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Integrity Expert Al Watts On Penn State, BP & More

I recently met Al Watts, author of Navigating Integrity: Transforming Business As Usual Into Business At Its Best.

Al was kind enough to do a quick Q&A (between sailing trips) with me on the topic of business integrity.

Captain Al on his sloop LOON on Lake Superior

Q: Hi Al. Would you give a quick definition of each of your “4 Pillars Of Integrity”

Sure, Rob.

Identity is about knowing who we are (self-awareness,) where we’re going (purpose, vision, goals, etc.) and our core values or principles.

Authenticity is mainly trueness – to our purpose and values, truth and transparency.

Alignment has to do with a sense of coherence, harmony, or fit – as in structures and systems aligned with strategy, and adaptation without sacrificing what’s core.

Accountability is about living up to our promise – as in a brand promise or commitments, paying attention to what matters and stewardship.

“Integrity” is broader than just its association with honesty and morality. Its other dictionary definitions have to do with being whole, complete and without imperfections.

From my experience, “integrious” leaders and organizations manage these dimensions well and do well; those that don’t display integrity gaps and don’t fare as well.

Q: What are tips for how a business should define its mission and values?

Keep them short, sincere and engaging. A business purpose statement should quickly capture what value it delivers, for whom and how, or what differentiates the business.

Values need to be explicit statements about how an organization is committed to doing business. They need to resonate with what’s important for those inside the organization as well as with its intended market.

Q: Do you have a favorite example of a business mission statement and set of values?

I think Computer Service Corporation’s is pretty good:

“CSC’s mission is to use our extensive IT experience to deliver tangible business results enabling our clients in industry and government to profit from the advanced use of technology. We strive to build long-term client relationships based on mutual trust and respect.”

I just finished a book by Paul Spiegelman, founder and CEO of a company that I admire, Beryl Companies.

Beryl’s mission statement on its own isn’t that impressive: “Connecting people to healthcare.” When combined with its succinct statement of values and vision, however, and ways that Beryl keeps those central, it’s powerful.

Q: You mention the importance of authenticity in a business’s integrity. Can you break authenticity down?

Sure; mainly authenticity is about

trueness, truth and transparency.

Trueness means organizations and leaders are “walking their talk;” they’re “on purpose,” model their espoused values and live up to their commitments.

Penn State University is in trouble largely because it wasn’t true either to its purpose as an academic institution or to its espoused values. Its football program and the revenue it generated essentially crowded out its main higher learning purpose.

The Athletic Department obviously violated is stated value: “to promote traditional values of honesty, integrity, commitment and hard work as the foundation of Penn State’s reputation and continuing success.” (italics mine)

Truth is about seeing what’s true, speaking what’s true and seeking what’s true. As Warren Bennis said, “a leader’s first job is to define reality” – as hard as that truth might be to confront.

Speaking our truth and engaging others to do the same can be hard; as Churchill put it:

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

Insufficient transparency has contributed to much of the bad news these last few years.

Our great recession was caused to a large extent by opaque balance sheets and financial transactions. BP’s oil spill and Japan’s nuclear disaster were products of safety risks that were concealed.

Q: What are the tests of whether a business is authentic?

Here are a few ways:

Does it pass the trueness test:

  • Is it fulfilling it mission and brand promise?
  • Is it, and are its leaders especially, modeling its espoused values?

Does it pass the truth test:

  • Is it facing and articulating reality?
  • Does it foster a “truth telling” culture?

Does it pass the transparency test:

  • Is it overly secretive?
  • Are its financial reports and transactions understandable?

Q: Alignment is your third pillar of integrity. What tips do you have for businesses to keep integrity aligned?

This is kind of tricky, because it requires that a business be rigid and unchanging about some things – like its fundamental purpose and values, while at the same time demonstrating adaptability around practically everything else.

When a university supplements traditional classroom learning with technology and online learning, for example, that can still demonstrate alignment with its fundamental purpose.

Where some businesses go wrong is often unconsciously following practices or instituting systems that are not aligned with their value proposition or principles; common culprits are hiring or promotion practices, compensation and measurement methods.

An example is intending to follow a quality strategy, but instituting measures and paying in ways that send the message it’s really about volume or speed.

To pick on BP again, or its partner Halliburton, it doesn’t matter how many safety exhortations exist if what people really hear via pay and promotion practices is that speed and cost reduction are what really matter.

Q: You mention Accountability as a pillar of Integrity — how does a business encourage and measure accountability?

A large part of accountability is delivering on our promise; if we manage the above well, that almost follows automatically.

If we want people to be accountable, we have to clarify expectations, clear away barriers and provide the resources they need, and measure the right things.

Coincidentally, I just re-read an article in the April 2010 Harvard Business Review: “Leadership In The Age of Transparency.” It speaks to another important dimension of accountability, and that’s stewardship.

The article’s main point is that with the multitude of ways that organizations’ impact on society is being measured, coupled with access to that information, it is counterproductive for organizations to not take responsibility for their external impact.

Accountability requires measuring what matters, including accountability.

That is why I developed the Organization Integrity Survey – an assessment to administer in organizations that will gauge how well these four pillars are being managed.  Scores reveal likely integrity gaps in the organization and clues for how to close those gaps.

Q: If someone wants to reach out to you, what’s the best way for them to do so?

All of my contact information is on the Contact/Sign-Up Page of inTEgro’s web site or via my Al Watts blog.

Thanks Rob!