Have you ever been disappointed by a business you greatly admired? What does integrity in business look like to you?
Claire tossed her favorite paper down on the table with a huff. She’d read it every morning over coffee for the last year, and always loved getting a birds-eye glimpse of happenings in the world around her.
She’d always admired this particular publication for taking great care in publishing factual information, along with stories that seemed to represent a core of ‘business values’ that Claire really felt she could get behind and support.
She’d always respected businesses that were willing to stand up for it’s beliefs, and operate from a place of integrity. Seemed like too few companies nowadays thought about values like truth and honesty. In her book, the two values were cornerstones in life, and that meant they were cornerstones to good business too.
Her lip curled in disgust. Which is why this paper just lost all her respect, as well as her patronage. She couldn’t believe they would publish a story that’s so blatantly skewed from the truth. What happened to their professional integrity? Their professional ethics? Their honor?
Claire shook her head, bummed, and took a sip of coffee. Guess she’d have to find another paper to read in the mornings. Obviously she’d never be able to trust this one again. Another one bites the dust.
Have you ever been disappointed by a business you greatly admired? Has a business you’ve always loved and supported suddenly done something that goes against the grain, and forced you to withdraw your support?
Sadly, Claire’s story is not unique. Customers and clients are disappointed all the time by business that don’t live up to their expectations, and who fail to operate with integrity.
But What is Integrity and Why is It Important?
“Your reputation and integrity are everything. Follow through on what you say you’re going to do. Your credibility can only be built over time, and it is built from the history of your words and actions.”
— Maria Razumich-Zec
The ‘Doing the right thing, even when no one is looking.’ defines the word as ‘the following of moral or ethical principles, and doing the same as what you say’.
In fact, if you Google the word integrity, it comes with many definitions; but the meaning boils down to the same result. Integrity equates to trust. If you can’t trust a company, why on earth would you bother doing business with them?
That’s why operating with integrity is so vital for a business today. With the rise of technology came the rise of greater transparency. Businesses who failed to be transparent in their dealings with the public, or did not deliver on their promises to customers and clients, found themselves getting reamed on the web.
The second a new potential customer or client Googles the name of your company and finds poor reviews extolling how other clients trusted you and were let down, is the same second you lost that new potential customer to someone else. All because of trust and integrity. Some businesses have it. Some don’t. Be one of the ones who have it.
What Does a Business with Integrity Look Like?
Let’s continue on with our news example. There’s a show on HBO titled ‘ The Newsroom’. The overriding theme of the show is that these are hardcore journalists who simply want to report the news to their viewers. The real news, and not some sensationalized or skewed version to perpetuate a political agenda.
The ACN Network held fast to their professional integrity and remained dogged in their quest for truth, even when the going got tough, and the world (and their network top dogs) pushed back.
If that meant they couldn’t run a story because some aspect of it couldn’t be verified, then they didn’t run that story. Even when all other news networks ran with a story, ACN refused to report on it, until the facts they were reporting could be verified 100%.
In short, they valued truth and honesty, even when truth and honestly wasn’t necessarily ‘pretty’, and they refused to apologize for it. As a result, ultimately they won their network’s respect, as well as the trust and respect of the public. They were a business bent on serving the world with integrity.
Does Your Business Operate with Integrity?
“There are seven things that will destroy us: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Religion without sacrifice; Politics without principle; Science without humanity; Business without ethics.”
— Mahatma Gandhi
The following are a few traits of businesses that commit to a code of ethics and to operating with integrity. Read through them, and see how your business currently measures up. If you find you fall short in some areas, then you know it’s something you can work on.
1. They are honest and truthful to their customers and clients, even when it hurts
Let’s face it… sometimes being honest is painful. Honesty requires some vulnerability, and most of us have a hard time with that.
In business especially, sometimes it can feel easier to ‘stretch the truth’ in order to maximize your earnings. But the long-term result is failure, along with a bad taste in your mouth. Who wants that?
2. They don’t make promises they can’t keep
Many businesses are great at making outrageous claims and promises, but few of them are able to back it up. This is only going to hurt you in the long run.
You might land a new customer who doesn’t know any better, but rarely will they remain in the dark. And once they step into the light and can see your company for what it is, they will never return. Worse, they’ll probably tell all their friends about their terrible experiences with you, and, well… you can guess the outcome of that.
3. They don’t take short-cuts
Businesses with integrity already know there are no short-cuts.
Building a successful business takes time, it takes blood, it takes sweat, tears, and a heck of a lot of hard work. They don’t look for ways to cheat their customers and clients to make more money, because they already know that ultimately they’re cheating themselves.
Winners over-deliver. Losers under-deliver. It’s that simple.
4. They treat their team with respect
Drawing once more from The Newsroom and it’s cast, the lead character Will McAvoy began the show treating his team carelessly, with little regard for them. He rarely remembered names, and would often shout at them when things weren’t going right. When the network did a 180 and chose to start reporting real news once again, it reawakened Will’s drive to be excellent.
Part of being excellent was being a leader his team could respect. Part of being a leader his team could respect was respecting his team. It’s a win-win. Building a business with integrity starts first with you.
5. They raise the standard
Operating with integrity doesn’t just lift you up, it raises the bar for other businesses within your industry as well. They can’t compete with you if they can’t be as honest as you.
Customers and clients value honesty and trust every bit as much in their business relationships as they do in their personal ones. So look around you. Companies that operate with integrity are often emerging as leaders within their industry, while others strive to catch up. Is that you? If not, why not? It certainly could be.
6. They value their reputation
This doesn’t mean they kowtow to the public in order to maintain an ‘image’, it just means they strive to present themselves in a way that puts their best foot forward. However, they will never put their reputation above honesty and trust, even if that means they might temporarily have to look bad, in order to ultimately look good.
It’s okay to screw up and make mistakes, but character is defined in how you handle them. In the same way, a company’s character and rep are defined by the mistakes it’s inevitable they will make, and how they own up to them.
Integrity in business is a choice. It doesn’t rely on anything other than you, making up your mind to commit to giving your best to your clients or customers. It’s also a constant. You can’t compromise your integrity in small situations, and not expect that same compromise to occur in larger, more important situations.
By the same token, if you commit to making small decisions with integrity, you’ll also use that same integrity and sense of honesty and fair play in the big decisions. Lead with integrity, even if no one else does. Your customers and clients will reward you for it. With that, I’ll leave you with one final quote.
As an entrepreneur, a reputation for integrity is your most valuable commodity. If you try to put something over on someone, it will come back to haunt you.”
— Victor Kiam
Over to You
What does integrity in business look like to you? Do you have it? Do you see where you can improve? What about other companies in your industry… can you see integrity in the way they do business? Or is there an opening for you to begin raising the bar?
about the author
Cori Padgett-Bukowski is a cheeky word wrangler-for-hire, professional blogger, and published fiction author under the pen name . You can find her at , furiously polishing the words of her clients and sharing her thoughts on entrepreneurship with all and sundry as well as over at , digging deep and sharing her thoughts on life. Elsewhere, you might find her sipping coffee, staring into space, and wool-gathering for her storytelling endeavors.