Entrepreneurial integrity is a key building block for conveying trust
Integrity is one of the six central building blocks of trust for entrepreneurs, along with customer orientation, competence, aura, results and personality. Being integer means acting in a way that is consistent with one's values. I go one step further and add that the actions must optionally also be in line with the communicated overarching corporate purpose. What does this mean in detail and how can it be used to communicate trust for one's own trustworthiness?
Preliminary remark: Integrity is not to be confused with authenticity. Very often one reads how important authenticity is for trust. At least for conveying trustworthiness, this is wrong. Being authentic means that one's actions are in harmony with one's feelings. If a customer behaves rudely and you are angry with them, it is absolutely authentic to tell them directly and bluntly to their face. It is even authentic if you anger him back in exactly the same way. However, if your values include being respectful and polite, you will first try to understand why he behaved the way he did in this situation. Maybe you even gave the reason for it. Or he may simply have had a bad moment, which is not typical for him. You could then politely ask him about his inappropriate behaviour and talk with him to find out how you can find common ground again. The integrity shown in this way between your values and your actions is certainly more trustworthy than a confrontation based on a momentary feeling, which may be authentic but does not lead anywhere. Since values, unlike feelings, are stable in the long term, integrity is thus a kind of big sister of authenticity.
Unfortunately, we have all experienced over and over again in recent years how things should not be. The keywords here are: Volkswagen, Deutsche Bank, Siemens, wirecard - all supposedly trustworthy companies with sonorous words in mission statements, board statements and publications. Unfortunately, these words are not reflected in actual actions. How is the customer supposed to have trust in a company that finds it normal to receive orders with bribes? Or to continually put the interests and bonuses of its own investment bankers before everything else? (The resulting Deutsche Bank scandals fill filing cabinets and court records). But small-scale examples can also be found in everyday life. There is the bakery chain that sweeps mouse droppings "under the table" in production, the butcher with rotten meat, the doctor who makes a few extra examinations for private patients that bring in nice money, even if they were not actually necessary, etc., etc. Also as Online marketing agency one is challenged to separate the wheat from the chaff.
The prerequisite for integrity in a company is a stable set of values, optionally supplemented with an overarching corporate purpose, and a consistent alignment of the actions of all employees in the company accordingly.
Knowing which values are important for the company is helpful as a basis for every entrepreneur. This is even more true for employees. A values guide helps in daily doing and is a guideline for decisions.
Why is such a value framework needed today? Two generations back, the Christian faith was still so deeply rooted in people's minds and everyday lives that the underlying values were not worth mentioning. The entrepreneurs of the post-war period and in the economic miracle were people who often still went to church on Sundays and prayed in everyday life. We can no longer assume that today. It is not only the case that hardly anyone under 70 still goes to church, faith has completely lost its power of orientation in everyday life. Moreover, companies of all sizes are now multinational and multicultural. But other religions and beliefs of entrepreneurs hardly have any effect on everyday life. Therefore, there needs to be a guideline at the organisational level of the company so that everyone knows in everyday life what they can and should orientate themselves by.
values should be clearly different from the basic entrepreneurial coordinates. "We are oriented towards the well-being of our clients and strive for an appropriate return", is not a value for successful long-term entrepreneurial activity, but a matter of course. It therefore has no place in a catalogue of values.
There is a wide range of values that can be used as a guide. Some are particularly important for radiating confidence. These underlying assets are:
- Be good to your employees
For entrepreneurs, the Humility one of the most important virtues. What could be more unappealing than a cocky company boss who thinks he owns the world? Of course, there is nothing wrong with a healthy self-confidence. On the contrary, it is very important. However, people who do not take their success for granted but go through life with a portion of humility and gratitude have a considerable amount of confidence on their side.
Everyone will understand that Honesty is one of the most important values for radiating trustworthiness. Who would trust a liar? Nevertheless, there are limits to honesty at the point where one would hurt others. In everyday business, it can be difficult for individual employees to decide whether they should always tell the truth to customers or suppliers, why there are delivery problems at the moment, why there are delays in payment or the like. A clear guideline is needed from the management - the more honest the better.
Entrepreneurs with distinctive Loyalty are also particularly trustworthy. I often choose a new company because I want to work with it in the long term. If I now know that the entrepreneur always has staff changes or that essential inputs come from changing suppliers, that is not particularly trustworthy. It is all the nicer when you work trustfully and loyally with someone in the long term and this relationship can also cope with the depths of business. I have experienced it myself that I was short of money even at short notice due to payment difficulties of my customers. The supplier who treats me with understanding in such a situation and grants me an uncomplicated extension of payment has my trust even beyond this situation.
Being good to your employees, is another elementary basic value for me. In many industries, this is supposedly taken for granted. As a fast-growing start-up with a need for programmers and other young talents, I have no other option than to treat my employees with the utmost courtesy. But for me, this is not about fitness vouchers, a fruit basket and, best of all, a ball pit. For me, it's about a genuine interest in the needs of each and every employee. As an entrepreneur, how do you deal with your employees when things get tight financially? Do you care about them (and their families) when layoffs are inevitable? Do you give the head of development time off at his request if his child is in distress - even if his wife is at home anyway? Do you let the head of communications work from the home office even at a big event because childcare would otherwise be difficult to manage? I have often experienced that such questions are not answered as clearly as it might feel now in the Corona crisis. And I am curious to see how we will deal with these issues after the crisis.
Being good to your employees is so important because employees are often the ones who deal with the individual customer. As a customer, I instinctively feel how connected the employee is to the company. How nice it feels when I know that the employee has been with the company for 20 years. Just the other day I was in a large painting company and found out that one of the employees had been there for more than 20 years, and most of the others for more than 10 years. I automatically trust this company and the entrepreneur at the top more.
In addition, every entrepreneur can individual values add and describe. These can be very different values that are important to the individual. Examples are: courage, empathy, authenticity (see above), openness, politeness.
Important for the Implementation is to put the defined values in writing and communicate them internally and externally. There are many different methods for this. I know of guidelines, small booklets for each employee, even better a postcard with the most important points for each desk or (not so effective) posters in the corridors. It should be clear to the staff that the values are to be practised consistently and that misconduct will be punished accordingly. I found it very pleasant that President Biden announced in his first internal staff address that he expects every staff member to be treated with respect. Should he overhear one of his staff members speaking condescendingly about another, he would be fired immediately. Clear matter - but certainly necessary in this clarity due to the atrocious treatment under Trump.
Companies today, also due to the erosion of existing structures, have a more important role for society.Churches, trade unions and political parties have lost their binding power. As a result, employees in particular, but also customers and the environment, are increasingly demanding a social function from entrepreneurs. What is their position on environmental issues, do they take into account the concerns of the societies in which they operate, and are they active with a positive impact on the ground? This overarching corporate purpose is referred to in new German as the Purpose summarised.
Such a purpose can generate great charisma for the company. Last but not least, it generates an increase in trust in the company. Roughly speaking, three areas can be distinguished: Protection of the environment, needs of society and activities with a positive impact on the ground. Companies that are committed to the environment and their surroundings beyond their narrow corporate purpose are more trustworthy than those that are not. Today, a global corporation is expected to inform itself about the production conditions in its supplier countries and, if necessary, exert influence or draw necessary consequences. But even in the case of a local handicraft business, my trust increases when I know that the entrepreneur spends his well-earned money not only on expensive hobbies (which are to be grudged) but also on supporting poorer fellow citizens in his neighbourhood. Or has some extra money to spare for a newborn baby. Or helps out in his spare time at the food bank for the needy. Or in a hospice. Or or or - the possibilities are endless.
Decisive for the effect of integrity is the visible behaviour. Communication through mission statements, purpose statements, sustainability reports and comparable documents is only the first step. Unfortunately, in the past such statements were often fig leaves. The relevant effect therefore only unfolds in lived behaviour. This is achieved through the greatest possible degree of Transparency visible. There are different ways of living transparency. Also Statements from satisfied employees, long-standing business partners and loyal customers can be a valuable tool for documenting the results of behaviour.
It pays to have integrity. The first step is that you become aware of the importance. You can implement it all by yourself, in a team or with the support of specialized SEO consultant tackle. Even small steps like the above-mentioned postcard with the main values can make a big difference in the daily lives of your employees. It is crucial to live your values and the overriding purpose of your company in everyday life. Your charisma, that of your company and your employees will change positively. Your customers will trust you more and reward you with more new orders. I am firmly convinced of this.