Integrity first!

Every two years, the Ethic Resource Center (ERC) publish their surveys' outcome about workplace ethic.

In 2012 the investigation involved thousands of employees working for the 500 US-based companies which Fortune® magazine identified as those having achieved the highest revenues in the previous year (approximately 95% of them have rev above $5 billion). A free copy can be downloaded from ERC website.

I found the report very interesting for individuals working in project management and I would like to mention few of the main results (*) to share some considerations.

Here below a self explaining picture you can find in the survey report:

In essence:
  • Almost 2 in 10 polled employees felt pressure to break the rules.
  • Around 5 in 10 polled employees observed misconducts during the previous 12 months (company resources abuse, sexual harassment, stealing, discrimination and so on)
  • More than 7 in 10 employees reported the misconduct witnessed (9 in 10 to the direct supervisor)
There is a very significant point that clearly emerges from the report: even the largest companies are not exempt from the risk of wrongdoing, despite all the countermeasures they may proactively put in place internally to prevent integrity issues. In contrast, we may conclude that they are at risk more than small businesses.

Why companies have the full interest to be vigilant, discourage borderline behaviors and promptly nip in the bud every violation reported, at all levels.

Metrics or trends aside, in my view, a workplace where people are exposed to integrity issues is always an element that obstructs the growth of a business and of the individuals working therein. That's it.

Number one, a company can be liable for employees's wrongdoing, depending from the applicable law. When serious misconducts and prosecutions spread publicly, the implications on company's reputation may be significant. A recovery from this kind of damage may be extremely onerous, where not impossible in the worst case.

Number two, in case of inadequate actions shown by the company management against the reported misconduct (assuming the system is robust enough to promptly make management aware of the events and the circumstances), it is likely a deleterious effect on the commitments of the employees not directly involved in the issue. 
With a potential and subsequent productivity loss that is quite difficult to predict.

I think that the below picture, extracted by the ERC report (ref. to pages 10-11), enlightens in a very clear way the domino effect outlined above. 
The weakest ring in the chain is allegedly the one with the light blue background: it is where frustration and the humus for misconducts originate from.

That's therefore the starting point to work on. In order to build a trust relationship at all levels and enforce the rules, we need to ensure people are encouraged to isolate wrong behaviors by opening a case whenever it is appropriate.

Ethic culture & project management

From analyzing the survey, we can reasonably conclude that the larger the population and the company profile are, the heavier the pressure to deliver is and the more numerous risks for misconducts are.
As I mentioned, for a large organization, the implications of a compliance issue can be broader than the disruption of one important project. While with big efforts you can recover a mistake and a project off track, there is a plenty of examples of companies that just ran out of business because of a reputation issue and the legal implications of a wrongdoing. 

Hence, integrity concerns should be considered as top offenders and everyone should be proactive in addressing the relevant risks.

Any doubt that cannot be resolved with a swift clarification on the way forward must be addressed without hesitation to the compliance manager at the appropriate level. Most of the times, the organizations are structured and prepared to react according to internal policies or based upon a legal counsel feedback.

Let's come to the project manager role. Among others, a project (or portfolio) manager plays a key role to mitigate the risk to incur in a damage of reputation, no matter he has lots of professionals directly reporting to him in the organizationor he coordinates few dotted line subordinates.

Because of the duties s/he has, the PM is perceived as a leader. As a minimum, s/he is considered an excellent communicator by definition, to whom people can report issues and concerns about project-related issues and doubts about a potential procedure violation.
Also, the PM has the responsibility to act for the company in front of the external customers, if any, and such element definitely increases the sense of authority linked to that role.

At a glance, it is expected that the project managers facilitate an open discussion about any concern that their team members might put on the table, keeping an impartial behavior. 
At project level, they are the first line of defense against misconducts. 

If you work in project management, consider how much value added you can bring by promoting anytime the same integrity culture that the company builds at corporate level.

If you act as an excellent project manager but also as an adamant integrity champion, it is likely to happen the following:
  • people will be encouraged to share problems that might jeopardize the specific project but also the company's health
  • you will earn a personal credit in helping people to report misconducts
  • your vigilance may be a key element to anticipate situations behind the corner and get them solved, for your own project's benefit and for the health of the company.

Merry Christmas to all of you!

(*) The project manager pad is not affiliated with ERC. Consensus to partially mention few ERC reports has been given to the Author by Ethics Resource Center © 2012. Pictures and statistics used with permission of the Ethics Resource Center, 2345 Crystal Drive, Suite 201, Arlington, VA 22202,