Last Monday evening, I was winding down as usual with my iPad, making a quick scan of Facebook. All of a sudden a blog pops up “Is Integrity a Dying Virtue?” This immediately caught my attention for two reasons. First, integrity has always been a personal virtue and one that guides every decision I make. Second, I had an encounter earlier this week with someone where I felt they were not being entirely truthful. It was over something minor, and I knew they did not mean anything by it. He was simply “enhancing” the truth to make a point more impactful. It stuck with me.
Is integrity a dying virtue? That is a scary thought. Integrity is important to me and is a business virtue for GreatAmerica. I decided to look into this a little deeper.
There was a time when people may have been more naïve and honest in all they said and did; when a handshake and someone’s word meant everything. I realize this does not mean everyone lived a life of integrity. Many people today are more inclined to find a way to game “the system” to get something for nothing. We have all experienced encounters with individuals who were not forthright or honest. Maybe it was an employee calling in sick when they weren’t and needed to finish Christmas shopping. Maybe it was an unkept promise or a fabricated experience in a job interview to appear more qualified. Some call it politics…I call it lack of integrity.
Integrity was a foundational virtue of GreatAmerica when we started our business 25 years ago. It’s actually part of our “Hard Work, Integrity and Excellence” tagline. Our ethical focus has guided our overall direction, ranging from how we define our customer (the dealer is our customer, not the lessee) to the creation of our Truth in Leasing Statement (an industry-first statement that outlines what the lessee can expect when they enter into a standard agreement with GreatAmerica). It also drew a line in the sand by stating our position—in writing—that we cap residual positions and reject the hidden fees common in many lease agreements.
When I was at the Sharp National Dealer Meeting last fall, we had multiple GreatAmerica customers stop by our table to say hi and share their experiences working with us. It was very refreshing to hear a few mention our “Truth in Leasing” statement and the value in presenting this to their customers upon signing our finance agreements. I thought, “Wow – integrity still does exist today!”
Integrity means always doing the right thing no matter what the consequences. One of our GreatAmerica guiding principles is that we “Live our values with utmost integrity.” Maintaining high standards and living with utmost integrity takes purpose and effort. As I reflected on the concept of integrity and how our company has grown in the past 25 years, I wondered what office equipment dealers could learn from the practices we’ve benefitted from.
Here are seven examples of areas where we have developed a process, tool, or procedure to reinforce integrity for all employees. I hope some of them can be helpful to your dealership as you grow and face many of the same growing pains GreatAmerica has faced over time.
Hiring Practices: We are committed to a long-term hire for the benefit of our candidates, customers, and GreatAmerica. We have a strong well thought-out hiring process that puts the right person in the right seat. We structure our interview process to ensure we hire individuals with integrity. Past performance is the best predictor of future performance, and we ask interview questions to determine if an individual has demonstrated the behaviors we are seeking for our environment. A behavior-based question may sound like this: “Tell me about a specific time when you had to handle a tough problem which challenged fairness or ethical issues.” This increases our confidence that the people we hire will demonstrate integrity in their thoughts, actions, and decisions.
Fraud Alert: No interview process is perfect, and we safeguard our institutional integrity with a reporting system that prevents internal fraud, theft and other illegal acts. It can also be a key component of building a company’s image with its constituencies. Twice a year, our Chairman and Founder, Tony Golobic reminds everyone in our company via email that each of us, individually, shares the responsibility of living with utmost integrity. In 2005, we established a fraud prevention hotline with a company that specializes in the highly confidential handling of such reporting. This service is designed for employees who want to speak up, but prefer to remain anonymous—without fear of retaliation. This service is not intended as a substitute for our employees speaking directly to their team members and leaders.
Policies: At the individual level, personal integrity often turns on the consistency between internal values and outward actions. At GreatAmerica, we work to ensure organizational integrity by formalizing our corporate values and norms (e.g. how we treat customers, how we handle the credit process, how we manage our overall business, etc.) in functional policies and procedures. Without our policies, we would not be able to maintain consistency between our internal values and outward actions across our entire employee base.
Strategic Planning: Our business unit leadership teams come together to perform a strategic review of their business each year. We use this process to develop our strategic plans and refine our business concept. All units consider the following sentence: “Regardless of their potential profitability, GreatAmerica rejects business opportunities that are inconsistent with our collective sense of integrity or that require us to compromise the level of excellence our clients deserve.” This framework helps ensure that leaders keep integrity top of mind as unit strategies evolve over time.
Incentives/compensation: We know human behavior is motivated by certain incentives. To ensure we encourage behavior that is mutually beneficial to GreatAmerica and our customers, we reward and compensate our people based on cultural and performance standards. Careful thought is given to the consistent display of integrity rather than the blind achievement of goals and results at any cost. For example, everyone at GreatAmerica has a performance and development plan which measures and rewards them for hitting their performance metrics as well as demonstrating behaviors aligned with our cultural values, including integrity.
Recognition: Successful businesses create recognition programs for top-performing employees. We have company-wide High Achiever awards established to recognize and reward those individuals who uphold our most sacred principles, one of which is “We live our values with utmost integrity.” When the value of integrity is actively considered in the choice of winners, a message is sent to the whole organization about what is important and what will be rewarded.
Environment: The environment we create for our employees can have an impact on their ability to act with integrity every day. At GreatAmerica, we don’t have our departments “siloed.” We have a team structure, where a small group of 10-14 individuals representing the various functions from sales and sales support to credit and documentation, all sit together and serve the same group of dealers in a particular region. This team structure creates a more personal situation because our employees get to know our dealers by name. They know how they think, how their businesses operate, and what their programs look like. They often know who is getting married, who lost a parent, and whose child is starting their first day of kindergarten. That builds a strong bond between our employees and the dealers and between our team members. We keep each other accountable.
For GreatAmerica, high standards in everything we do are more than just a slogan or a catch phrase. They are the way we do business. Your business is likely very similar. And we all need to be very purposeful in how we put things in place to help ensure integrity is at the forefront. While a handshake and someone’s word are seemingly a thing of the past—I have come to the conclusion that integrity is NOT a dying virtue. We see it in the dealers we do business with every day—and we hope they, in turn, see it in us.