Integrity. It’s a bit like virginity. Either you have it…or you don’t!

For all my blog posts please visit 'The Savage Truth'

I have been in business a long time. And all of that time has been in the rough and tumble world of recruitment and staffing. Having worked as a recruiter, manager, and owner of recruitment businesses all over the world, I have seen my share of dubious business practices. Indeed I have, sadly, been witness to many instances of outrageously deceitful and unethical behavior. We have all seen it no doubt.

In business, as in life generally, we expect to confront people who are dishonest. We know they are there, and we become better at identifying them before too much harm is done. But what really gets me is that category of person in business who preaches ethical behavior, even believes they are whiter than white, but when put to the mildest of tests, will collapse in a heap of moral compromise at best, and resort to outright duplicity at worst.

In a strange way I have even come to prefer dealing with crooks who knows they are crooks, rather then those people who believe there are degrees of honesty. People who somehow feel you can leverage acting decently against the amount of money involved. You cannot. Honesty is like being a virgin. You are, or you are not. You can’t be a virgin when it suits you.

I remember a conversation with a manager a long time ago that sticks with me as an example. I had recently taken over a business, and inherited some of the middle-management. The situation was that we had billed a client a large fee. The placement was made in Asia and the fee was in Singapore dollars. The client, based in the US, paid the invoice with US dollars, a value that was almost double the original, correct amount. I asked the manager of the office handling the deal “what do you propose to do”? The reply was along the lines of, ”well normally I would tell the client about the error, but this is a large fee and we are having a poor month in my office, so I feel we should let it slide”. Of course I quickly smothered that idea, but I knew I had a serious problem. What is the mindset of a person who will effectively steal from our clients? What is the moral fortitude of someone who will compromise any standard of honesty “because they are having a poor month”.

In 2009 I saw so many examples of this “rubber-band morality”. Clients, candidates and others closer to home, have managed to surprise even me with how tenuous is their grasp of what is right, and what is wrong. Yes, times are tough and money is tight. But what we have to understand is that it’s in exactly these circumstances that honesty and moral strength counts. Anyone can be ‘ethical’ if there is no temptation to test your ethical fibre. It’s very easy to see yourself as ‘honest’ if there is nothing financial at stake to give you pause for thought.

I love the competitive nature of the recruitment business. Anyone I have worked with or against will attest that I ask nor give any quarter in the commercial battle. Winning is important. Success is what we strive for.

But not at any cost.

To me its obvious that in business, or indeed any commercial interaction, you play it as hard as you can, but stick by the rules, retain your humanity and ensure that you will always be able to look every person you deal with in the eye.

Don’t be like a client who said to me once, as he lied his way out of paying a bill , “Greg, I am an honest man, but business is business”

Sad and pathetic

Views: 406

Comment by Cindy Kraft on February 11, 2010 at 11:45am
What a great post, Greg. The old adage around integrity was something like ... integrity is the choice you make when no one is watching. With our very social, global economy it becomes much more difficult to hide (Tiger Woods) because so many more people ARE watching. As you said, you either have integrity or you don't. It's not a convenient truth.

It's always interesting to watch the expressions of sales clerks when I walk back in with a product that somehow got out the door without being scanned or paid for because it was under my purse or wedged in a corner and missed. They are literally dumbstruck. So few people would bother ... after all, that large store can afford it.

Honesty and integrity are pretty strong values of mine so this post really resonated with me. Thanks, Greg!
Comment by Martin H.Snyder on February 11, 2010 at 12:39pm
Greg I have to completely disagree with you that "honesty" is binary. First of all, a suprising number of people are not even alone in their bodies-

Secondly, there are many conditions, such as ASD (autism spectrum disorders) where individuals may fail to percieve the actual ethics of a given situation, especially if they are not explicit.

Thirdly, even for persons of fully integrated and 'normal' personalities, there is a range of possible (vaild) interpretations for various ethical situations.

The greatest minds have been aware of the difficult nature of truth and honesty since the beginnings of philosophy:

“There's no trust, no faith, no honesty in men; all perjured, all forsworn, all naught, all dissemblers.” - William Shakespeare

“Lie to a liar, for lies are his coin; Steal from a thief, for that is easy; lay a trap for a trickster and catch him at first attempt, but beware of an honest man” -Arab Proverb

“We must make the world honest before we can honestly say to our children that honesty is the best policy” - George Bernard Shaw

“The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be.” - Socrates

"Often, the surest way to convey misinformation is to tell the strict truth."

- Mark Twain

"I think the greatest rogues are they who talk most of their honesty."
-Anthony Trollope

"To see what is in front of one's nose requires a constant struggle" - George Orwell

"All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them" - Galileo Galilei

"All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident". -Arthur Schopenhauer

I could paste all afternoon on this topic if I wanted to, but the point is pretty basic: the premise of your post is ill-founded. Integrity is not an either/or state, it is a situational state and unique to each actor.

My advice would be: Try not to step on people's rights, and you have a better chance at both a happy life and a glowing reputation among those you encounter on your brief tour of the Universe.
Comment by Brian K. Johnston on February 11, 2010 at 1:21pm
Very good/heartfelt article... Thanks for sharing... Best, Brian-
Comment by David King on February 11, 2010 at 4:12pm
I really appreciate your post and think you hit the nail on the head! I'll be sharing this post with the other members of my team.
One additional though I'd like to offer is that is critically important to be affiliated only with employer(s)/organization(s) whose values are aligned with yours. In this business, guilt by association can render a very heavy penalty (regardless of how fair/unfair that may be).

Thanks for sharing! Well said!
Comment by Greg Savage on February 11, 2010 at 4:47pm
Thanks for your comments everyone. I appreciate the interest and the feedback.

Martin, your post is thought-provoking and I thank you for taking the time to put together such a detailed response.

I do have to point out that my blog is written from a commercial, everyday perspective, focussing on behaviors in the staffing industry. I was not attempting an esoteric treatise on the finer points of philosophy, as they relate to honesty and the human condition.

Also I would have to admit that I was not really considering metal disorders or personality conditions when I was suggesting honesty is a black and white issue. What you say is true, but I believe at a very obtuse angle to the theme of what I am referring to. Sane,everyday people who "bend' their morality to suit the situation.

As for your literary quotes. They are excellent. But had I the time, I can cut and paste as many that argue the other case.

Thats the beauty of blogs and public debate. We can agree to disagree. And as far as honesty in commercial activity is concerned, I maintain my position. In 99% of cases in business, you KNOW what is right and what is wrong. You know. It's just a case of deciding whether the financial inducement is enough to tip you over the "wrong " threshold. Thats where integrity and a line in the sand comes in.

Comment by Martin H.Snyder on February 11, 2010 at 8:18pm
Hi Greg,

Sharp response yourself ;-)

Lets look at the late housing bubble- nearly all of the actors thought they were doing right, almost none thought that were doing wrong, yet massive wrongs still occured. We are dependent on our frames and our idea spaces.

The fed thought it was pricing money right, the invesment houses thought they were selling safe "AAA" paper, the loan originators thought they were playing by the rules that they had been given, and the buyers thought that everyone must know what they were doing since they were all doing it, and the whole thing rolled into a disaster.

Sure there were people who saw different parts of the elephant, sensing that something was not right, but were they dishonest ?

Lets be even more specific: You are presenting a candidate whom you have incohate doubts about.

Your doubts are non-specific (she looks fine on paper) but your little voice gives you a bad vibe. Maybe she is "too perfect". Maybe you knew somebody so similar once who was no good that your spider sense tingles. Do you say so before or after feedback from the client ? Do you say so at all ? Do you say so if the client loves her ? Do you not present ?

A year later, if things are good, its better that you did not say anything. 2 months later, if she blows sky high, you should have said something. The practical businessperson leaves it to fate, because intuition is only sometimes actionable, or does he ?

The cut and dried cases of just picking someone's pocket are the easy ones- and its been studied many times. Something like 8 out of 10 people are basically honest, the other 2 are basically crooked, across cultures and across time/age etc.
Comment by Greg Savage on February 11, 2010 at 8:27pm
In relation to your first point-housing bubble-if a person does not KNOW they are doing wrong (does not have the facts), they are not being dishonest. Stupid maybe, but not dishonest, That's easy

Your second point about a dubious candidate. You had the answer there yourself. You don't present her! Or if you do, you share your concerns with client beforehand and decide together on a road forward (extra reference checks, extended trial period, whatever). You don't place and pray, because then you are not acting in your clients interests, which is in fact what they are paying you to do.

Thats it. Black and white
And thats all from me on this too because I am pretty busy trying to make an honest living



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