By Michael C. Jensen
Note: Reprinted in whole with permission
Integrity, Morality and Ethics, Defined
Integrity: A state or condition of being whole, complete, unbroken, unimpaired, sound, in perfect condition.
Morality: In a given society, in a given era of that society, morality is the generally-accepted standards of what is desirable and undesirable; of right and wrong conduct, and what is considered by that society as good or bad behaviour of a person, group or entity.
Ethics: In a given group, ethics is the agreed upon standards of what is desirable and undesirable; of right and wrong conduct; of what is considered by that group as good and bad behaviour of a person, group or entity that is a member of the group, and may include defined bases for discipline, including exclusion.
Integrity of an Organization, Defined
An organization (or any human system) is in integrity when:
- It is whole and complete with respect to its word. This includes that nothing is hidden, no decep- tion, no untruths, no violation of contracts or property rights, etc.
- That is to say, an organization honours its word:
- Internally, between members of the organization, and
- Externally, between the organization and those it deals with.
This includes what is said by or on behalf of the organization to its members as well as outsiders.
‘One’s Word’, Defined
A person’s word consists of each of the following:
- What you said: whatever you have said you will do or will not do, and in the case of do, doing it on time.
- What you know: whatever you know to do or know not to do, and in the case of do, doing it as you know it is meant to be done and doing it on time, unless you have explicitly said to the contrary.
- What is expected: whatever you are expected to do or not do (even when not explicitly expressed), and in the case of do, doing it on time, unless you have explicitly said to the contrary.
- What you say is so: whenever you have given your word to others as to the existence of some thing or some state of the world, your word includes being willing to be held accountable that the others would find your evidence for what you have asserted.
- What you say you stand for: What you stand for, whether expressed in the form of a declaration made to one or more people, or even to yourself, as well as what you hold yourself out to others as standing for (formally declared or not), is a part of your word.
- The social moral standards, the group ethical standards and the governmental legal standards of right and wrong, good and bad behaviour, in the society, groups and state in which one enjoys the benefits of membership are also part of one’s word unless:
- one has explicitly and publicly expressed an intention to not keep one or more of these standards, and;
- one is willing to bear the costs of refusing to conform to these standards.
Causes of the ‘Veil of Invisibility’ Around Integrity
- “Integrity is a virtue”
For most people and organizations, integrity exists as a virtue rather than as a necessary condition for performance. When held as a virtue rather than as a factor of production, integrity is easily sacrificed when it appears that a person or organization must do so to succeed. For many people, virtue is valued only to the degree that it engenders the admiration of others, and as such it is easily sacrificed especially when it would not be noticed or can be rationalized. Sacrificing integrity as a virtue seems no different than sacrificing courteousness, or new sinks in the men’s room.
- Self deception about being out-of-integrity
People are mostly unaware that they have not kept their word. All they see is the ‘reason’, ratio- nalization or excuse for not keeping their word. In fact, people systematically deceive themselves about who they have been and what they have done. As Chris Argyris concludes: “Put simply, peo- ple consistently act inconsistently, unaware of the contradiction between their espoused theory and their theory-in use, between the way they think they are acting and the way they really act.” Because people cannot see their out-of-integrity behaviour, it is impossible for them to see the cause of the unworkability in their lives and organizations – the direct result of their own violations of the Law of Integrity.
- The belief that integrity is keeping one’s word
The belief that integrity is keeping one’s word – period – leaves no way to maintain integrity when this is not possible, or when it is inappropriate, or when one simply chooses not to keep one’s word. This leads to concealing not keeping one’s word, which adds to the veil of invisibility about the impact of violations of the Law of Integrity.
- Fear of acknowledging that you will not be keeping your word
When maintaining your integrity (i.e., acknowledging that you are not going to keep your word and cleaning up the mess that results) appears to you as a threat to be avoided (like it was when you were a child) rather than simply a challenge to be dealt with, you will find it difficult to maintain your integrity. When not keeping their word, most people choose the apparent short-term gain of hiding that they will not keep their word. Thus, out of fear we are blinded to (and therefore mistak- enly forfeit) the power and respect that accrues from acknowledging that one will not keep one’s word or that one has not kept one’s word.
- Integrity is not seen as a factor of production
This leads people to make up false causes and unfounded rationalizations as the source(s) of failure, which in turn conceals the violations of the Law of Integrity as the source of the reduction of the opportunity for performance that results in failure.
- Not doing a cost/benefit analysis on giving one’s word
When giving their word, most people do not consider fully what it will take to keep that word. That is, people do not do a cost / benefit analysis on giving their word. In effect, when giving their word, most people are merely sincere (well-meaning) or placating someone, and don’t even think about what it will take to keep their word. Simply put, this failure to do a cost / benefit analysis on giving one’s word is irresponsible. Irresponsible giving of one’s word is a major source of the mess left in the lives of people and organizations. People generally do not see the giving of their word as: “I am going to make this happen,” but if you are not doing this you will be out-of-integrity. Generally people give their word intending to keep it. That is, they are merely sincere. If anything makes it difficult to deliver, then they provide reasons instead of results.
- Doing a cost / benefit analysis on honouring one’s word
Conversely, people almost universally apply cost/benefit analysis to honouring their word. Treating integrity as a matter of cost / benefit analysis guarantees that you will not be a person of integrity.