Mackay: Corporate integrity begins with individual honesty

A father who had been laid off from his job had been watching expenses for months. He'd made a promise to his two sons -- twins -- that he'd take them to a nearby amusement park to celebrate their 10th birthday.

When the day came, the father withdrew some money from his savings and took the boys on the bus to the amusement park. When they reached the front gate, he saw a sign:

"General admission: $10. Children under 10: $5."

If he'd come a day earlier, he could have saved $10 -- $5 for each of his sons. With a sigh, the man led the twins up to the ticket window and said, "Three general admission tickets, please."

The woman in the booth looked them over and smiled. "How old are you boys?"

"I'm 10 today," said one son.

"So am I," said the other.

The woman leaned forward. "You know," she whispered, "you could have asked for two 'under 10' tickets and I never would have known."

"Yeah," said the father, "but they would have."

Why do so many executives and employees apparently go along with blatantly unethical and illegal conduct in their organizations? It may be that people don't always know what to do when confronted with requests (or demands) that aren't on the straight and narrow -- but that's not a good enough answer. Organizations need to be clear and specific about what is acceptable and what is expected.

Here are some suggestions on how to respond when someone in your organization asks you to do something unethical:

Explain your concern. Tell the other person how you feel. Use "I" statements that describe your position without attacking the other person: "I have some reservations about that plan because .... "

Offer an alternative. Chances are there's an honest way to accomplish the same goal or a similar one. Concentrate on that, emphasizing your common interests: "We both want to make more money on this product, and I think we can do it better by cutting some less-important features rather than by using cheaper materials."

Go upstairs. This should be a last resort, but if the other person insists on behaving unethically, you'll have to protect the company -- and yourself -- by discussing the matter with a trusted superior.

Careful hiring can often help avoid problems from the outset. I have found a reliable method that we use at MackayMitchell Envelope Co. to supplement our usual background screening process called the Merchants Integrity Test, developed by Merchants Information Solutions. The Merchants Integrity Test will help you reduce the number of criminal records you are required to review under the new EEOC guidelines. Using this test will speed up the hiring process and keep you in compliance, without reducing the scope of your candidate review.

It is a self-admitting "overt" test that has been validated and adheres to non-discriminatory standards required by the EEOC. In fact, Merchants' website identifies integrity testing as an acceptable pre-employment screening tool, especially effective in identifying applicants with a propensity to commit employee theft. The Merchants Integrity Test is proven to identify applicants who are engaged in employee theft, have a high level of hostility which can spill over into workplace violence, abuse drugs and alcohol and other high-risk behaviors. You can learn more about the test at merchantsinfo.com.

Honesty is always the best policy. You must be able to trust the people you work with.

Mackay's Moral: Corporate integrity begins with personal integrity.

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

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