Whether there is actually any truth in this ancient proverb is one for the marine biologists to answer, but it was certainly very helpful in capturing some of the thinking that was articulated in a recent discussion about integrity.

In talking about how to ensure that an organisation does what it says it is going to, leadership featured high up on the list, with some feeling strongly that, without clear commitment and momentum from the top, integrity has no firm foundations. Even if pockets of honesty and principled behaviour exist within an organisation, the culture will only be established if this behaviour is reflective of the senior team’s approach.

So it follows that if senior leaders say one thing and then do another integrity will be lost along with credibility, trust and reputation, leading to that stinking feeling to which the proverb refers.

Examples of leaders “consulting” on issues which are in fact a fait accompli were cited as damaging to integrity along with scenarios where leaders fail to follow through with their promises or explain the rationale for the U-turn.

One organisation explained that, whilst they have a great leader who is highly accessible to his staff, he has essentially – and no doubt inadvertently - cut out the middle management by repeatedly asking staff to come straight to him with their issues, suggestions and concerns. So it’s not just about one senior leader doing all of the engagement – it’s arguably for them to set the tone for others to emulate.

If integrity is a key component of organisational culture and culture is determined, at least in part, by the leadership, what role do employees themselves play in supporting this important element within the working environment?

The group agreed that personal integrity in the workplace is key and it is for everyone to demonstrate the good behaviours that lead to a positive and productive working environment.

We are all responsible for knowing and understanding the vision and values of the organisation, for challenging the organisation when it falls short of the mark and flagging up where we ourselves have made a mistake. And, importantly, we can all help to reinforce those positive behaviours that support integrity by recognising and encouraging them when they appear.

Some of these situations may not always be easy – especially when managing upwards – but the benefits are significant and can help to ensure that the fish stays fresh and fragrant!

If you have enjoyed this blog post summarising the Integrity table discussion at thefuturestory event, you will also like the following blogs written for the other elements of PRIDE. Check them out: Purpose, Reputation, Direction and Energy.