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Your Move — What Price Integrity?

“Your Move — What Price Integrity?”

They say everyone has a price. What’s yours?Like it or not, that’s the question your stakeholders are asking themselves and each other about you these days. How can they not? The Enron mess amazes even some hardened veterans of the business wars.And CEOs everywhere are paying to clean it up in a currency more valuable than dollars: the perception of their trustworthiness by those who must trust them.Surprisingly, what Americans think of business — pro and con — has not changed materially due to Enron. But what they think of business executives has changed for the worse: 43% believe that executives put their personal interests above anything else, reports a survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. In 1995 only 34% took that view. What’s more, public interest in news about Enron increased through the first quarter. Scrutiny of business leaders won’t go away soon.Anyone who depends on you for straight answers, thoughtful decisions and all or part of their livelihood can’t help but wonder about you — even if you’re doing a great job, even if they really believe in you.Enron’s former chairman Ken Lay was highly regarded as a visionary entrepreneur, a smart manager and an all-around “great guy.” He turned Enron into a fantastic place to work and a generous community benefactor. People liked him, respected him and worked very hard for him. No more.

Could you fall so far so fast? In truth, probably not. But the new challenge must be met.

You will need to communicate better, especially about financial matters and about what you and your company stand for.

You will need to take the high road, even in small things. Although you no doubt already walk this path, you will now have to think about it more deliberately and act on it more conspicuously.

One way is to celebrate people who make the right choices — by going out of their way to do right by a co-worker, customer, vendor or even competitor. Another is to invite — or require — board members to spend time at your company talking to anyone they want. (If you don’t have a board of advisers or directors, now is the time to put one together.)

You might think this approach is a waste of time, just a part of the “nice-to-have,” soft side of business. Or you might think it exposes your weaknesses, opens you up to criticism, shows that you’re not perfect.

Well, think again, and you might see you’re right in one way. You’re not perfect, even though you’re expected to be. You’re human.

But there is a silver lining: Revealing who you are in such straightforward, positive ways is a small price to pay for securing that priceless off-the-books asset — your integrity.

Writer: Scott Pemberton is the publisher of the Edward Lowe PeerSpectives Report. Tell him about your moves at scott@lowe.org.