Photo by J. Alan Paul
Working for the Better Business Bureau the past few years, I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with business owners from many sectors of the marketplace. Across the board, the most frequent question I get is, “How do I improve my business?” My answer is that it starts with a strategically created plan that builds a solid foundation of honesty, integrity and transparency for your company. Sounds easy enough, right? But how do you go about actually doing it?
Last time, we looked at the effect that honesty can have on your bottom line. This month, we dive a little deeper into integrity.
At a recent event, someone asked me, “Why do we have to talk about ethics? Doesn’t it just go without saying?”
“Every time you get in your car, what is the one reminder light you see? ‘Buckle your seatbelt.’ Why do we need this reminder? Doesn’t it go without saying?”
[Integrity] is the hallmark of a person or a business that demonstrates sound moral and ethical principles and the foundation upon which organizations build relationships, trust, respect and reputation.
My point was — and is — that it’s important for all businesses to keep ethics top of mind. Day in and day out, ethics are vital to the success of your business. For proof of this, you need look no further than companies such as Enron, Arthur Andersen and WorldCom, all businesses that went astray and then, virtually overnight, went out of business.
In today’s marketplace, increased competition has created a need to look for every edge possible to get ahead. It’s all too easy to be tempted to compromise your values in the quest to be on top, but we know that one step off the straight-and-narrow path can lead to another, which can lead to another and so on. It’s best to stick to the high road when you can and to hold the line when you can’t. This is a tougher path, but the rewards are worth the effort.
Integrity is one of the fundamental values that employers, employees and customers seek. It’s the hallmark of a person or a business that demonstrates sound moral and ethical principles and the foundation upon which organizations build relationships, trust, respect and reputation. Integrity always stands out, and all of us know it when we see it.
Character speaks volumes. Businesses guided by integrity stand behind the work they do. They take proactive steps to make things right, acknowledge when they’re wrong and don’t make excuses. That’s integrity.
Integrity as a value doesn’t, in every case, improve a company’s bottom line. Having integrity means that there are times when you have to “take a hit.” This could be as minor as offering a refund to an unhappy customer in the interest of goodwill or as major as a product recall. It’s better to lose a battle in the interest of your company’s reputation, though, than to risk your good name when you know you’re in the wrong. In the larger picture, integrity translates into a reduction in risks and an increase in sustainable growth. That’s a solid return on your investment.
So how do we actually demonstrate integrity? Here are three gestures often equated with it:
1. Being Proactive
To be proactive means to take initiative by anticipating needs and providing solutions without being asked and responding quickly and affirmatively with good communication.
2. Being Equitable
Being equitable is often a hard one for a company as the old adage that “the customer is always right” doesn’t always ring true, but a commitment to fairness does win out in the long run.
3. Being Humble
Being humble may not be the first thing you think of when building your business. You want to show everyone why you’re the best and why they should work with you, but humility is a winning approach. At heart, being humble is showing gratitude, respect and sensitivity to the needs of others. When a company shows awareness of the needs of others and acts to support those needs over their own, customers will respond.
Being proactive, equitable and humble signify that an organization has made a firm commitment to integrity, which, in turn, builds trust and long-term relationships.
You can begin to see how these pieces all fit together. Honesty, integrity and transparency should be hard-wired into your employee manual. Next time, we’ll take a closer look at transparency.
Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota
51 Broadway N, Fargo