Everyone’s favorite core value. Integrity. I hear about it more than any other when I talk to CEOs about their company values. So, you have integrity on your masthead? So does Equifax. In fact, here’s a link to a pretty PDF they published entitled Leading with Integrity. Forgive my sarcasm, but hopefully, you get the point I’m making. When lying and dishonesty are an enduring part of the human condition, why set yourself up for almost certain failure?
I put this difficult question to PrimeRevenue’s CEO PJ Bain and Global Marketing Director, Stephanie Wargo—who, yes, have integrity as one of the company’s core values. With 27,000 customers in over 70+ countries around the world, each doing business in one of 13 currencies and in 20+ different languages, PrimeRevenue faces multiple challenges, both culturally and logistically. Despite the challenges presented by this global footprint, they’ve been able to keep integrity in the forefront. And by combining this with a focus on finding people who are smart, hungry, and humble, they’ve done nothing but grow and grow and grow.
It’s a Matter of P.R.I.D.E.
As Bain explains, there are a lot of components to what PrimeRevenue does. “We are a leader in supply chain finance,” he says, “and we work with large global supply chain companies, buyers of products and services. We create a marketplace where their suppliers can sell their receivables early at a discount and get paid immediately.”
Clearly, trust is a major component of the company’s overall reputation. Indeed, because PrimeRevenue deals with lots of people’s money, this integrity issue is not a matter of choice. Instead, it’s the foundation for providing service to their customers. The leadership team combines integrity with PRIDE to form the values that PJ works to instill in every employee who walks through the doors. “PRIDE is an acronym for performance, respect, innovation, diversity, and excellence, with integrity,” Bain points out, and it’s the mantra that has gotten them through both the good times and the bad.
“It’s very easy to talk about integrity when you’re not being challenged, when you’re not going through adversity, when you don’t have hard times. That’s when you really know whether it exists or not,” he states.”Something really bad has to happen before you actually know whether integrity occurs.”
We’re Only Human After All
Considering the diverse staff, many of whom live outside of the United States and are not native speakers, PrimeRevenue requires a universal concept like integrity to link everyone together. “The human condition is going to dictate that we’re not going to be perfect,” Bain says, “and we’re not going to be able to do it 100% of the time. So, we have to set the right expectations.” This is done via something called ‘PrimeRevenue University.’ “It’s our on-boarding school,” Bain explains. “We bring everybody into Atlanta. And everyone is with me, for 90 minutes or two hours, and then I have multiple sessions over the course of the week.”
During that time, everyone gets a crash course in corporate culture. “I talk about why the values are so important,” Bain says, “How holding the values and holding accountability for those values is the job responsibility of every single employee that comes into the business. And the definition of the values, we talk about things like — the definition of integrity? Our definition of integrity is not everyone’s definition of integrity.”
At PrimeRevenue, it’s a principle defined very specifically for this company’s purposes. “We’ve chosen to hold everybody accountable for it,” Bain states, “and we even publish it on every proposal, every presentation, so that what our customers can hold us accountable for is that we will do what we say we will do, when we say we will do it.” This particular business model requires those aforementioned workers who want to make a difference and who come in ready to do so, are themselves capable of acknowledging when they are unable to hold to the company’s high standards.
Sometimes, You Just Have to Suck it Up
“You’re going to have situations where the truth isn’t told, and people lie,” Bain points out. “When that occurs, I typically don’t talk about the ramifications of the lie, or whatever it was that led to the lie. I try to frame the conversation always on integrity and the importance. Because, if you don’t have integrity, you don’t have trust. And, if you don’t have trust, you’re not going to be able to have hard conversations around the conference table, or around the board table, or around the management table.”
This is real for PrimeRevenue, not just a platitude. The company has an ongoing investigation around a lapse in integrity at the executive team level. Ouch. “I don’t think anybody comes in and wants to start lying,” he explains. “It’s a little lie and then the cover-up starts to really mess things up. You’re going to get hurt. You’re going to get your feelings hurt, and it’s going to be personal for you. And, sometimes you have to forgive; and sometimes you can forgive but you can’t forget.”
There’s Hope in Using Moral Signals
Focusing on the positive in all situations is critical to success as a business leader. So, for those of you who read this and want to keep integrity on your masthead, here’s some good news. There’s a whole body of research around the fact that moral reminders and signals DO improve honesty, transparency, and integrity.
From honor codes to non-disclosure agreements, the mere presence of a pre-set moral expectation can change the culture of your company. In his book, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, Duke Professor Dan Ariely notes that, “It is very difficult to alter our long-term behavior, and a crash course on morality will not suffice. On the positive side, it seems that when we are simply reminded of ethical standards at the point of temptation, we behave more honorably.”
“The good news is that people seem to want to be honest, which suggests that it might be wise to incorporate moral reminders into situations that tempt us to be dishonest,” Ariely adds, citing that clear and strict rules which influence behavior, and publicizing the consequences of unacceptable behavior, can go a long way toward making sure you get the integrity you want out of your people.
Trust. Commitment. Honesty. Transparency. Integrity. We want them from our people. We want them from ourselves. Yet, human nature is pervasive, and in some cases, pernicious. So, how do we fill the gap? That’s the discourse we continue to tackle on CEO Exclusive every week, in the second segment of the show. Here’s a previous article on how to have your desired culture show up in REAL LIFE and your employee behaviors.
Bottom line: this is a practice and a discipline. You know this already. It’s hard—I know. But, the right answers will come for you and your organization, if you continue to work at it. And, we, here at CEO Exclusive, will be right with you along the way.