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Doing what you said you would do is the LOWEST level of integrity


“Sorry” she says, “I’m not going to organise that event I promised [a key part of my work schedule]”

…the silence stretches… 

“what I’ll do instead is organise two events in a couple of months”

… phew!

Now THAT is what I mean by integrity. This is something a manager said to me when I was running a small department early in my career. She went on to train me in a really useful way of looking at integrity that I reckon is applicable for many of us now.

She taught me that there are three levels of integrity and the most obvious, doing what you said, may be the most obvious but it the least valuable (see HERE for a video explaining this).
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1. Doing what you said you would do when you said you’d do it

2. Communicating as soon as you know you’re not going to get something done and what you will do instead (like my manager, hopefully more valuable than the thing you initially promised)

3. Being who you said you would be (especially when you’re not doing the other two!)

It's in the second level of integrity - Communicating - I'm seeing the issues arise

As we start unlocking lockdown, many of us are experiencing a bow-wave of things that have built up the last few months that now have to be addressed… and we thought we were working hard before!

In this environment, timelines slip.

This isn’t a problem in itself, but it rapidly becomes a problem if the slippage isn’t communicated - and this is where I am seeing the problems happen.

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Photo by George Kedenburg III on Unsplash

Why don't we communicate

People don’t communicate for a whole bunch of reasons: they’re embarrassed, they reckon they’ll catch-up, they ‘know better’, sometimes they don’t communicate because they have opinions about specific people, sometimes it’s because they have underlying racism or misogyny and don’t feel like they should have to. Whatever the reason, communication is more important than achievement because then people can do something about it.

Over and again I see projects and programs come to grief not because things are not being done, but because people are not effectively communicating when they're not going get things done…

The third level of Integrity

The third level of integrity is foundational and by far the most important but we rarely address it directly. Being who you said you would be is the most valuable attribute in a team, a family or a workplace. The ability to control your being the most valuable skills human can have (hence the term "human being").. We always chose who we are being and everything else flows from there.

A friend of mine realised he had to let a really technically proficient staff member go. He hated doing it but he knew that (as he put it):

"one jerk poisons the whole team."

This is really where culture is generated and self-reflection rules and, as everyone knows, eats strategy for breakfast operates [Peter Drucker said that]. If people are being collegiate, engaged and supportive, they will communicate out of a sense of ‘togetherness’ because they want to help others. If people are being driven, perfectionist, resentful or uncertain, they won’t

So, how do you implement this insight?

An Exercise to do with your staff/team

1. Create the three levels for people (see HERE for a video)
2. Ask people which level they feel is important and why
3. Ask what happens when people don’t communicate. The key here is for the person impacted to have a chance to say what that’s like.
4. Ask what would help resolve this for the future
5. Write it down so people know you have captured their agreement.
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Photo by Freddy Castro on Unsplash

A word on workability - a philosophical end-note

That's the end of the directly applicable part of this newsletter, I'm waxing philosophical from here so read-on at your own risk...

"We all have a rather weird relationship with Integrity"

A client recently pointed out to me that in the Victorian Public Service the word ‘Integrity’ is a value in itself so it can be hard to argue, as I am doing here, that it is essentially interchangeable with the idea of workability (see HERE).
We know that the concept of Integrity lies at the heart of what makes things workable yet, by mixing it up with a whole bunch of values and opinions we detract from the core function of the concept: which is to make things workable!

This is a problem because, as we all know, there are an endless number of values and opinions about what is the ‘right’ way to do things and the ‘wrong’ way – and the ground is shifting endlessly.

If values get mixed up with integrity then what is 'right' becomes what is 'normal' and what is normal is conflated with what is 'workable'. Suddenly there is very little scope for alternative views or ways of getting things done...

Take my life for example. I was born in Darwin to parents who taught in aboriginal communities. I grew-up on Christmas Island with south-Chinese friends and attended an Asian school. My childhood was marked by diverse conceptions of how to structure a day and get stuff done. In both cases, the 9-5 office/factory work ideal was virtually unimaginable.

Over the last few decades (and centuries) we first constricted, and now are starting to relax, a very rigid view of how work should be done. For example, it is only very recently that mental health has been considered a viable concern for employers (yet it is critical to workability). Go back a bit further and we enter the obviously illegitimate such as the use of child or forced labour.

When we position integrity as a value, we conflate workability with our own (comfortable) conception of what is the right or proper (read ‘normal’) and exclude truly different ways of working.

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Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

I work largely with public corporations and staff and I can promise you that conceptions of how to get-things-done are premised very heavily on what is the right-way to get them done, the normal way.
One of the silver-linings of the lockdown is that is has accelerated the expansion of the realm of what is normal (see HERE for a piece on the role of Pandemics in accelerating things like this).
Questions like whether and how to increase scope to work-from-home were previously interwoven with questions about whether it was right to let people be at home during work. Such considerations have been swept away and now the only issue is what is workable (and how).
All this to say that we have a weird relationship with integrity.