and organisations to ‘do the right thing’.
Training can absolutely be beneficial and bring positive results though the research found that it is critical that the training is well-tailored. Sending staff on a random course on ethics will help relatively little and could, in fact, actually be counter-productive.
Rewarding staff for ethical behaviour and disciplining those who don’t meet expectations are other tools available to those seeking to instil integrity. Disciplinary procedures enable organisations to correct unethical behaviour through punishment, or to rid themselves of persistent or serious offenders. It can also act as a deterrent.
Rewarding behaviour, while seen as efficient by many, is typically a lesser-used technique by organisations. A reason for that may be a feeling that a certain type of behaviour should be a minimum requirement and not something that deserves an extra pat on the back.
What is successful in one organisation may not be what works in another so it is important to tailor the techniques and tools used to the organisation in question. Being recognised as an organisation or individual that acts with integrity reaps many benefits. Investing a bit of time and effort in encouraging it, and monitoring efforts and results, is well worth it.
A briefing on ICAEW’s report Real Integrity can be found on: http://www.icaew.com/en/products/accountancy-markets-and-ethics/~/media/...