Integrity – greater than the sum of its aspects

Integrity – Part 1

Integrity can be thought of as a ‘cluster’ concept, which, when taking into account all its subtle variations, is greater than the sum of its aspects.

It is not so much a ‘slippery’ concept as one which reveals its many facets through the words it is paired with. Some common pairings are illustrated in the animated chart below.

Underlying these different uses of the word, there are two main groups of meaning, ‘clustered’ around notions of ethical behaviour and coherence or wholeness (see also the header image above). Within these two groups, however, the concept is expressed in ways that can vary quite markedly.

The ethical aspect implies some degree of self-integration and coherence between values/beliefs/desires/volitions and behaviours/actions. It therefore includes both meanings.

On the other hand, when we use the word ‘integrity’ to refer to compliance with risk control measures, or to refer to the structural soundness of a bridge, it does not necessarily relate to ethical behaviour, but rather to consistency with rules, protocols, and engineering ‘principles’. Of course, we could define integrity as consistency of actions with principles, allowing both ethical and other principles to occupy the shared space of that umbrella concept.

Individual and Organisational Integrity

One of the more useful resources I have found on organisational integrity was the report of research conducted by academics at the University of Leeds and published by the Institute of Chartered Accounts of England and Wales (ICAEW). Real Integrity – Practical solutions for organisations seeking to promote and encourage integrity was written by Jim Baxter (et al), and offers a framework for the promotion of integrity (to be explored in Part 2 of this series) alongside a schema that views various aspects of this concept through the lenses of individuals and organisations.

My version of their schema is illustrated in the stacked chart below.

While I have suggested that the concept of Integrity has two key clusters, the Baxter schema suggests there are four main aspects, each of which is expressed in the values, beliefs and behaviours of individuals and organisations:

  • Wholeness of character
  • Ethical values
  • Identity, and
  • Standing for something

The Ethical Cluster

Within the ethical behaviour cluster, we might find Integrity listed as an organisational value. In that context, it can include reference to a set of values such as fairness, respect, honesty, responsibility, and accountability. It is sometimes defined as “knowing the right things to do and doing the right things“. It therefore underpins the board’s governance role in overseeing conformance – not just with legal and regulatory obligations, but also with ethical standards, values and norms.

Also within the ethical cluster is Personal Integrity. This use refers to the extent to which a person expresses an uncompromising commitment to a high standard or code of honesty, decency, and honour. This perspective emphasises the consistency of actions, methods, and measures with values, and stands as an antonym of hypocrisy, duplicity, and unfairness. Alignment of words and deeds is a hallmark of personal integrity. It also invokes the principle expressed in the Golden Rule, of always treating others as you would want them to treat you.

Professional Integrity belongs in this cluster too. Putting the welfare of the client or patient ahead of self-interest is just one of the obligations imposed by a commitment to a professional ethical code.

The Coherence Cluster

We want buildings and bridges to have structural integrity, knowing that they have been constructed in a way that makes them strong, durable and safe.

Likewise, we look for governance and management systems to collectively deliver efficient and effective programs, projects, outputs and outcomes. These need to be consistent with our purpose and strategic goals. This systemic integrity can also be expressed in the coherence and positive dynamics of the relationship between the strategy and the budget, risk management plan, operational plans, and HR and IT systems.

Your organisational integrity

There are many aspects and parts to your non-profit organisation’s governance and management systems. With a commitment to Integrity, those parts need to be brought together into a coherent whole, and delivered in an ethical manner.

When that kind of oversight is carried out by your board and management, the result is likely to be much better (principled, efficient, and effective) than the sum of the parts.

See also:

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