Are Organisational Integrity Issues Damaging Your Business?

The word “integrity” in the world of business is often associated with preventing corruption when in fact Organisational Integrity has much broader connotations.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit” Aristotle

In the English language the definition of integrity has two meanings; the first is concerned with reputation, honesty and trustworthiness and the second about internal cohesion, consistency and connectedness. Although presented as two distinct meanings, when considered in an organisational context the two are very much related.

Organisational Integrity embraces all aspects of the organisation successfully integrated to achieve the organisation’s purpose. Business reputation and trust is therefore built upon the successful cohesion and consistency of the organisation as a system.

In contrast businesses that are fragmented and dysfunctional very quickly earn a reputation for failing to deliver acceptable levels of service or performance.

While discussing service experiences recently it was apparent that a lack of organisational integrity is regrettably now commonplace in many organisations, representing a significant personal and organisational cost for customers, suppliers and employees. One of the most common themes that surfaced was conflicting messages received from organisations while attempting to do business.

I have recent experience in this area having resorted to engaging the services of the Financial Ombudsmen to resolve a long running banking issue concerning a simple request for Internet Banking.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the experience was that overall the staff that I spoke with (and there were many) were behaving in a polite, consistent and truthful way. However in spite of this the organisation as a whole consistently let me down often to the disappointment and frustration of those I was speaking with.

The failure of the bank to get to the root cause of the problem and resolve my straight-forward request was at no point disputed by the bank and yet it took nine months and the support of the Ombudsmen to resolve the issue.

I have not been surprised to learn this type of issue is commonplace and considered somewhat the norm. Many I have spoken with wrestled with the stress of complaining while empathising with the position of the individual within the organisation.

This lack of internal cohesion results in employees suffering stress in terms of the conflict between the integrity of the business and their own personal integrity.

In broader terms the effects can range from frustrated and disappointed customers or suppliers who choose to take their business elsewhere through to the collapse of the organisation.

“You can’t solve a problem with the same reasoning that created the problem” Albert Einstein

Whatever business we are in, conducting business depends on trust between all parties involved. Where such trust exists interactions are more reliable and can, where necessary be reduced to a simple and efficient transaction with the reasonable expectation that there will not be an issue. Where trust has been damaged there is an increased need to focus on the relationship, providing assurance and re-building trust.

When exploring trust there are a number of trust formula available that are broadly similar. The following model was developed by Charles H Green

Trustworthiness = (Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy) / Self Orientation

Credibility refers to the words that one speaks or one’s knowledge of a particular subject or field of study.

Reliability has to do with one’s actions, or one’s level of dependability.

Intimacy refers to familiarity and the degree of access.

Self-orientation has to do with the focus of the person in question.

Unfortunately many organisations adopt a policy, where trust has been damaged, of just elevating the level of intimacy.

This was very much apparent in my banking example with the appointment of a complaints representative and an increased dialogue. For the organisation it is often easier to increase the intimacy element than it is to understand and resolve the fundamental issues that underpin credibility and reliability. The likelihood therefore is that without intervention problems will recur.

There are many factors that may contribute, to a greater or lesser extent, to the breakdown in organisational integrity. These include structural issues, processes and controls, partner organisations, employees and culture and values.

What gets measured gets managed – even when it’s pointless to measure and manage it, and even if it harms the purpose of the organization to do so.” Peter Drucker

A clear strategy and practice of monitoring with a selection of appropriate measures implemented with the necessary tact and sensitivity reassures managers, drives the correct behaviour and provides staff with the confidence that managers understand their problems.

A call centre for example may boast high productivity and low cost per call but that’s irrelevant if a sizeable amount of the activity is processing customer complaints about poor service. Such activity measures obscure managers from seeing that rather than pursuing cheaper calls it may be better to improve the service to reduce the need for a call centre with all its associated costs in the first place.