I've been doing HR for about 12 years now. Pretty much since I got out of college. And I've seen some stuff. Any seasoned HR person will tell you the longer you're on the job, the less often you're surprised. Well, I had one that other day that honestly surprised me, and also got me thinking about integrity, and the complexity of what it actually means.
On Monday, I had a team member (we'll call her Sarah) come to my office from one of our retail stores, and ask to talk to me. She was very concerned about something that happened that concerns one of her coworkers (we'll call her Lisa). A few days prior, a customer had sent us a complaint about Sarah, and accused her of activities that were pretty serious. Long story short, we established direct evidence that Lisa manufactured this customer complaint, and the customer was in fact Lisa's uncle.
So I compiled all my evidence, I had their social media profiles to prove they Lisa and the "customer" know each other, shopper data showing that this customer hadn't shopped with us on that day, the works. Because I'm expecting Lisa to deny this from the out, and to fight it pretty hard. And I was ready to go all Perry Mason on her butt. Finally it's time to sit down with Lisa, and guess what happens? Within 5 seconds of me asking her about this, she responds, "Yeah, I did that." I probably looked like an idiot, because I just sat there with my mouth open. What just happened? Did she just calmly and directly admit, completely uncontested, that she manufactured a customer complaint?
This was one of those rare times when I was genuinely shocked. But the shock didn't come from the fact that she manufacturing a customer complaint. That's just another day in the HR park as far as I was concerned. The shocker was that she immediately, and without hesitation, owned up to it.
Not long after this meeting, I started to think about integrity, and how it presented itself during this situation. Depending on what definition of integrity you read, you'll probably hear words like honesty, decency, sincerity, honor, and morality. Let's take these one at a time, and apply them to Lisa's situation.
Whatever else your or I think about her actions, Lisa told the truth. She didn't lie, she didn't deny, she didn't make excuses, she didn't pass the blame. To be honest, I actually expected her to lie to me. Part of me almost wanted to say to her in that meeting "Please just lie to me, make up a story." That way it might make a little more sense to me.
Not only was she honest, but she was sincere about what she did. She believed in her course of action, and she told me outright that she would do it again because it got our [HR's] attention. She was trying to accomplish a goal that she determined to be noble.
To have honor means to act with respect or esteem. Lisa showed me the respect of telling me the truth without making me probe for it. She was also respectful in how she told me, spoke politely and calmly instead of becoming defensive and agitated. I think there is honor in how Lisa acted.
This is where things get gray. Whether we like to admit it or not, morality is hardly ever black and white. Sometimes as leaders, we come face to face with the reality that someone may have a different moral perspective than we do. But it doesn't necessarily mean that we agree with or accept that perspective. And equally important, we need to ensure that the people who work for us are held to an agreed-upon standard. Specifically, one that matches that company's value system.
I think we can agree that Lisa's moral compass is a few degrees off from what many of us would consider a reasonable moral standard. But this situation is one that will stick in the forefront of my memory. It got me to question some basic assumptions I had about human nature and what it means to have integrity.