Integrity in business, or the lack thereof, can have a significant impact on the long-term success of any business.
If you ask someone, "What is the purpose of business?" don't be surprised if you get answers like "to make money," or "to maximize profits." Yes, a business has to make money to stay in business, but how this is done is extremely important for long-term success.
Businesses provide goods and/or services based on the needs and wants of other people. If the world needs it and a business can provide it, our needs and wants can be met. How well this is accomplished can be assessed by those who use the products and services using metrics like quality and value. This is the "what."
But what about the "how?"
How businesses meet our requirements starts with their motivation and those of their employees. Let's use the real estate business as an example. Consider a realtor who is driven by making money, is focused on maximizing the number of real estate transactions each year and who has an insatiable appetite for being recognized each year as the top salesperson. What would this drive, focus and motivation tell you about that person?
Let's say you didn't know anything about this person's character and that you needed the services of a realtor. Since the introduction of the internet, it has become easier to locate people, but it has become harder to distinguish the good from the bad because of marketing hype. The three most common ways of finding this realtor are searching for them online, getting referred to them by someone else or selecting them based on certain factors, such as their sales history.
However, would you want to know if this realtor would throw his or her mother under a bus if they thought it would help them make money? Would you want to know if the person referring you to a realtor was being compensated for the referral? Would you want to know more about the realtor’s character before doing business with them?
Consider this statement by Confucius: "Conduct guided by profit is cause for much complaint." Business is about providing goods and/or services to others. More importantly, it is about interacting with people, and it involves human qualities and human nature. How people deal with other people ultimately comes down to their character and integrity. Are they honest and truthful? Do they demonstrate integrity in everything that they do? Do they place your needs ahead of their own? Integrity is listed by the Center for Creative Leadership as the top character strength that leaders need, particularly at the top levels of organizations.
Having integrity is not about telling the world what you do through your marketing efforts. In fact, people who do this are often unable to define and describe what is meant by integrity, let alone practice it. Integrity is not about justifying actions that you know are wrong. Integrity is not about pleasing people and telling them what you think they want to hear.
As a business professional, you should be helping people by telling them what they need to know. Integrity is a foundational ethical principle of character based on honesty and truthfulness. A person with integrity does not reveal confidences, or impugn the integrity of others or their businesses. Integrity is about doing the right thing for the right reasons even when no one is looking. It should guide one's thoughts, speech and actions.
It starts with you
The road to integrity in business starts with being honest with yourself and questioning your motivations. Are you placing the needs and wants of your clients and/or customers ahead of your own? Are you delivering the best product and/or service that you can at the best value? Are you being honest and truthful in all situations? Are you true to your word? Do you stand behind your products and services? Are you willing to admit mistakes and correct errors? Are you truly accountable for your actions? Are you the same person at work and at home, in public and in private? Are you being authentic (being yourself), and are you consistent in your thoughts, behavior, and actions in all circumstances? Integrity is keeping a commitment even if it comes at a personal cost.
Faulty products, shady deals and hidden agendas have no place in a business that conducts itself with integrity. Nor does false data, falsifying documents, misrepresenting facts or resorting to misleading advertising. You and your business will be assessed and judged by others. It is not what you say about yourself and your business that will stand the test of time; rather, it is what others come to realize after careful observation of, and first-hand experience with, your business.
Think of your business like your life. It is not what we do, but who we are and how we treat other people, for which we will be truly remembered. The reputation of your business is at stake and the truth will come out over time. As Confucius said many centuries ago,"I used to take a man at his word and trusted that he would act accordingly. But now I listen to his words and note his actions."