Integrity is all that matters - and it should never go out of fashion

In our country and all over the globe, we face so many crises that we hardly know which one to address first.

One issue that is rarely identified as a real crisis but is at the root of many of these other problems is a lack of integrity. So many problems would be greatly diminished or even eliminated if people acted with integrity and honor.

Pluck a few events out of the headlines: the housing crisis, precipitated by bad loans based on false information ... the rogue UBS trader who lost $2 billion of his company's money by making unauthorized trades ... government officials who never get around to paying taxes until they get caught ... identity thieves who destroy innocent people's credit by "borrowing" financial and personal information ... I could go on and on.

Our culture seems to accept that some people will behave badly and we should put up with it.

No, we shouldn't.

We need to draw the line. We should expect people to live up to reasonable standards. We have an epidemic of people blaming others for mistakes or, worse, attempting a coverup rather than taking responsibility and swallowing a few bitter pills. We need to teach kids that their actions have consequences. And we need to be prepared to forgive those who are truly sorry for their behavior, and not just because they got caught.

Does that sound old-fashioned? Integrity should never go out of fashion.

Assuming an organization's leadership understands the importance of integrity, the next important decision involves the quality of the people it hires.

Many years ago, when I was first hiring employees for my fledgling envelope company, I simply checked references and asked around for information that would influence my decisions. In this environment, it is foolhardy. Responsible companies need to perform background checks to expose any red flags that aren't evident.

I have recently begun working with Merchants Information Solutions, which helps companies with background screening and identity theft solutions. The Merchants Integrity Test is designed to help companies avoid high-risk hires by highlighting potential problem areas, such as criminal behavior, lying, hostility and substance abuse.

Tests like these are not expensive ($10 to $20 each). Considering the damage a bad hire can do to your company and your customers, it's a bargain. Consider this scenario: An employee who steals corporate or client credit information could cost the company much more than the actual money stolen.

I am encouraged to hear from colleagues who are returning the topic of integrity to the forefront of their business conversations.

I recently introduced my friend, sports and business icon Jerry Colangelo, as the host of Integrity Summit 2011 in Phoenix. The event was put on by the Integrity Business Institute, which Jerry co-founded.

At the summit, we heard from nine other speakers whose occupations ranged from the corporate counsel for the Go Daddy Group and computer parts giant Avnet, to a jeweler, an FBI agent, a real estate developer and the general counsel for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona. Their backgrounds and experiences varied widely, yet every speaker echoed the same message: Integrity is an essential component of a successful company.

And, I would add, a successful individual.

Mackay's Moral: Doing the right thing is never the wrong thing to do.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail harvey@mackay.com. Distributed by United Feature Syndicate.

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