Integrity – A Key Component of Culture

  • A majority of people believe they have high integrity
  • Culture determines levels of psychological safety
  • Strong culture prevents Integrity conflicts

Imagine sitting in a meeting of peers, discussing a new way of scheduling workflow.  Your group keeps getting interrupted by another department’s urgent requests, and the result is that your own work is not getting done in a timely fashion.  As a result, your team risks missing its objectives and being adversely judged.  The group settles on an approach to balance the team’s predetermined tasks with the interruptions from the other department.  The plans you discuss focus on prioritizing your predetermined work over urgent interruptions by other departments, because your team’s recognition and rewards are based on achieving your original planned output.  By contrast, you believe that in order to help the organization overall, it is important to accommodate the other departments. The team is strongly in favor of the proposed workflow solution.  What do you do?  Just agree?  Persist in your approach?

Later, your manager convenes a meeting of the group to discuss its lag in producing outcomes as agreed earlier.  She wants to know what the group intends to do about it.   Your team presents its new workflow approach to her that prioritizes departmental goals first.  She says that it is important to accommodate the other departments first and then asks for input.  What do you and the rest of the team say?  Do you support the team?  Your leader?

In your production facility, safety is considered the most important factor.  Your production managers have created a program for promoting safety awareness.  Their intent is to cause team members to be alert at all times for ways to improve safety in areas large and small.  When a shift submits a threshold number of suggestion cards that have been signed off by the supervisor in a given month, the entire group qualifies for a bonus. 

At month’s end, an audit of the suggestions submitted reveals that a small number of employees on the shift have achieved the target.  The cards were signed off by the Lead on the shift, not the supervisor.  All of the suggestions were valid.  One of the submitting members is also on the plant-wide safety committee.  Were they just “doing whatever it takes?” 

The finance department notices that cash flow is unusually low at month’s end.  One of the covenants of the organization’s bank loan requires a certain level of cash flow in every month.  There is an accrual account that the Controller uses to convert a journal entry into cash, relieving the pressure on the covenant.  The accrual account can be replenished in the coming, cash-heavier months.

What happens next in each case is largely determined by the culture.

If we were to ask any of those employees, “Do you retain your integrity?”  The answer would likely be an overwhelming “yes.”

One of the major facets of culture is how well distortion-free information moves up and down within an organization.  Is it timely, meaningful, credible and actionable?  Often, the movement of information in an organization is heavily dependent on the integrity of the senders and receivers.  In each of the situations above, there is a conflict that needs to be resolved.  In the first instance, should the team member speak up about how he feels about the workflow?  Or keep quiet in order to preserve team harmony?  What do the organization’s values promote?  Harmony over innovation?  Freewheeling debate or consensus overall?  An enterprise that leans toward suppressing debate will likely see only “safe” ideas or the possibility that the train runs off the track before anyone raises the alarm.


When the team’s manager presents an entirely alternate view, what do you and your team members do?  If the leader fails to encourage discussion and thoroughly discuss the “why” before settling on a course of action, the team gets the message that their input isn’t really welcome and communication slows down. 


In the case of the safety suggestions, does the communication from leadership (the bonus plan) drive people to fulfill expectations while possibly bending ethical limits?  Recognition and reward programs are a critical way for leadership to communicate what is valued within the culture.

In the cash flow case, how important is it to stay within the covenant?  Would communication with the bank about the situation and how the enterprise is expected to rectify it solve the problem?  Are there other solutions?  Or does the end justify the means?

All of these situations require integrity.  Leadership must be relentless in communicating, supporting and living by the values the organization truly embraces.  Otherwise, they risk placing their members in positions that create tension in terms of real integrity.  In a previous post, we discussed creating an environment of psychological safety[1].  That space provides members the ability to retain their integrity.  That environment only exists when the culture empowers its existence.

Organizations that want to do more can measure the components in their culture that matter…  Feel free to view our website for more information.

[1] Safety Fosters Innovation



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