When I began my keynote this week at the annual meeting of the Great American Insurance Company, the way I almost always begin: with an interactive exercise where I ask the audience a question that they answer on note cards, one designed to elicit their core values. They answer first alone, then in collaboration with someone else, circling the most important value. Then we talk about whether the institutions we currently have of school and work align with and develop those most-cherished values–and why and why note.
When I asked the executives at GAIC to shout out the values they had circled together, “Integrity” was the first one shouted out. I’ve had 52 major events so far this year and that was the first time I heard that particular word. About a third to a half of the audience had circled that as their most important word. They were shocked I hadn’t heard it before and I turned to the Company’s CEO Carl Lindner and laughed that he should be feeling very happy right now. Everyone had the company’s core value and mission down cold. But when we tried to think of where in a student transcript, where in a typical job resume, or even where in most letters of recommendation you find the “integrity” score, we came up short.
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Since I spend a lot of my time reading about new assessment and evaluation systems, I can also say pretty confidently that, even in the wider literature, there’s not much about how you “test” for integrity. Of course many worthy educational institutions work extremely hard promoting good values, including integrity, but the quick and definitive response, from this management meeting, made me think about what it would mean if it became common place to make “integrity” part of the lesson plan in every course, in every discipline, for every degree? And beyond. Even in standard Human Resource forms, there’s not nearly as much focus on integrity as a consistent theme running through our criteria for promotion and advancement as there is on other values, including innovation and leadership. Yet isn’t integrity a core component of innovation? Isn’t it essential to good leadership? How do you count “integrity” as a vital component of “productivity” and “profit.”
I am reminded of Nobel Prize Winner Amartya Sen’s wonderful work on what it would mean if well-being and even happiness were calculated as part of a nation’s GNP. What if integrity were part and parcel of the productivity in our schools and workplaces? What if part of profit were also contribution to a fair, equitable world where, at whatever price point, you could at least expect outcomes based on integrity? What if in the ninety-day ramp-up to reporting to Wall Street on profit one also were required to report on how one was able to achieve that profit with integrity?
Those are profound questions. Answering them, would make putting “integrity” as part of the bottom line, having its own accountability. How do you teach it, promote it, improve it as a quality, and generate systems (in any arena, including education,non profits, and corporate) that are expected to be successful while maintaining highest standards of integrity? I’m not sure that particular combination has been evident in our culture in the last two decades. What would it mean to change that? How would we go about it?
It’s fascinating how much data we have in our lives and how certain values tend to be missed or invisible in all the counts and figures and basics of our increasingly metric-filled and standardized lives.