How is your ‘tone at the top’?

Do you recognise integrity? It’s a bit like pornography – difficult to define but you know it when you see it.
Issue date: 26 december 2008

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Do you recognise integrity? It’s a bit like pornography – difficult to define but you know it when you see it. “Honesty”, “reliability”, “trust”, ”sincerity”, ”truthfulness” are all words used to describe it and of course they’re all part of it. It’s a cluster concept, linking all these different overlapping qualities together into one word. The International Federation of Accountants, researching the cause of many of the high profile business collapses around the world in recent years, found that a key contributor was bad “tone at the top”. In other words, poor personal example and failure of senior management to uphold high ethical standards, which in turn allowed a culture of secrecy, rule-breaking and fraudulent behaviour to become acceptable. Quite simply, there was a lack of integrity.
John Maxwell in his book The Laws of Teamwork identifies six “compasses” needed by any successful team. The most important one, on which all the others stand or fall, is what he calls the “moral compass” – the values that you and your team members will strive to uphold in all your business dealings. And as he so rightly says, “No great business was ever built except on the foundation of the strictest integrity”. I can’t think of any – can you?
How good is the “tone at the top” of your business? Do you manage it with integrity? Is integrity so ingrained in your company and in your team that it remains steadfast no matter what?
Let’s test it. KPMG have developed a game called Cards on the Table to test the relative integrity of the players. The details of the game are not important, but the ethical dilemmas posed and the way you and the members of your team handle them will give you an immediate indicator of the “tone at the top” of your organisation.
A top sales representative from your major competitor applies for a job with you. During the interview he tells you that he’s prepared to provide important information about your competitor on disc if you hire him. What do you do?
You’ve worked in the engineering section of a company for years and need a change. You hear about a senior job going in the transport section. You are well suited to it and plan to apply for it. Your personal assistant approaches you and asks you to recommend him for the same job. What do you do?
You happen to see your boss hit a parked car with his own vehicle while leaving the parking lot. He makes sure the coast is clear and speeds away. He will be deciding on your promotion next week. What do you do?
You go to lunch with colleagues and you are each going to pay your way. One of the senior managers volunteers to pay with her credit card and you each give her cash. A few weeks later you accidentally see a statement which reveals that she claimed the full cost from the firm. What do you do?
You head up a car dealership. A customer wants you to backdate a transaction by two weeks to the previous financial year for tax reasons. What do you do?
No easy answers for any of these, but the way you and your team handle the commonplace ethical dilemmas will be the making or breaking of your business. You’d better get it right. – Peter Hughes ([email protected] or call (013) 745 7303).     |fw