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Integrity – the new ‘V’ Word

Let’s start with the ‘V Word’ – virginity is defined commonly as  ‘the state of never having had sexual intercourse’.  Many cultures prize this state and apply great value to it.  Of course, virginity once lost is gone forever.

Integrity should carry the same high regard by us all – as it carries the same element – once lost it can be considered gone forever.

Integrity is defined as  ‘the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles’.  Clearly this is a trait that all business professionals would wish to adopt as their own.

Integrity appears to have become relegated to annals of literature, a mere concept rather than a practical term – I feel it is time that it is brought more strongly to the forefront.

In a business setting – particularly one involved with providing professional services, integrity is a concept that should be front and centre when working in the business world.

Let’s examine some practical methods that people will use in business to endanger your integrity.

  1. ‘You find yourself friends with your client’. To be honest, when you are in business, the majority of people you deal with on a regular basis may well be your clients – and you truly have things in common.    It is vital to establish rules up front regarding these friendships.  You do not want to find yourself being pressured ‘as a friend’ to engage in practices or decisions that would impact on you professionally.  Classic examples are: Mates rates, turning a blind eye, or directly making decisions to help out – despite them being illegal or unprofessional.
  2. The client deliberately restricts the amount of time you  have to perform a task.  It is easy to find yourself ‘helping out the client’ by rushing the job.  Rushing a job can mean shortcuts.  Shortcuts can mean unprofessional or even illegal outcomes.  For Example: Agreeing to purchase a load of fruit without checking the quality that arrives, agreeing to rush out a legal contract but not reading it through as carefully as you normally would before releasing it.
  3. The client pays you contingent on doing what they want – not what is professionally required. A classic example is when a client owes your firm a large amount of money – and in order to get paid in full you need to complete a job to their specifications which are outside professional standards or even illegal.
  4. The information you need to complete a job is limited – and the omission of data completely changes the outcome.  Do you press for the data or just complete the job expecting the client to wear the problem?
  5. Procedural difficultly is structured into the task you are asked to complete – which over time will frustrate the outcome pushing you towards taking shortcuts. For example – instead of just sitting down and solving the problem you have to have every single small step signed off.  Sounds fine perhaps?  In practice however, the temptation to skip a few steps, justify a shortcut becomes ever so grand – and integrity gets a back seat.

Being a professional in the working world can be a tough place when you consider these few methods that will be applied to you at some time in your career.  It can damage friendships (but where they your friend at all?) and can make you feel quite alone, always standing up for the standards you have chosen to work to.

Perhaps consider these concepts:

  1. Integrity IS the ‘Virginity’ of a business person. It should be treasured and have great value placed upon it.  Once lost – consider how hard if at all possible would it be to have it reinstated.
  2. Address friendships you have made in business for adherence to integrity – reset your ground rules with each of them to bring integrity back into your front seat. Real friends will understand your need for professional integrity.
  3. If you are feeling pressured (note that many of the ways explained are versions for restriction of resources) then ask yourself is this a client you need? Are they really worth losing integrity?

Integrity – a small abstract concept yet the most valuable asset you own.

note that this is the original draft of an article subsequently published in the Women’s Network Australia Magazine.  It is also the basis of a lecture Louise Bloomfield delivered to the Auditing Students at the University of Tasmania.