Learning professionals can model integrity by standing up for and helping organizations get clear on what identity, authenticity, alignment, and accountability mean for their organizations.
As learning and development (L&D) professionals, we often sell integrity short. We typically define it as some variation of "doing the right thing," and some believe that you've either got it or you don't. Integrity is more than just ethics; it's also about effectiveness. Think of product integrity, design integrity, or supply chain integrity, and L&D's role becomes clearer.
For trainers, product and design integrity includes our function's or role's purpose and training program objectives. 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 parameters we have. Integrity for trainers includes accountability for results—not just "smile sheets," but assessing training's application and impact on performance.
In the big picture, L&D's purpose is to align and develop the talent necessary to reinforce an organization's mission, values, and strategy. That contributes to engagement as well as effectiveness. But disconnects between stated values and actual leader practices are among the best ways to stifle effectiveness and engagement.
Examples include motivational posters extolling the virtues of teamwork and collaboration when actual practices are anything but, or stating quality or safety as priorities when everyone knows that it's all about quantity and speed. Consider the call center that constantly preached the importance of excellent customer service, but simply couldn't improve customer call quality ratings. As it turned out, there was an exceptionally high volume of workers hanging up on customers. Analysis revealed that workers' performance ratings and pay were driven almost entirely by the number of customer calls they answered versus calls completed, and little attention was paid to call quality.
L&D professionals can be effective agents in crafting ethical, effective, and engaging cultures by helping their organizations and leaders successfully navigate these four dimensions of integrity: identity, authenticity, alignment, and accountability.
Integrity for individuals and for organizations begins with a clear purpose and clear values. Self-awareness also is critical, including knowledge of strengths and likely vulnerabilities. Engagement, effectiveness, and ethics all suffer without common goals and shared values. We also know that organizations and leaders can be done in by weaknesses to which they are blind. Here are actions that learning professionals can take to help their organizations and leaders navigate identity successfully:
- Engage all parties in defining the organization's core values, principles, and standards.
- Seek opportunities to communicate the organization's core values, principles, and standards, and to keep them visible in meaningful ways.
- Incorporate opportunities in training and development experiences for individuals to discover their own purpose and core values and how those connect with the organization's mission and values.
- Reduce blind spots—strengths or vulnerabilities of which your organization or leaders may be unaware.
- Facilitate or contribute to strategic planning, and raise awareness throughout the organization of strategic goals and priorities.
Having clear values and goals is one thing, but being true to those goals and values is another. Mismatches between words and deeds, intentional or not, are among the biggest contributors to distrust, wasted efforts, and worker disengagement. They also erode brand reputation and customer loyalty.
Authenticity also is about transparency and truth telling. Authentic cultures and leaders keep fewer things secret, and facilitate telling the truth when it's hard. Here's what learning professionals can do to help leaders and their organizations navigate authenticity successfully:
- Use surveys and other vehicles to surface integrity gaps between words and deeds—as experienced by workers or customers.
- Build organization-wide capacity (including their own) for courageous conversations about "inconvenient truths."
- Encourage examination of assumptions and accepted truths, especially in strategic and business planning sessions.
- Explore ways to increase transparency with workers and other stakeholders about such topics as products, decisions, and finances.
Research shows that alignment around shared goals yields greater financial returns. Achieving that kind of alignment requires working through disagreements about goals and how to achieve them. Alignment also is about agreement, or consistency, between organizational goals or values and hiring, pay, performance management, and training practices. It is counterproductive, for example, to pursue a strategy of differentiation based on quality and service without investing in customer service training. Likewise, management can say anything it wants about the merits of safety or integrity, but if pay is based entirely on speed and volume, that's what talks.
Alignment is not static, especially when it comes to alignment with shifting market demands. There needs to be rigid consistency about non-negotiables such as values. At the same time, everything else must be open for change and innovation. Here's how learning professionals can play a pivotal alignment role:
- Seek opportunities to communicate the organization's strategic direction, and engage parties who may have different perspectives.
- Audit HR and HRD practices, including hiring, orientation, pay, performance management, training, and benefits, to determine how they reinforce your organization's strategic direction and values, and if there are any "mixed signals."
- Seek ways to help organization members stay current in their fields and connected with customer and market trends.
An important part of integrity is doing what we say we will do—living up to our promise. To keep our brand promise and deliver on our commitments, we need to make sure that we are paying sufficient attention to the right measures. As a rule, what gets measured gets done.
Accountability also implies stewardship. Customers and workers alike today are increasingly conscious of organizations' track records as community citizens and good stewards, and will base buying and employment decisions on those. Here are actions that learning professionals can take to help their organizations and navigate accountability successfully:
- Most organizations already have a preponderance of financial measures in place. Make sure that measures exist for other, nonfinancial, contributors to effective, engaging, and ethical cultures.
- Think of what's best to measure in HR and HRD to get desired outcomes, and collect those measures. Seek comparative data within the industry, and establish targets for continuous improvement.
- Many organizations are not making good use of measures that already exist. Determine ways to make better use of existing measures, and eliminate those that aren't contributing value.
- Organize or facilitate initiatives in your organization to be good community citizens and environmental stewards. Habitat for Humanity-type projects are great for team building and build collateral in the community.
- Learn about your organization's supply chain integrity (product sources and uses) so you can answer questions about it.
As Noel Tichy, former head of GE's leadership school, said, "Integrity is the cornerstone of free enterprise, and every leader needs a clear teachable point of view on it." L&D professionals will benefit by adopting that perspective and positioning integrity centrally in their own strategies.