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Rediscovering the Key Ingredient in Ethics: INTEGRITY

As Published in O’Dwyer’s

The public relations profession continuously suffers from schizophrenia.  On one hand, we want to be at the table making decisions and guiding strategy with the boss in good times and bad.  On the other hand, many of us want to serve as the guiding conscience of our organizations.  So far the record for the profession in either arena is mixed.  There have been some successes, some strikeouts, some absolute no hitters, and some MIAs.

CERN Standard Model equation mug by Rain Rabbit Flickr CC license alteredAs we enter the third year of relentless pulses of corporate scandal, primarily in the United States but also in other parts of the world, we see a business and organizational leadership environment increasingly dominated by media persecution, government prosecution, and aggressive and growing compliance and conduct regulation – all because business and other leaders have lost or ignored, for a variety of reasons, their responsibility to build and rebuild integrity as a workplace principle, a workplace guiding force.

State legislators, Congress, and many legislators outside of the United States continue to pass laws imposing extensive compliance requirements and an ever-increasing stack of regulations, restrictions, oversight requirements, in addition to internal and self-imposed monitoring.  Virtually none of this can restore public, investor, employee, customer, or individual trust.  Restoration of trust begins by focusing and rebuilding the most essential element of ethics:  integrity.

The public relations profession, if it chooses to, can play a vital role in restoring trust.  Lawyers aggressively oversee the areas of compliance and codes of conduct.  That’s where the monitoring is, that’s where the police are, and that’s where the detection, deterrence, and disclosure of infractions occur.

A compliant organization is one where codes of conduct are observed and respected, where inspiration and motivation from leadership and management drive a desire to work with integrity in an ethical organization.

Restoring trust and maintaining an environment of integrity occurs in an organization along two powerful tracks:  the principles that guide daily processes and uncompromising vigilance.

Here are some examples of organizational principles:

  • Our goal is integrity.
  • We have constructive aspirations.
  • We live a philosophy of integrity.
  • We have a commitment to compliance and good conduct.
  • We recognize those who achieve the best work in the best way.
  • Our vigilance is driven by our principles, priorities, and our conscience.
  • Everyone is committed to integrity.

Uncompromising vigilance means to clearly define, dramatically emphasize, and relentlessly enforce organizational values and beliefs.  It is the unconditional commitment to prevent, detect, deter, or ultimately expose and learn from those activities that run counter to the ethics of the organization.  A compliant organization, one with integrity, insists on and expects uncompromising vigilance from everyone.

Integrity is about setting guidelines in three areas:  work, behavior, and relationships.

These are concepts public relations practitioners can understand and dig into, and where they can provide extraordinary language and message leadership to their organizations.  Integrity is barely taught in business schools.  While they’re learning more about compliance and codes of conduct, especially since Sarbanes-Oxley, Sarbanes-Oxley and the sentencing guidelines of 1991 are not integrity.  Integrity is something the boss doesn’t really know much about.  This is a perfect place for the public relations practitioner to provide extraordinary help.  Integrity is a key ingredient in constructive leadership.  And if there’s one thing public relations does in an organization, it’s to counsel leaders.

The problem is, and will continue to be for a while, that many bosses think integrity is “sissy stuff.”  They have a hard time seeing themselves down at the country club having their buddies in the locker room kid them about how they caved into the “panty-waists” at work who would rather sell out than sell up.  Years ago, after one of my clients pled guilty to quite a number of felonies, the client, their lawyers, and I were meeting to explain the implementation of the Plea Agreement they agreed to.  After I finished explaining elements of the compliance and integrity programs that were required, the CEO looked at me and said, “Lukaszewski, whenever you’re around it feels like Sunday School.”  I looked him in the eye and said, “Tom, when somebody has pled guilty to as many felonies as your company has, it seems to me a little Sunday School might be useful.”  He didn’t laugh.  He was gone in less then a year.  Being for integrity means standing up.  Being for integrity means that an organization needs to unlearn inappropriate behaviors.  It means learning how to handle ethical dilemmas and difficult issues.  Integrity also teaches how to bring out the best in an organization – the best people, the best products, the best relationships, the best work, and the best practices.

If there ever was a growth area for public relations – one in which most of us absolutely, positively fit – it is this third crucial aspect of ethical development:  integrity – behaving with honor and expecting everyone else to do the same.  If there’s one lesson these past three years is teaching us, it is that without integrity, nothing else matters.

If you’d like get into this topic in more depth, and explore how you might expand your knowledge in this arena, here are some useful places to visit:

James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, Fellow IABC; APR, Fellow PRSA, BEPS Emeritus

If you have questions, or would like to dive more deeply into the subject of this blog, you can reach me 24/7 at; 203-948-7029 (voicemail, email, text). I look forward, as a friend and colleague, to helping you achieve the objectives you’ve set for yourself for having a happier, more influential, successful and meaningful career.

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