Resilience and integrity

Along with a solid strategy, an enabled workforce and well-balanced risk-taking, acting with integrity is indispensable to an organisation’s resilience in an interdependent world. That’s what our series of articles in Resilience explores.

By “interdependent” we mean that businesses, systems, people and risks are more linked today than ever. Disaster in one system will impact many other systems – think of how the earthquake in Japan went from a natural disaster to an energy, humanitarian and then economic one. Conversely, the success of one business will breed success for others in the industry or the supply chain. You will no doubt have experienced that the resilience of your own organisation is so closely tied to the success of others.

Within this context, the articles in this special series look deeper into how integrity is foundational to business and broader systemic resilience, and challenge leaders to broaden their focus in shaping resilient strategies.

In his video interview Lee Howell, managing director and member of the board at the World Economic Forum, talks of the unprecedented interdependencies and hyper-connectivity of today's world. With as many cell phones as there are people and some 1.2 billion or so now connected through social media, we face an unprecedented speed of change in an increasingly volatile and uncertain environment. Howell explains, "Things can happen in one domain that will surely affect and influence the functioning of others, often in ways we can't anticipate."

It’s clear that no single entity can predict, prepare for, solve, survive or thrive through these unknowns by itself. That’s why resilient strategies require building, maintaining and sustaining a diverse range of relationships. The complexity of emerging global issues and scale of natural disasters is forcing businesses to nurture relationships with those they’ve typically seen more as adversaries than partners. Our articles highlight public and private entities working to find common ground, community leaders pairing up with businesses to solve socioeconomic problems and business competitors innovating together to decrease the environmental footprint of their industry. These new relationships can be uncomfortable and shaky. And this is where trust and integrity come to the fore.

For what makes healthy relationships bloom and endure? Trust. And what makes trust grow? People acting with integrity. Tenuous relationships will become strong ones only when each party credibly demonstrates its commitment to the common purpose, its openness to diversity in thoughts and ideas, and its willingness to make decisions that require some amount of sacrifice. In short, when all are acting with integrity.

The 2008-09 near-collapses of some of the world’s largest financial institutions are fresh enough to remind us that the deficiency of integrity inside an organisation and a system can also weaken its resilience. In contrast, an internal culture built on integrity and trust, and underpinned by effective internal controls, will empower employees to make sound choices at moments that matter, as one of the articles explains. David Kennedy, professor of law and director of the Institute for Global Law and Policy at Harvard Law School, points to the fact that a corporate culture of reciprocal trust, transparency and mutual confidence allows people across the business to be flexible, make decisions and innovate, whether they are responding to crisis, adapting to new challenges or reaching for new opportunities. This is characteristic of the resilient organisation.

A culture of trust ultimately depends upon the leaders of organisations acting with integrity and sending a clear signal to all the people in their organisation to do likewise. Leading with integrity can require courage to go against popular opinion. Such leaders possess an unwavering inner compass of the true priorities and values of their organisations and work with employees to communicate and foster those shared values.

As the articles in our series on integrity and resilience observe, the personal integrity and strength of character of these leaders manifests itself in humility, vulnerability, the right kind of apology and empathy. Their workplaces are trusted and even beautiful places, where talented people see their own principles mirrored and choose to stay, invest and grow for the long term.

The trust built up by an organisation during the good times – with clients, suppliers, employees, shareholders or the communities in which it serves – will also buffer it through the bad. It's often during or after a major change or disruptive event when the fragility of trust as a commodity becomes apparent and in its loss, how crippling the consequences can be. Most organisations face such events at some time, whether it is caused by a rebalancing political and economic order, external catastrophe or internal failure. But resilience is more likely for the organisation that has served consistently with integrity and thereby created enough goodwill and a strong network of trusted relationships. Stakeholders will rally for an organisation they trust through forgiveness, continued belief in the brand or lending a helping hand.

Integrity breeds the trust that is such an important ingredient for business, systemic, national and even planetary resilience.  Integrity means doing the right thing. Its power drives leaders to do great things, to trust and collaborate courageously for the long-term survival of all living things. A culture of integrity is rewarded with a trusted reputation which attracts employees, customers, investors and partners. It opens the door to new markets, opportunities and ideas. It’s a licence to operate.