“In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities – integrity, intelligence and energy. And if they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you” — Warren Buffet
When I was at the firm, I facilitated a program about Situational Ethics. Various hypotheticals were offered up for discussion – all work-related obviously, but ranging in subject from employer/employee dynamics to issues of client confidentiality. The realities of workplace demographics were a primary driver for the creation of the program. The firm had grown exponentially and people were not staying ‘from cradle to grave’, challenging the cultivation of loyalty and a deep understanding of the commitment to work reflective of unparalleled integrity. Certainly dedication and tenure along with personal and professional accountability are very strong motivators for people to do the right thing. We all know when something doesn’t pass our ‘sniff test’ – but what we then choose to do is another issue entirely.
As people become more and more anonymous within companies as a result of technology, higher turnover and generational perceptions, the risk of fraudulent and/or dishonest behavior escalates. Even with the most sophisticated processes in place, someone will still knowingly enter their time incorrectly, submit inappropriate expenses for reimbursement, falsely assert that something did or didn’t get done, etc.. Are any of these ‘wrong’ enough? Where does the responsibility rest? Is it the individual’s responsibility to maintain his/her integrity in the face of an ‘every-man-for-himself’ workplace? Is it the employer’s responsibility to underscore its absolute conviction to such a principle? And if the answer involves the latter, how does one respond when some misdeeds are overlooked?
I write this with no answers. On the one hand, I believe in the very basics of right and wrong – do the right thing by the people who work with and for you, don’t take what isn’t yours, tell the truth…On the other hand, have there been times when what I thought was the right thing, wasn’t? Have I always told the truth to my boss? Yes, there have been times when my actions probably were ill-considered, and knowing some of the bosses I have had in my career, there have certainly been occasions where his/her lack of receptivity, defensiveness or demeanor led me to couch my words or obfuscate them to the point of being completely opaque. Does it matter if my intentions were good even if the outcome reflected otherwise?
I suppose that is why the elements of a given situation often drive the answer to these questions. Rights and wrongs can often be variants of black and white, not absolute in any way. Certainly, I still hold that if one’s actions are guided by a belief that first and foremost we are here to offer the best of who we are to others, we’re on the right track. But beyond that, I’m not sure there are too many other absolutes. What do you think?
“If everyone were clothed in integrity, if every heart were just, frank, kindly, the other virtues would be well nigh useless” — Moliere