Avoiding Integrity Land M!nes.
By: Heineman, Jr., Ben W.,
Harvard Business Review
Apr2007, Vol. 85, Issue 4
It is a company's culture that sustains high performance with high integrity.
By forcefully communicating guiding principles, company leaders help create that culture. But it's also necessary to implement a set of practices that have real consequences and use significant resources to drive the message home.
In no area of corporate life is leadership commitment more important than in creating an integrity culture. And nothing is more effective in manifesting that commitment than a seamless consistency between leaders' personal attributes, their public and private statements, and their direct and indirect actions.
A thunderous message is sent when a senior leader is removed not for failing to follow key rules but for failing to create the right culture.
Who should own the job of fusing performance with integrity? A common business response is to assume it is the sole province of the finance and legal staffs. "I'm too busy with customers and product development and manufacturing and productivity and…." is a typical businessperson's lament. GE addresses this problem, through the CEO's repeated oral and written communications, by explicitly and unmistakably giving business leaders in the field the lead responsibility in their divisions for performing with integrity. And GE reinforces that message by building global integrity standards into business processes wherever possible.
Ben W. Heineman, Jr., is a distinguished senior fellow at Harvard Law School's Program on the Legal Profession, in Cambridge, Massachusetts; a senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government; and a senior counsel to the law firm of WilmerHale. From 1987 to 2003, he served as GE's senior vice president and general counsel. From 2004 until his retirement at the end of 2005, he was GE's senior vice president for law and public affairs.