There’s no shortage of headlines about companies that have become embroiled in scandal — you don’t want to follow their lead. Staying out of trouble and truly working as a collaborative team requires that your business has a clear standard of integrity. If you haven’t built this standard yet, there’s no time to waste.
Communication Is Everything
Creating a standard of integrity can mean aligning and engaging around a set of shared values. But engagement is a result of good leadership, not a directive. And integrity ties back to how well you are communicating your shared values. If you communicate your values well, then there’s no doubt where you stand, how you feel, or what people should do.
Consistent, Repeated Exposure
One of the basic rules about communicating values is to make sure that people can’t miss the message — that it’s repeated or always visible in some way. Johnson & Johnson is a good example of this. They consistently display their credo from 1943 on their walls. And no matter which Johnson & Johnson sector you visit, you can go office to office and that credo is going to be there. Employees know and understand it, and it unifies people.
Doing As You Say
Communicating well isn’t just about making sure everyone gets the memo every day or that you’re using language everyone can understand. It’s also about really doing as you’ve said and eliminating any mismatch between your implicit and explicit messages.
Let’s take disruption, for instance. It’s a huge buzzword. Everyone says they want people to shake things up and create an environment where they can be disruptors. But then when people actually try to raise issues or go against the status quo, those in leadership often rebel.
Google stands as a perfect example of this. One of their employees was investigating the ethics related to the use of artificial intelligence. She wrote a paper about it with other professionals. The paper challenged what others were thinking and doing — it was disruptive. And so she got pushback. People accused her of not having a thorough enough literature review, for example. As a result, she ended up leaving Google because they really weren’t as tolerant of disruption as they’d previously suggested.
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Building Culture With Outsiders From the Bottom Up
In addition to making sure your messaging about your values stays consistent and visible, bring people from all levels of the organization into the conversation. It’s a myth that you build culture from the top-down because people only truly align with strategies they’ve helped to create or, at the very least, been engaged in understanding. They have to feel a sense of ownership about what’s happening to get behind your decisions. For the same reason, full accountability for your standard of integrity means opening the conversation to others (e.g., customers, shareholders) who are more outside the everyday business operations. The public is more interested in ethics, shared risk, and how you govern than ever, so talk to them about it in-depth.
Pinpointing What Your Values Ought To Be
Of course, you can’t communicate values if you haven’t identified them first. So, before you try to develop or improve your culture, stop and think. Ask yourself what your pain points are as well as what issues are most pressing for you and your workforce. As you identify these things, you might invert them to create a value you’ve overlooked. For example, a manufacturing company with a concerning employee safety record would make employee safety one of their core five values and then communicate the importance of keeping each other safe to create alignment across the organization.
There will be other knowledge gaps or unanswered questions. For example, maybe you’re curious about why people prefer to work at home or seem to be incredibly interested in specific types of projects. Take those points you’re wondering about and become an investigator, whether that means doing a survey, chatting by the water cooler, creating learning circles, or looking for patterns in your performance data relative to these events. The more answers you get to these questions, the easier it will be to see, weed out, and replace problematic ideals with minimal friction.
A Solid Standard of Integrity Paves the Way for More Competitive Business
Today more than ever, ethics and morals have a say in whether employees, shareholders, customers, and the general public give you support. Creating a clear standard of integrity is foundational for building brand trust and loyalty. Identify your values by clarifying and inverting your pain points as well as investigating to understand your unanswered culture questions. Then involve all stakeholders, both internally and externally, and communicate your standard of integrity as consistently as you can. When things go wrong, you’ll see that truly great companies refer back to their values and standards of integrity. It helps if they’ve been there all along.