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Building competitive edge through integrity

HOW many times have you seen businesses falling from grace to grass just because of a lack of credibility and integrity? How often have you seen a public figure with great potential and superb intelligence falling from the peak of their career to the depth of the gutter? Quite frankly, many of us will attest to knowing one or many stories that fit this bill. For me personally, my most immediate reference will be a mega company called Enron, which collapsed following charges of fraud and misrepresentation of information to investors. When the crash occurred, all those associated with the company- staff, investors, customers and suppliers- were also hurt in one way or the other. After reading scandalous stories like the case of Enron, how often do you stop to think of what makes businesses want to risk everything by allowing these integrity lapses? How often do you stop, reflect and learn from such stories to ensure you do not become victims yourselves or dare I say perpetrators of the same acts.

Hopefully, after reading this article, you will be motivated to do just that in the future. In practice, I have not yet heard or come across someone who would like to be misled, misrepresented, deceived or defrauded. I would like to believe that most of people will keep away from businesses suspected of dishonesty.

This is because we want to be confident that what we are buying from a business will be fit for the intended purpose and will not be detrimental to us in any way. With this backdrop in mind, it is disheartening to find businesses that operate in total ignorance or blatant violation of the importance of integrity in their relationships with customers, even when their growth and success depends on it.

Technical competencies and quality standards are important ingredients to business success, however, embodied within the quality equation is integrity amongst other things. So, let us now look at what integrity is and explore its importance in market competition.

To keep it simple, integrity is about doing the right thing. It is about treating people fairly. It is about honesty and transparency and most definitely it is about cultivating a relationship of trust and openness with others.

It is a fact that some people may need help with determining what is right or wrong, how to treat others fairly and how to be honest and transparent in relationships. After all, no one can embrace a concept or value they do not understand or have not been privy to since they have not been exposed to it.

Someone once said, integrity is about walking the talk and talking the walk “CONSISTENTLY”.

Integrity is a value system, a quality that defines who a person is. Unlike titles that can be purchased without being earned, integrity cannot be purchased. You either have integrity or you do not. So what is the relevance of integrity in a business setting? Integrity helps a business build trust with its customers, which over time translate into an intangible asset for the business.

“Trust” is a critical success factor that helps a business attracts and retains customers. The ability to sustain position of greatness in the marketplace is simply not limited to technical skills. Technical competencies and integrity are both critical for sustainable business success.

Your business can build competitive advantage through integrity just like great businesses like General Electric (GE). Fundamental to the ethics of such businesses, is integrity. Whereas performance weaknesses in the areas of profitability or market share targets can be met with mercy and forgiveness, a violation of integrity receives no mercy. One mistake in this area and a manager or staff is out. This can even destroy the entire business.

So here are quick tips for building competitive advantage through integrity:

• Produce an ethical code of conduct for your business that defines integrity and your expectations from all staff

• Get every staff to read and understand the ethical code of conduct, as well as acknowledge they’ve done so

• Treat violation of integrity seriously, swiftly and promptly leaving no scope for others to repeat bad practices.

• Reward staff for embracing integrity and embed integrity into the performance management system.

• Integrate the importance of integrity in the induction programme for staff and board members.

• Display your organisation’s stance on integrity in publications for the benefit of wider stakeholders.

If you would like to find out more about this booklet why don’t you contact us today by sending an email to sheila@businessservicessupport.com

 Sheila Elliott is the managing director of Business Services Support Limited.


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