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High Integrity - You Don't Know It's Missing Until There's An Explosion...

Capitalist Note:  I'm speaking at The Right Thing's customer conference on Thursday, where I'll be waxing poetic about some research I've recently conducted related to the use of values in company performance management systems, contrasted with the behaviors normal employees, high performing employees and managers actually would like to see used in these tools.  Here's a hint - each group of stakeholders would like to see something different.  With that presentation coming up, I'm replaying this post from last year...

Work with me a little bit on this post... I did a post over at Fistful of Talent a couple of days back called "Want to Define Your Talent DNA? Don't Waste the Values Section Included in Your Performance Review"... The premise of the post is simple: If a company truly wants to drive culture, they ought to put what they really value on the old "Company X Values" section of the Performance Review. 

Unfortunately, it's usually soft things that are included in the Values section, and you have to watch that - even if you value them.  For example, consider the competency "Integrity" that's often included in this section of the review.  How can someone exceed your expectations regarding Integrity?  Here's how the conversation around integrity usually goes when included in the performance management system:

Team Member: I saw you gave me a "meets' in Integrity.  I have high integrity!Two bobs

Manager: I'm not saying you don't, I'm just unsure of how to measure what's meeting and what's exceeding...

Team Member: Well, I have high integrity.  I deserve the exceeds and I'm a little miffed that you have me as "meets"

Manager: OK, give me some examples of how your integrity exceeds that of your peers.

Team Member: Well, I've never stolen office supplies from the company, or stolen anything large. 

Manager: Have you ever seen anyone take something that didn't belong to them?

Team Member: Sure.

Manager: Did you report it?

Team Member: No, I'm not a tattletale.

Manager: Well, holding everyone in the organization to your high standards regardless of the consequences might be a good example of an "exceeds" in integrity.

Team Member: Well, that's not me.  Wait!  I've got one. You know how we'll waive the contract penalty related to early cancellation if they escalate their call or complaint?  Well, I can't stand the inconsistency, so I tell all customers who call in how it works before they ask.  You can't treat people differently, so my integrity makes me give that info to customers - it's the whole truth...

Manager: You won't report small incidents of stealing, but you'll cause our company to lose revenue based on your integrity?  Really?

You get the point.  Integrity is very important in every organization.  It belongs in the mission statement and core values.  You should talk about it as a company alot and reward the examples you can find.

But Integrity and its step-cousin, ethics, have no place in your performance management system.  Why?  Because they're impossible to give feedback to related to most employee's performance. 

You don't know you have a problem with Integrity or Ethics until they're gone.  Until there's a stench, a report or an explosion.  When you smell the stench or see the explosion, move swiftly and take care of business.

Just don't set your managers up to fail with conversations like the one above...


Dan Johnson

I agree with you regarding the rating scale thing. I look at values sections more as pass/fail. Fails should be traced back to specific incidents of discipline or scandal (Whichever applies). This is mostly for people on their last chance I guess. A fail means there is a better than 90% chance you will not be working here next year.

Shelley Moore

Good article. Integrity and ethics can be involved in performance management with the right software system. is capable of integrating company goals with role definitions among many other aspects of the business.

Paul Hebert

I'm with Dan on this one - it's binary. Either you have it or you don't.

That said - each company has it's own definition of integrity based on the practices of the firm. Some companies live a bit closer to the integrity "event horizon" than others and some employees can operate there - others can't.

It's a two-way street. Would you bounce an employee for not doing something the company thinks is okay but the individual thinks is outside their integrity bubble?

But back to you initial question - should integrity be part of a performance review. Absolutely. Without a discussion of the "how" things are done - you're only focused on "what" got done and then all bets are off. If you don't care how I got the sale, just that I got it - speaks volumes about the company.

The issue isn't whether to include it in my mind - it's whether it can be ranked on a scale - and it can't.

Loren Paulsson

It seems we're in danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water. In the hypothetical conversation, integrity isn't adequately defined. And we might argue annual reviews provide an imprecise way of dealing with a complex and delicate subject.

But to see integrity as binary doesn't give individuals a chance to address relatively minor habits before they become major ethical lapses, and failure to reward integrity or point out needed improvement will communicate integrity doesn't matter to the organization.

It's not easy, but some organizations have addressed these issues.

Dan Johnson

Loren, I guess the question for you would be "What is a minor lapse in integrity?" I think both Paul and I's point is that in the places that truly value integrity there is no such thing as a "minor habit" of acting without integrity. If the organization chooses to rate on integrity it should not be used to nitpick and get into the conversations that Kris so aptly describes in his post. If a company wants to rate someone's integrity and it is indeed a value to them it almost has to be a go--no go event.

Loren Paulsson

Mr. Johnson, I was thinking for example of an employee who is chronically two to five minutes late. This situation might not cause a problem most days, but it's conceivable it could lead to a "more serious" problem.

If I understand your argument, you're saying if something is important enough to discuss at all then it is important enough to fire someone for (or start the discipline process). And you're pointing out the limitations on "coaching" someone into more ethical behavior. Thanks!

Eric Guess

The best way to see your employees act with integrity is to have integrity! As the manager one should never expect to see something from their subordinates they do not exhibit. Go the extra mile to demonstrate how important it is to own your mistakes and credit praise to your team. Watch how quickly this becomes the norm and ingrained in the organization's cuture.

Ben Archer

Eric is completely correct with thinking that personal integrity is a precondition for seeing it/expecting it in your subordinates. I also have to agree very strongly with Dan's perspective that it is pass/fail on a performance eval. A fail may require major attention or even termination. However, single examples of "high" integrity can be noticed on an individual basis and count in favor of the employee. It doesn't fit into the traditional model of meets vs exceeds expectations but can be cited in especially positive examples.

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