3 Steps to Build Integrity in an Ideal Work Environment


In addition to workplace honesty, integrity in an ideal work work environment is a cornerstone for building a high performing corporate culture and as discussed below, is based on a set of clearly communicated corporate values.  People who demonstrate high integrity tend to draw people to them.  Likewise, companies that have a clear set of core values attract the right kind of people to them and repel others that do not share those values.  We have found that one of the things that makes an ideal work environment is a shared set of core values and behavior in integrity with those values.

Defining Integrity in the Workplace

One way to define "integrity" is to view it as acting consistent with a set of values.  A person acting with integrity in the workplace then is a person who consistently behaves in accordance with a company's values, whether written or not, and regardless of whether the actions are public or private.  Using this definition, a company needs to have a clearly defined set of values communicated to employees such that they understand them and can make choices accordingly.  In our experience, making those values prominent takes effort, but pays off.  We did our best to break this concept down to its essential elements in our post, Integrity in a Sentence - How do You Define It?

Our core values are (1) Service - great attitude, put others first, (2) Passion - driven to make an impact, (3) Courage - courage to do the right thing, (4) Commitment - someone you can count on, and (5) innovation - always open to a better way.  For us, our employees act with integrity in our workplace when they consistently exhibit those values in addition to basic values like the Golden Rule.

But what if a company is not clear on its values?  Or, worse the company has a set of written values, but has not either communicated them or demonstrated that they have meaning?  In these circumstances, it will be difficult to have a clear and agreed vision of what workplace integrity means and it will be very easy for different employees to have different views of what values are important.  These challenges are one of the reasons why we believe there are significant advantages to a values based business.

In her blog post, Examples of Integrity in the Workplace, Sherrie Scott points out that "employers, business leaders and employees can benefit from integrity in the workplace.  Integrity involves moral judgment and character, honesty and leadership values."  She suggests the following workplace values: Golden Rule, honesty, confidentiality, and lead by example.

Regardless of the specific values, adopting and clearly communicating a set of values to all employees is a critical step toward building workplace integrity.

Strategy or Culture? - Benefits of Integrity in the Workplace

The debate between which is better strategy or culture will likely never be settled.  We'd prefer not to compromise, but if we had to choose just one, we would pick culture over strategy.  A strong culture requires integrity with its core values.  While strategy may change over time, a corporate culture built on timeless values should evolve little.  For example, who could complain about someone who consistently does what they tell you they are going to do?  Or, someone that shows up on time, every time?  How about someone willing to risk telling a supervisor they are not acting consistent with the company's core values?

The benefits of core values integrity are significant -- less office tension and politics, employees know where they stand, less decision fatigue because core values serve as clear priorities, and an overall more enjoyable and higher performing environment for employees.  To be real, however, a company must use its core values to make hiring, firing, promotion, and compensation decisions.  The following provides steps business leaders can use to implement a values based business.

3 Practical Steps to Build Integrity in the Workplace

One way to foster an ideal work environment, is to go all in on core values.  The following are practical steps to implement workplace integrity.  Please note all of this takes courage, particularly the last step.

1. Determine and Commit to Core Values.  As discussed above, the first step is getting clear on what behaviors the company truly values -- and those it will not tolerate.  Because values must come from the leadership team and usually are not created but found, it is best to start the workplace-values analysis with the leaders.  Once a manageable set of values is set, you should individually rate each member of the leadership team to ensure integrity at the top.  We use a "+," "+/-," and "-" system for consistently exhibits the value, usually exhibits the value, and usually does not exhibit the value.  See our post Corporate Values Can Make or Break Your Company for a greater discussion of corporate values and how to choose them.

2. Communicate the Core Values and Keep Communicating Them.  Then Communicate Them Again.  Now that values are set, it is time to communicate them to the employees.  Don't just communicate them, over communicate them.  We place placards on the wall in the office, hand out colorful artwork with the values printed, and promote employees recognizing other employees for exhibiting the values.  You need to be relentless about the corporate values.  As mentioned above talking about them is not enough.  You must use them to making hiring, firing, promotion, and compensations decisions.

3.  Act with Integrity to the Core Values.  For the truly hard part, leadership must act in integrity with the core values and hold each other and all employees accountable.  Courage, honesty, trust, and willingness to get vulnerable are all prices that must be paid to build integrity in the workplace.  This is not for the fearful.  It also takes consistent attention.  Employee surveys and peer feedback are effective tools to help each person improve their values integrity.  One of the best tools we have is our quarterly check-in process where each employee meets with his/her supervisor to discuss performance, goal setting, and core values compliance.  We ask that each employee do a +, +/-, or - self assessment for their core values performance.  This provides a feedback loop on each person's perceptions.  We have found that the best feedback is a combination of personal caring about the employee and challenging behavior inconsistent with our core values.  See our post on Kim Scott of Google's method called Radical Candor for practical tips to implement that feedback system.

One final word of caution on core values adoption: a value usually does not mean much until it costs you something.  This is where the rubber meets the road.  In the workplace, this typically plays out where someone is either a high performer, but not a values match or even harder, an employee that acts in integrity with workplace values, but is a poor performer in his/her role.  That difficult situation is the opportunity to exercise the core values integrity muscle.  

Final Thoughts on Workplace Integrity and Core Values

Fully implementing core values to build workplace integrity is a difficult and long-term commitment, but we have found it to be a significant way to enhance our culture.

While our business is to be an innovative law firm, our post 5 Building Blocks of a Strong Law Firm Culture applies equally to other industries and businesses.    Please read it if you are looking for more ideas on creating a strong corporate culture.

Please share any comments you have or ideas for anything we may have missed.

The Culture Counts blog is a discussion of law firm culture and legal innovation, including topics such as effective leadership, employee engagement, workplace culture, ideal work environment, company core values, and workplace productivity.  

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About the Firm:

Klemchuk LLP is a litigation, intellectual property, transactional, and international business law firm dedicated to protecting innovation. The firm provides tailored legal solutions to industries including software, technology, retail, real estate, consumer goods, ecommerce, telecommunications, restaurant, energy, media, and professional services. The firm focuses on serving mid-market companies seeking long-term, value-added relationships with a law firm. Learn more about experiencing law practiced differently and our local counsel practice.

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