As I listen to what is happening in the western world (USA, UK, Greece, Spain… banking, financial services, media, politics….) I am struck by the thought that what we are seeing is a degradation in the performance of key institutions and systems. Why is this so? It occurs to me that the ‘workability’ of the system that powers western democracy and institutions has been compromised and so that is why we have what we have. What is the cause of this degradation in ‘workability’?
The failure in leadership. And our collective practice of being ‘out of integrity’. We act as if we can spend more than we earn: borrow indefinitely without paying the price. We act as if we can make a set of promises before getting into government and then throw them out of the window when we get into government. We think that we can talk customer-centricity and customer experience whilst focussing ruthlessly on cutting costs or finding hidden ways of charging more for providing less……
With this context in mind I am reissuing this post that I wrote at the start of the year. If you have no interest in leadership and performance then I advise you to go do something else. If you do have an interest then I advise you that this post is long and has to be grappled with not skimmed. If you are a skimmer then I advise you to go and skim something else.
Grappling with the domains of ‘integrity’ and leadership is necessary for improving performance
This post is associated with and follows on from the previous post: Want a breakthrough in customer-centricity in 2012? Start with ‘Integrity’. This post clarifies what I wrote in the earlier – some people did not get what I was getting at and I take responsibility for that – and extends ‘Integrity’ into the domain of leadership and business performance. If you are up for being customer-centric and improving the performance of your organisation then you absolutely have to grapple with the domains of ‘Integrity’ and leadership and connect the two together. So let’s take a deeper look at these and how they fit together. This is a long post AND you can get a lot of value out of it if you take the time to really read it and digest it. Some of you are going to find all kind of issues (too long, too boring, too preachy…) with this post. How do I know? Because we ‘resist’ that which ‘confronts’ us and spoils the picture of the world that we are attached to – especially if it means giving up some of our self-serving habits.
When I speak/write ‘Integrity’ I am not pointing at morality and virtue!
If you take a look at the dictionary you find the following definitions for integrity:
- The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness – e.g. he is known to be a man of integrity
- The state of being whole and undivided – e.g. upholding territorial integrity and national sovereignty
- The condition of being unified, unimpaired, or sound in construction – e.g. the structural integrity of the novel
When I use the term ‘Integrity’ I am NOT talking about, not pointing towards, nor interested in the first definition. I am talking about and pointing towards the second and third definitions. Why? Because I am concerned with the domains of ‘workability’ and ‘performance’. Allow me to illustrate this through a personal experience and a concrete example.
Recently I jumped into my Honda Accord and drove fours hours to spend some time with my parents. I noticed that the car was ‘dirty-messy’ on the outside and on the inside. I also noticed that when I pushed the accelerator down hard there was a delay of several seconds before the car responded and when it did the response was sluggish and the engine made a noise that suggested that I was asking it do more work than it was able/ready to do. Finally, I noticed that at certain speeds the steering wheel vibrated suggesting wheel balancing and tracking issues. Whilst I was at my parents I shared my experience of driving the car with my brother (who runs a car business) and asked him to fix the issues and get the car back into ‘Integrity’. After examining the car he replaced the spark plugs, he topped up the fluids, balanced the wheels, took care of the tracking to make sure the wheels were in alignment and cleaned the car – inside and out. When I drove the car back home my driving experience was completely different: instant response from the car when I hit the accelerator, no noise from the engine, no steering wheel vibration, crystal clear windscreen, sparking interior…..
Why the difference in performance of the car as I experienced it? When I was driving to my parents my car had been out of ‘Integrity’. It was not whole and complete. It was not a condition of being unified, unimpaired or sound in construction: the spark plugs were not working, the power transmission was less than it needed to be, the wheels were not balanced, the wheels were not aligned…. When I drove back to my parents my car was in ‘Integrity’: all the components that had to be there for the car to be whole and complete (sound, unimpaired) were there and so the performance of the car was transformed.
Now is the time to address the question: why are you ignoring the first definition of integrity that of moral uprightness? Different people have different ideas about what is moral. Different groups of people have different ideas on what is and is not moral. Morality is simply a social agreement between a group of people: is some groups of people (Christians say) it is moral to eat pork, in others (Muslims say) it is immoral to eat pork; in some groups of people it is moral to make use of all the latest technology (most of us), in others (e.g. the Amish) it is immoral to make use of electricity, phones etc. Now here is the thing to get no matter what we decide is ‘moral’ regarding my car, in the real world having in place faulty spark plugs or unbalanced and misaligned wheels degrades the workability and performance of my car – that is simply what is so in the real world no matter what I, you, they, we believe about it. Get it?
What would be present in your life (including your organisation) if ‘Integrity’ was present?
Werner Erhard has done great work on ‘Integrity’ and I cannot explain it any better than he has written it. So I am going to use his words:
“What would your life be like, and what would your performance be, if it were true that:
You have done what you said you would do and you did it on time.
You have done what you know to do, you did it the way it was meant to be done, and you did it on time.
You have done what others would expect you to do, even if you never said you would do it, and you did it on time, or you have informed them that you will not meet their expectations.
And you have informed others of your expectations for them and have made explicit requests to those others.
And whenever you realised that you were not going to do any of the foregoing, or not going to do it on time:
You have said so to everyone who might be impacted, and you did so as soon as you realised that you wouldn’t be doing it, or wouldn’t be doing it on time, and
If you were going to be do it in the future you have said by when you would do it, and
You have dealt with the consequences of not doing it on time, or not doing at all, for all those who are impacted by your not doing it on time, or not doing it at all.
In a sentence, you have done what you said you would do or you have said you are not doing it; you have nothing hidden, you are truthful, forthright, straight and honest. And you have cleaned up any mess you have caused for those depending on your word. And almost unimaginable: what if others operated this way with you?”
‘Integrity’ and communication go together
If you read what Werner has written you get that ‘Integrity’ and communication go together – think of them as two sides of the same coin. Being ‘in Integrity’ means ‘being in communication’. How? Why? We live in relationship with one another and we progress our ‘projects’ (and an organisation exists to progress specific ‘projects’) by making, accepting, declining, renegotiating, fulfilling requests of one another – these requests can be implicit (implied) or explicit as is clearly set out by Werner. Making, accepting, declining, renegotiating, fulfilling requests how is this done? Surely it is done through language – right? That is to say through speaking and listening – whether that is face to face, on the phone, email, SMS…
Let me put it more bluntly when you are part of a group – and we are always part of a group as we exist in relationship – not ‘being in communication’ with the group is being ‘out of Integrity’. That is simply so even if you did not promise to be in communication. Why? Because it our normal functioning to expect the people in our group to ‘be in communication’ – to let us know what is going on. How do you feel when your son or daughter does not let you know what is going on his/her life? How does your mother feel if you turn up and tell her that you have been experiencing a really difficult time for the last year? Does she berate you for not sharing? Does she say that you should have called her and shared your pain? I hope you get what I am saying.
‘Integrity’ and leadership
One of the people who read my last blog on ‘Integrity’ made the comment that his organisation (he is the CEO) relies on a contract manufacturer and fulfillment partner to honor its promises to its customers. He also pointed out that this contract manufacturers is out of ‘Integrity’: this organisation has committed never to be out of stock and to despatch order within one day and it is regularly out of stock and often takes up to five days to despatch orders to my readers customers. Bob (the reader) also stated that whilst the CEO of the contract manufacturer is in ‘Integrity’ the people in his organisation are out of ‘Integrity’ – else the organisation would honour the agreements around stock and fulfillment. My response: bull***t!
What goes with being the CEO (the leader) of an organisation? When I or you step into the CEO role you automatically become responsible for the ‘Integrity’ of the whole organisation! That is what is so. The CEO is the top dog and rightly or wrongly we (customers, partners, employees, suppliers, regulators) expect the CEO to make sure that his organisation works: it does what it says (keeps promises) and says what it does (honesty, authenticity). So the hallmark of effective leadership is taking the stand: I am responsible for the ‘Integrity’ of the organisation that I lead. What goes with this stand? It involves setting up an ‘existence structure’ that regularly gets me present to where the organisation is out of ‘Integrity’ and another (or perhaps the same) ‘existence structure’ for taking action to get the organisation back into ‘Integrity’. Any fool can take responsibility for his own (personal) integrity it takes a special fool to take responsibility for the group of people – family, organisation, community, society.
Does you CEO relate to himself as the person who is responsible for the ‘Integrity’ of the organisation he leads? And when the ‘Integrity’ of the organisation is out does he/she ask the question: who am I being such that the ‘playing field’ that I have created (upon which the organisation plays the game of business) gives rise to the organisation that I lead being out of ‘Integrity’? Or does he/she simply point the finger of blame at other people in or outside the organisation? Why do I say outside of the organisation? Because the CEO is also responsible for the ‘Integrity’ of value chain partners! When I, the customer, order from Amazon I expect Amazon to be accountable for getting what I have bought to me by the promised date. I do not care if Amazon has outsourced part of the value chain to another party e.g. the end delivery to a fulfillment company like Yodel – I hold Amazon responsible!
‘Integrity, leadership, communication and performance – how are they connected?
By now you should be clear that ‘being in Integrity’ can only occur if you are also ‘being in communication’. You should also be clear that ‘being in Integrity’ for the organisation as a whole is related to leadership. And you should know that ‘being in Integrity’ is desirable because when any ‘system’ is not in ‘Integrity’ then workability and performance of that ‘system’ degrades. So I’d sum it up as follows:
– Leaders are responsible for the performance of their organisations;
– Performance (the output) is correlated with the ‘Integrity’ of the organisation (the ‘system’) – ‘Integrity’ gives rise to workability and performance which means that if you compromise on ‘integrity’ then you are compromising workability and performance of the system that you are responsible for;
– Leadership is fundamentally about being a stand for the ‘Integrity’ of the entire organisation (including value chain partners) and setting up ‘existence structures’ to quickly detect where the organisation is ‘out of Integrity’ and then taking prompt, effective action to put the organisation back ‘into Integrity’; and
– Communication is essential to ‘Integrity’ and so leadership involves a concern for effective communication – communication that tilts the table towards the organisation being ‘in Integrity’ rather than being ‘out of Integrity.
What do you say?