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Integrity: What Is It, and Why Is It important?

Lars Pedersen December 24, 2019

Integrity comes from the Latin word integer, where it meant whole. In a person, integrity refers to being morally whole — a person who has a fully developed moral code, and doesn’t resort to shortcuts, lying, or cheating.

It is clearly in a company’s interest to retain employees with integrity while dismissing those who lack it. Here are some thoughts on encouraging integrity in your organization.

Quantifying Integrity 

Not only is integrity tough to define, it’s also hard to quantify. How does a person with integrity behave? How do you determine which employees have more or less integrity?

Integrity is impossible to measure directly, leaving organizations instead to infer it from a person’s behavior. However, this is a risky proposition, since many of the activities that demonstrate a lack of integrity can also be damaging to the business. One option for finding untoward individuals before they do too much damage is to catch them cheating.

This isn’t a novel idea. For instance, accounting bodies such as the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) consider cheating on tests proof of a person’s lack of integrity, and they revoke the membership of cheaters. This makes sense in an industry where they regularly work with other people’s money, as exam cheating is likely an indicator that they would be willing to cheat in other areas of the company – perhaps even stealing, breaking confidentiality, or committing fraud.

Cheating As an Imperfect Metric

 As with all moral questions, there is greater complexity lying just under the surface. In this case, it is that cheating isn’t limited to ‘bad’ employees. Even those who regularly demonstrate their integrity can fall victim to justification and rationalization of cheating in certain circumstances.

For instance, picture an upstanding employee who has worked hard all week, maybe even going out of their way to help overwhelmed colleagues. If this employee were given a test on Friday evening, unattended, with their notes an arm’s reach away, they could easily convince themselves that the test is just a formality. It’s hard to consider this a major lack of integrity from the employee — nobody’s perfect — and in this hypothetical scenario, the business has clearly failed to indicate that they take the test seriously.

On the other hand, an employee who cheats on a proctored test, which the company has expressly explained the purpose and importance of, shows a serious lack of integrity. This is a somewhat nuanced point, but it’s critical to understand.

Demonstrating the Importance of Exams

The previous example demonstrates why it’s critical to show employees that the exam is more than just a formality — it’s a critical part of the company’s functioning. Exams are important because they ensure employees are prepared for the job at hand and that the company is compliant to the regulations of its industry.

Companies can show that an exam is important by explaining to employees its purpose and how it stands to benefit both them and the company. Properly proctoring the exam also sends a strong signal that cheating will not be tolerated.

This doesn’t mean companies need to impose on employees sitting exams in a draconian manner. Modern technology allows organizations to proctor exams more subtly than ever before. Digital testing lets employees take exams when and wherever they choose — even from the comfort of their own homes. Technologies such as video proctoring, secure browsers and data analysis ensure that the level of security remains high, and cheaters can still be caught.

Company-Wide Measures 

Catching cheaters works, but disincentivizing cheating in the first place can save everybody a lot of trouble. Companies should strive to go beyond adding the word ‘integrity’ to their code of conduct and demonstrate what integrity means in their industry. They can also highlight instances of employees conducting themselves in a way that shows integrity.

In addition to the host of other benefits testing offers, it also provides an excellent opportunity to catch cheaters. However, it is important that the company demonstrate that they are taking the test seriously to prevent the temptation to cheat in otherwise honorable employees. This leaves you to catch the dedicated cheaters, those lacking in integrity, and those which your business would be better off without.

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