Historic Old Main building at Penn StateThis week, the NCAA imposed severe sanctions on Pennsylvania State University. The Freeh Report described an “unprecedented failure of institutional integrity” in which the football program was held “in higher esteem than the values of the institution, the NCAA, higher education, and human decency.”

The university took decisive action when abuse allegations were made public late last year. The leaders responsible for this failure of integrity were immediately removed. Time will tell if the university’s new leaders can align behavior to the values and standards Penn State was founded upon in 1863.

The NCAA sanctions, though short of abolishing the football program entirely, will impact the university and its student-athletes for years to come. I support the NCAA’s penalties of Penn State. The behavior of leaders who tolerated well-known abusive behaviors by an ex-coach could not go unpunished.

Who is Responsible for Organizational Integrity?

Organizational integrity is the degree to which the organization delivers on it’s promises – in Penn State’s case, education, research, and character. Organizational integrity does not exist independently; it is driven entirely by the leaders of the organization. Leaders’ daily plans, decisions, and actions reveal their underlying beliefs and values.

When leaders’ plans, decisions, and actions are aligned with the espoused vision, values, and strategies of the organization, that organization experiences HIGH integrity. When leaders’ plans, decisions, and actions are NOT aligned with the organization’s vision, values, and strategies, that organization experiences LOW integrity.

If your organization has published it’s vision, purpose, values, strategy, and goals statement, it is a simple task to evaluate the alignment of leaders’ plans, decisions, and actions to that statement. It’s a little more difficult to gauge organizational integrity without a published statement, but it can be done.

Assess Your Organization’s Integrity

Answer these questions to gauge your organization’s current demonstrated integrity:

  • Are values expectations clear & agreed to?
    Even if your organization hasn’t formally defined what a good citizen looks like in the workplace, it’s likely you have benchmark citizenship “stars.” To what extent is good citizenship acted on daily in interactions with internal and external customers?
  • Are promises made and kept?
    Keeping one’s commitments is a foundation of integrity. Do you, your peers, your boss, your team, etc. make commitments clearly and deliver on those promises?
  • Is trust and respect demonstrated in every interaction?
    Trust and respect creates ever greater trust and respect. This is a foundation of personal and organizational integrity.
  • Do leaders, team members, and teams “do the right thing,” no matter what?
    Serving the greater good builds integrity more than serving the selfish good.
  • Is there zero toleration of mis-aligned behavior?
    When promises are not kept, when citizenship is poor, when trust & respect is eroded, how do leaders respond to those behaviors?

One doesn’t have to be a senior leader to increase organizational integrity. Create a “pocket of excellence,” ensuring integrity of your own plans, decisions, and actions. Encourage the same in your work team. Today.

Join in the conversation! What is your experience with organizational integrity? What do you do to increase your personal integrity daily? Share your insights in the comments section below.

Get your FREE EXCERPT from my new book, #POSITIVITY AT WORK tweet, written with the delightful Lisa Zigarmi. View our video on why we wrote the book, understand the research on positivity in the workplace, and more!

Photo (of the Old Main building on the Penn State campus) © iStockphoto.com/catnap72

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S. Chris Edmonds

Chris helps leaders create purposeful, positive, productive work cultures. He's a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He blogs, podcasts, and video casts. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers: Good Comes First (2021) and The Culture Engine (2014).
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