17 Dec 2009  Working Papers

Integrity: Without It Nothing Works

Executive Summary — "An individual is whole and complete when their word is whole and complete, and their word is whole and complete when they honour their word," says HBS professor Michael C. Jensen in this interview that appeared in Rotman: The Magazine of the Rotman School of Management, Fall 2009. Jensen (and his coauthors, Werner Erhard and Steve Zaffron) define and discuss integrity ("a state or condition of being whole, complete, unbroken, unimpaired, sound, in perfect condition"); the workability that integrity creates for individuals, groups, organizations, and society; and its translation into organizational performance. He also discusses the costs of lacking integrity and the fallacy of using a cost/benefit analysis when deciding whether to honor your word. Key concepts include:

  • The personal and organizational benefits of honoring one's word are huge—both for individuals and for organizations—and generally unappreciated.
  • We can honor our word in one of two ways: by keeping it on time and as promised, or if that becomes impossible, by owning up to the parties counting on us to keep our word in advance and cleaning up the mess our failure to keep our word creates in their lives.
  • By failing to honor our word to ourselves, we undermine ourselves as persons of integrity, and create "unworkability" in our lives.
  • Integrity is a necessary but not sufficient condition for maximum performance.
  • There are unrecognized but significant costs to associating with people and organizations that lack integrity.

 

Author Abstract

There is confusion between integrity, morality and ethics. In our much longer paper on the topic—see "Integrity: A Positive Model that Incorporates the Normative Phenomena of Morality, Ethics and Legality" (available at http://ssrn.com/abstract=920625)—my co-authors and I distinguish integrity from morality and ethics in the following way. Integrity in our model is honoring your word. As such integrity is a purely positive phenomenon. It has nothing to do with good vs. bad, right vs. wrong behavior. Like the law of gravity the law of integrity just is, and if you violate the law of integrity as we define it you get hurt just as if you try to violate the law of gravity with no safety device. The personal and organizational benefits of honoring one's word are huge—both for individuals and for organizations—and generally unappreciated. 6 pages.

Paper Information