Integrity in business

Integrity should be a cornerstone value for your business as well as your life. Check yourself to make sure you are a person of integrity and then communicate that value to your employees.

What are the values that describe your business? Does “integrity” come quickly to mind? It’s on my mind and I’d like to share some thoughts with you about it.

Webster’s Dictionary lists several similar meanings for integrity among which are “firm adherence to a code of moral values; incorruptibility; the quality or state of being complete or undivided”, while listing honesty as a synonym. In short, integrity means that there is no difference between what you say and what you do – with no intention of deception.

While in Kiev, Ukraine recently on a trip to speak at the VII Ukrainian Dairy Congress for Michigan State University Extension, I was reminded of the absolute importance of integrity. Several times, in private conversation or in speaker’s presentations, I was made aware of the fact that not all Ukrainian agricultural statistics could be believed because officials often reported what would make things (or themselves) look good, rather than the truth.

Ukraine had just had a revolution and overthrown a leader who dealt in untruths and facilitated corruption that enhanced the riches of those who were loyal to him. The people wanted change; one speaker spoke of their desire to live in an honest country. The Minister of Agriculture appointed Andrii Dykun, the President of the Association of Dairy Producers in Ukraine to lead an anti-corruption effort.

Lack of integrity is not just a government problem, and certainly not just a foreign problem. Integrity is critically important to the long-term success of your business and your personal life.

Speaking and acting honestly should be the way we live, even when it is more difficult and even when it is potentially costlier. There are costs to integrity but the benefits of living in truth cannot be underestimated.

What does integrity look like in daily business? Here are some practical ways it will be evident:

  • Tell employees the truth
  • Honor your obligations even when circumstances change
  • Pay employees fully without trying to cheat them out of what you committed to them
  • If you are an employee, work the full time you are paid – do not kill time on the clock
  • Pay what you owe your creditors and pay in a timely manner
  • Do not sell products or animals without disclosing known faults, even if it means you may lose the sale
  • Be truthful in tax reporting and payments

Living and doing business with integrity means you don’t have to worry about the truth coming out later – because most times, it will. Lies, deceit and covering up are always temporary. With honesty we may have to admit things are not good, but we do so with a clear conscience and do not have to worry about the truth coming out later.

Integrity at its heart requires humbleness. It means admitting when you don’t know, acknowledging when you aren’t able or admitting when you have failed at something. For some reason, many people try to act as if those things are not true of them even though they are true of all of us. You will not be perceived as weak when you admit you don’t know, can’t do or have failed, but you will find strength in others at times like that.

Acting with integrity and speaking of it as a valued characteristic of your business will encourage others to act with integrity toward you. You can use it as a principal for employees to be honest and expect the best from them.

Integrity is the right way, if not always the easy way. There will be some who don’t like you because of it. Yet, success with family, friends, neighbors, communities and countries depend on integrity, and it begins with the individual. That is a lesson for all of us from Ukraine. 

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