If you see something, do something
What would it be like to live in a world without integrity?
This provocative question was part of a challenge posed to high school and college students.
Rather than a hypothetical scenario, it feels an urgent matter — we are facing a cheating crisis and leaders should worry about it, as I wrote here.
By leaders, I mean you and me.
Leadership is not defined by a position or a title. You don’t need to be a CEO or the president of the country to drive change. If you can inspire, influence, and help others to behave better, the world needs you.
Don’t just stand there; do something about it.
This post will provide ideas to help you promote integrity. But, first, let’s start with what we shouldn’t do.
We Don’t Need More Education
When facing ethical challenges, most organizations believe training their people will solve the problem.
When it comes to topics such as diversity, sexual harassment or ethics overall most traditional training seems to backfire. While they are effective to ‘educate’ people, they make almost everyone uncomfortable (no one likes to be on the spot) and reinforce some of the behaviors they are meant to change.
Addressing behavior change from a ‘right-or-wrong’ perspective doesn’t enlighten people; it just makes them feel worse about themselves. AA uses empathy and support groups — they don’t point fingers.
Changing behaviors requires clear accountability — the culture of any organization is shaped by the behaviors that are promoted and rewarded. When we see someone cheating, but do nothing, we create a vicious cycle.
We are bystanders: we know people are cheating, but we don’t speak up. We believe that, because we don’t take part, we are better than them. However, not doing anything won’t stop other people from behaving unethically.
We play ball: when we let things happen, we become complicit. Our behavior — even inaction — makes it easier for others to cheat.
We encourage others to follow suit: either by taking an active role or by actually celebrating those who cheat, we are inviting others to join the party.
If you see something, do something. Words don’t change behaviors — the way you act does.
The Danger of Ethical Zones
When organizations lack clear policies — or, worse, they don’t enforce them — toxic managers take over. Thus, creating ethical bubbles — what’s right or wrong is not universal; it varies within each group.
Sometimes good people can get swept into unethical behavior, warns Steven D. Olson, author of Shaping an Ethical Workplace Culture. Watch out for these danger signs.
Fear of retaliation
When inaction leaves ethical definitions in the hands of individual managers, members fear to be punished for speaking up or saying ‘no.’ Arrogance and cheating go hand in hand. Like it happened to Enron — instead of admitting mistakes, the executives decided to hide losses through accounting tricks. There were way too many people involved — fear of retaliation kept them silent.
Everybody does it
I remember calling out my son for going over the speed limit when he was learning how to drive. His usual response was: “Dad, look around, everyone is going faster than me.” This type of rationalization makes us believe that, because everybody does it, certain behaviors are legit.
Not punishing bad behaviors
If you don’t punish bad behaviors, you are sending the message you don’t care. Inaction can drive even worse actions. The ‘Theranos crisis’ is an example of that; it could have been stopped earlier. With hundreds of millions of dollars of funding, did none of the investors take a quick comparative blood test?
When achieving goals at any costs is all that matters, people feel pressured to compromise ethical standards. The U.S. past financial crisis is an example. Bonuses were tied to many mortgages each employee approved. It created a frenzy among lenders — they ended originating mortgages that did not conform to standard lending practices.
Lack of consistency hurts credibility. Some executives believe that their rank makes them immune to company policies. When rules don’t apply to everyone, the organization’s ethics become meaningless. It’s like telling your kid not to do something you usually do.
So, how can we promote integrity or as @mattsgillett asked me: how can we drive change in the real world?
Ideas to Promote Integrity
1. Punish foul play
Japan, not Senegal, made it to the second round of the 2018 World Cup though both teams were tied in their group. It was the first time that a team was knocked out by Fair Play points — based on the number of yellow cards their players received.
When unfair play costs a team not making it to the second round, everyone starts paying attention.
2. Create a movement
No one changes the world alone. It’s easier to fire or punish one person than to get rid of a whole team. That’s the power of a movement — you are not fighting the establishment on your own. Tarana Burke began using the phrase “me too” to raise awareness of the pervasiveness of sexual assault. It took until 2017, when Alyssa Milano empowered women to tweet #metoo, to make it viral — the magnitude of the problem became visible to everyone.
Start a movement — doing the right thing always pays off in the long run.
3. Be Courageous
Being the first to stand up is never easy — that’s the difference between behaving like a leader or an observer. It took a lot of courage for women such as Rose McGowan and Ashley Judd to come forward — their stories shook Hollywood and Politics.
Courage is the best source of inspiration. Don’t wait for others to take the first step.
4. Outsmart the cheaters
Cheaters like to beat the system. Why can’t we apply the same ingenuity to beat them at their best game? Take concerts tickets, for example. Most of the time, tickets go to the quickest online shopper — too much of the time, that is touts who simply want to resell at a profit.
Needing photo ID to get into venues or limiting the amounts of tickets purchased per person seem obvious solutions, yet they are helping beat the touts.
When there’s a will; there’s a way.
5. Spread the good news
Bad news get more viewership — we have a fatal attraction to crimes, disasters, and negative information. However, that shouldn’t prevent you from spreading positive news. Did you know that, while America’s current government denies Global Warning, Shell wants to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles in the UK? Rather than asking for a delay, its CEO wants to bring the deadline forward.
The news you share shape how people perceive our society.
6. Positivity spreads like fire
Bad news are not the only ones that are contagious. First came Starbucks’ announcement that it will do away with plastic straws at its stores worldwide by 2020. A few days later, Hyatt followed the lead — the hotel group committed to Instagram-worthy views over polluted oceans.
Leaders don’t just do the right thing — they change industries, not just their organization.
7. Don’t judge cheaters — empathize with them
I know this seems hard. But taking the moral stand — “I’m right; you are wrong” — creates a bigger divide rather than solving the problem. Learn to walk in other people’s shoes. Instead of being judgmental, try to understand what drives people to cheat. Is it the rules, the environment, their boss, personal experiences, etc.?
How can you become a positive influence to others?
8. Seed good behaviors
Giving back to society helps develop a positive mindset. Organize a fund-raiser or volunteer to help the community and invite your team to join — not to look good but to promote good.
The more you encourage people to give back to the community, the more inclined they’ll feel with doing good.
9. Bring pets to work
Regardless of the controversies about bringing pets to work — allergies, phobia, etc. — the presence of dogs provide benefits that go beyond their owners. It’s universally known that pets reduce stress, which in turn minimizes chances of people making wrong decisions. On top of that, the presence of pets develops kindness, altruism, and empathy — all critical aspects of integrity.
10. Make the business case
Ethics is good for business too. Social responsibility is good for the planet and also for consumers who are more informed and concerned about companies’ ethics. Timberland is a perfect example of how making sustainability a company-wide priority with clear goals and metrics directly impacts the bottom line.
Standing for something bigger than your organization is not just about doing the right thing; it also pays off from a financial standpoint.
11. Embrace corporate activism
Assuming that everyone behaves well is as bad as including ‘ethical’ as one of the companies values. Ethics is a must, but it shouldn’t be taken for granted either. Organizations must be open and transparent by sharing where they stand. Both political polarization and employee expectations around values are pushing top executives to enter social debates. CEO activism is about standing up and voicing positions. Silence equals to being complicit.
Go beyond PR stunts. Invite people to participate — turn the experience into a dialogue. Create channels where employees can interact and voice their opinions too.
12. Break the corporate mold
Uncharted waters require new navigation approaches. Companies usually tend to fly low. The now famous tweet by FO Sanofi A. Groupe “racism is not a side effect” did more than protect the company’s interests and its employees’ reputation. It was a clear message to promote accountability and ethical behaviors — the blame game should not be tolerated.
Are you willing to break the corporate rules for a good reason?
13. Change from the inside
A couple of weeks ago, my friends from The Ready posed a sensitive question: should good people help evil organizations? The challenge was based on the news that Simon Sinek was paid a large sum of money to give a workshop to ICE’s employees. Considering this organization’s role in separating immigrant children from their parents, is it wrong to help ICE?
I’ve asked this question to myself many times. Helping only the ‘good guys’ is not enough. If we want to live in a world with integrity, we also need to seed positive behaviors within organizations with dubious reputations.
You can’t change a company from the outside — fight the battle from within.
14. Provide a safe space
People feel afraid of speaking up — they don’t want to be attacked or punished. Psychological safety is the belief that a team or organization is safe for interpersonal risk-taking. Promoting integrity starts with setting up the stage for open dialogue.
Create the right conditions for your team to feel safe to address ethics.
15. Create an ethics rating
What if we create a tool where people can provide ratings of government, corporations, associations, etc. based on their ethical behaviors. Think of Yelp meets Glassdoor.
16. Rethink what you reward and punish
Unconsciously or not, sometimes, our push to generate results can drive our teams to act the wrong way. Shifting from individual to collective goals creates a healthier mindset. People are more prone to behave unethically when no one is watching. Healthy teams raise the collective bar.
Reflect on how your behavior is encouraging (or not) people to cheat.
17. Change the world, 10% at-a-time
Trying to change everything overnight drives exhaustion and frustration. Changing habits requires a progressive approach — the same applies to encouraging ethical behaviors.
Aim for easy to digest solutions — setting incremental 10% improvements is an effective way to create enduring transformation as I explained here.
What’s your contribution to living in a world with integrity? How do you promote positive change within your organization?
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