Editor’s Note: This entry is part of the Fredrickson Thought Leaders in Learning series. For this guest blogging series, we’ve invited well-known experts in a variety of fields to address leadership-level learning and development professionals with their thoughts on topics of their choosing. Our hope is to prompt discussion around an expansive range of ideas and concepts.

Most human resource development professionals associate integrity with ethics, define it as some variation of “just doing the right thing,” and believe that you can’t really train people to have integrity anyway. Besides, how does integrity really impact the bottom line?

Integrity in the context of ethics or morality is really only one of a standard dictionary’s definitions, though, and not even the first. Its first and second definitions are about being “complete,” “whole,” “unbroken” and “perfect” – concepts that have more to do with effectiveness than just ethics. Think of “product integrity,” “design integrity” or “supply chain integrity,” and the whole picture – including HRD’s role – becomes clearer.

What do product and design integrity look like for training professionals? “Form follows function,” so a first consideration is clarity of purpose.

We can translate purpose here to include the mission of our function or role, as well as things like the goal of an intervention or the learning objectives of a training program. We model integrity when our actions, products and services fit the intended purpose. Training modules display integrity of design when they fit together and as a whole accomplish learning objectives within whatever budget and other parameters we have. Integrity for trainers includes accountability for results; we know that implies more than just “smile sheet” evaluations.

The greater our experience and responsibility in HRD, organization development and broader HR roles, the broader or more “whole” our perspective on integrity needs to be. Big picture-wise, HR and HRD’s overall purpose is aligning, or integrating, the people domain with the business or purpose of their organization.

Integrity, or “form following function,” in that regard means that talent acquisition, organization design, performance management, development and other HR practices need to fit, or be aligned with the organization’s mission, values and strategy. From my experience both inside organizations and as a consultant for nearly thirty years, I know of fewer ways to stifle effectiveness and engagement more than disconnects between stated purpose or values and actual organization or leader practices. Ralph Waldo Emerson put it this way: “Your actions speak so loudly, I cannot hear what you are saying!”

Even though it’s only one aspect of integrity, HRD and HR professionals cannot overlook its ethics and morality dimensions. We certainly have enough examples of how illegal, immoral and unethical practices have derailed organizations and leaders – Penn State, Lehman Brothers, Washington Mutual and Goldman Sachs to name just a few of the latest. We cannot sit by and assume that a combination of laws, regulations, risk management specialists and legal advisors will take care of all that.

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 was passed shortly after the Enron debacle, and was an attempt to legislate ethical corporate practices. Then came the 2008 economic meltdown, fanned by “creative accounting,” lack of transparency, blatant conflicts of interest and plain old greed. “Inside-out” approaches to creating ethical cultures are always more sustainable than attempts to legislate ethical behavior.

HR and HRD professionals can play a pivotal role crafting ethical cultures from the inside out by helping their organization navigate these dimensions:

  • Identity – HR and HRD’s roles here can include facilitating formulation of organizations’ strategic direction and values, and driving understanding of organizational direction and values throughout the organization.
  • Authenticity – HR and HRD play critical roles by helping assure that leadership and organizational practices are true to their organizations’ mission, values and strategy, and by helping create “truth-telling,” transparent cultures.
  • Alignment – We play central roles here by assuring that hiring, performance management, pay, succession and human resource development practices align with our organizations’ mission, vision, values and strategies. We can also help our organization and its leaders develop adaptive, change management and innovation capabilities in order to stay aligned with evolving market requirements.
  • Accountability – As a rule, what gets measured gets done. HR and HRD professionals can help assure that sufficient attention is paid to variables that significantly impact organizational effectiveness, worker engagement and risk management.

Perhaps the multiple ways that integrity impacts ethics, engagement and effectiveness account for Noel Tichy’s perspective is that “Integrity is the cornerstone of free enterprise, and every leader needs a clear teachable point of view on it.” Human resource and human resource development professionals will benefit by adopting that perspective and positioning integrity centrally in their own strategies.

About the author of this Thought Leaders in Learning entry: Al Watts is a veteran consultant and author of the book Navigating Integrity – Transforming Business As Usual Into Business At Its Best (Brio Books, 2010.) Al is the founder of inTEgro, Inc.

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