Yes, it is possible to design a high integrity culture in business that actually improves engagement, collaboration, productivity and profits .
It doesn’t take much discussion to figure out that bad integrity is rampant in the entrepreneurial world. Some even refer to the phenomenon in joking as the “success tax”—the assumption that people who own or lead a business are invariably 1) rich and 2) corrupt. It makes bad integrity acts against an owner or business seem less heinous or even understandable as a way to “even the score.” For example:
An absurd legal claim from a long-lost founder is costing a thriving Utah company millions of dollars in lost time and tens of thousands in legal fees as it is forced to address the claim before achieving new funding.
Envious co-workers attempted to defame a promoted executive by denigrating the individual in anonymous postings and notes. A small organization discontinued its use of 1099 contractors while retooling its structure. Instead of using their time to seek new projects, 2 of the group of 10 filed wrongful dismissal lawsuits, “just to see how they’d go.”
What is happening to spur this organizational poison? Business psychologist and integrity expert Dr. David Gruder examined the causes with me in our article last week Can You Predict An Integrity Meltdown? Today we’ll continue the dialogue by taking a look at the cure.
The first step is to hire better by asking probing integrity questions, measuring applicants for emotional maturity in addition to skills and performing basic background checks to eliminate risks. It’s amazing how many organizations fail to take the straightforward step of performing a background and reference check. Fast-paced organizations tend to forget that psychologically unhealthy players can often be highly skilled manipulators and actors. In short, don’t ever make a hire based on the great first impression you had of the interviewee you met over lunch.
Once you’ve hired, however, the best way to address and prevent integrity meltdowns is by creating a high-accountability culture. Here’s how:
Create Authentic Collaborative Accountability
Used well, accountability is a strategic weapon for developing greater self-awareness, self-responsibility, empowerment, impact awareness and collaboration, Gruder says. But used badly, accountability becomes simply a “weapon”—a form of punishment, shame, or coercion that forces a person to act against their will.
Dysfunctional accountability procedures create problems such as
- vagueness: “I purposely keep my commitments vague enough that I can’t be held accountable,”
- excuses: “If I didn’t mean to break a commitment or I couldn’t help it, then I shouldn’t be responsible for the result,” or even
- tyranny: “I use accountability as a form of control or punishment.”
To avoid these perils, Gruder recommends the creation of Accountability-Capable Agreements for use in managing projects and as tools for employee reviews. Accountability-Capable Agreements are written bonds between parties to document an intended outcome that includes Observables (what an independent witness would see), Attributes (specifications and quality level), and Time Frame. The document also enumerates the steps (Mutually Interdependent Deliverables, or “MIDs”) and the time needed for completing each step.
Reviews of the project or person should follow a prescribed process as well, Gruder says. They should first “Bless What’s Good” (BWG) in terms of what went well (or is going well) and why this is so valuable. Next, the review moves to “plussing” – It would be “Even Better If” (EBI) – to move the discussion into best practices brainstorming. The session ends with “Best Practice Commitments” (BPCs) to note procedure upgrades for the project or role in the future.
But what about an accountability break? In these cases Gruder prescribes a four-step process to address the issue within a Non-Adversarial Breakdown Repair.
1) In a discussion with the responsible party, the individual administering a breakdown review would first discover whether the issue arose due to agreement confusion, unanticipated circumstances, or, out and out, a broken agreement.
2) Next, the parties should document their Unintended Contributions to the situation on both sides (what didn’t cross their minds to consider, words they should or shouldn’t have said, and actions they should or shouldn’t have taken). They also list the Unintended Impacts on the project, the person they are doing the repair with, on others and on themselves.
3) Then they commit to what they’ll do to create Impact Repair (with whom, with what words or actions, and how both sides will know the attempt to repair has occurred).
4) Finally, the meeting concludes with the Future Upgrade—gifts harvested or lessons learned from the situation, self-development that’s needed to avoid future similar breakdowns, and how that self-development will occur.
In many cases, the implementation of regular accountability contracts and uniform schedules for review is all that’s required to put an organization on the track for a high integrity culture. But to reach full integrity also requires avoidance of the Seven Deadly Accountability Sins, Gruder says, as follows:
The Seven Deadly Sins of Failed Engagements and Projects
1. Confusing hopeful expectations with trust. The solution to this one is easy: convert hopeful expectations into Systemized Trust by formalizing them into appropriate collaborative accountability agreements.
2. Confusing good intentions with commitments. Learn to convert good intentions into “COST” commitments that include Commitment (specifically stated), Observables, Specifications and Time Frame. The “cost” of the project.
3. Not articulating Mutually Independent Deliverables (“MIDs”). To solve this problem, make sure agreements include the resources the individual must receive to produce each MID step in the sequence, so the participant knows clearly what needs to be provided to whom and by when.
4. Not setting time frames around MIDs. Time frames for each MID are vital. Without them, the accountability agreement is merely a “hope” – not a plan.
5. Not building in contingency and re-evaluation mechanisms. At the outset, describe the contingencies that would require the parties to make an update to each other, and what would constitute a need to re-evaluate the MIDs and the time frames. These plans will determine if and when an agreement needs to be re-configured or disengaged, and how the disengagement would be structured if it were to occur.
6. Assuming that impact is understood. It is vital to enumerate the positive benefits on each participant if the commitments are kept as well as the negative impact on the individuals and the business of commitments not kept. Be specific about the benefits collaborators receive from successful completion as well as the consequences each side can count on for not completing the agreement to specification.
7. Not vetting deliverers, agreements or accountability method. In a business setting it is vital to develop or find experts in agreement creation and accountability implementation, particularly as the results pertain to professional reviews and HR. For agreements that are legally binding, be sure to pass them by an attorney before finalizing and signing (as many founders, including our Utah growth firm can attest—it is worth the time and cost to set these agreements up properly from the start).
Yes, this may sound like a whole lot of process. But once learned these procedures are not time-intensive to use. For leaders who take the time to learn and implement a sound accountability system, the reward is superb: A common and collaborative language and method for eliminating the majority of breaches. It is also a way to reduce the negative energy in purposeful infractions by providing a uniform process for dealing with breakdowns quickly and well.
In our final installment on integrity breaches we’ll examine the biggest topic of all: addressing anger at work. In America and worldwide, the workplace is growing progressively more volatile as an arena for rage, and this issue is not going away. Stay tuned.
Cheryl Snapp Conner is an entrepreneur and communications expert from Salt Lake City, founder of Snapp Conner PR, and author of Beyond PR: Communicate Like A Champ The Digital Age. I am also a frequent author and speaker on Business Communication.
Originally published HERE on Forbes.com.