High integrity is the hottest topic in corporate Australia right now.

Integrity is the hottest topic in corporate Australia right now. That and the ending of Succession. Pleasingly for the sake of this article – Integrity (or lack thereof) and Succession aren’t mutually exclusive concepts. They are a great match.

Not only is integrity THE topic we are seeing and hearing, but it’s also one we need to talk about way more deeply. The biggest challenge in my opinion about integrity is that not one person asked if they have integrity would say ‘No, I don’t nor do I want it’. Integrity is something good and worthy and noble and right. And despite our desire to have it, to value it, to showcase it as individuals – whether we have it or not (more than any other construct) is decided by others given our actions and behaviours.

This means integrity is a case of ‘it’s not me, it’s you’.

With this topic, most would expect me to blast PWC down on paper, but that could be a blunt, simple and narrow approach. Lots of others have already gone there to show they are of higher integrity, or to win business from PWC because ‘I always knew they were devoid of integrity, if you want integrity come here’.

Before I write what’s next, I’ve never worked at PWC. I too could punch, but PWC is not my punching bag. If even politicians are unanimously calling out PWC’s integrity, then, chances are, integrity is highly questionable at best and probably illegal at worst.

For what it’s worth – I have no doubts the situation at hand with PWC shows a total lack of integrity.

Delicate Balance

But what I would question is the delicate and tricky line between one, two, a few very rotten apples (albeit at very senior levels), and tarring every single person as lacking integrity. If the most senior levels of your organisation are devoid of integrity – eventually you’ll be halted in your tracks. This goes back to the fact that when we self-reference integrity, we all have it; but when push comes to shove, our actions and behaviours will show some of us don’t.

I haven’t worked at PWC, but I have worked in Banking and Financial Services including a Big 4 bank that was part of the Royal Commission.

Am I proud to have worked there? Yes.

Did I have amazing colleagues? Yes.

Are there people working in those organisations that lack integrity? Yes.

Have they been there historically? Yes.

Are some there today? Yes.

Are most people there trying to do the right thing, and be helpful to their customers and each other? Also, a resounding Yes.

That makes the dynamics of the whole thing so hard. Some people get it and love it. Some people don’t and hate it unreservedly. And everything in between.

These sorts of issues cause the shudder at your mate’s BBQ.

So, I don’t think PWC in its entirety lacks integrity. In fact, I hope not.

PWC have many bloody great people working there. I know some. You probably do too. They are smart, hardworking, thoughtful, considerate – and hold high integrity. And I doubt they are all trying to shamelessly F*&K over everyone in their path for the betterment of the partnership they may or may not join one day (sure, only working until circa 55 years old…).

And this lands us on where Succession meets Integrity.

Spoiler Alert

Succession receives a CEO no-one expected post-merger. Not a Roy (but I won’t spoil it) – probably given the inextricable familial ties, the integrity or lack of it, and the hurt the acquirer wants to place on the family by making the takeover happen – and then to add insult to injury that the Roy name is scratched off the company record.

This choice presents an integrity challenge. When a corporate shell is chosen as CEO, actively known and picked for a pleasing integrity blind spot, or being a ‘yes’ man, or a total shell devoid of any nerve endings where feelings or pain or empathy to the plight of others are gone. Or as a ‘pain sponge’.

You can decide for yourself if we have any in the Australian marketplace, and whether that is okay, or not. And if you’re one of them, please do take a long hard look at yourself.

What goes into Integrity?

  1. 5000 Shades of Grey

It feels like each day there is less black and white, and more grey. Integrity is seemingly easy to uphold and falls down when bad decisions are made by the privileged few.

  1. Trust

Is critical. No one is perfect. And trust takes many small interactions to build, and just one moment to lose. Integrity is in this category – yet it is less often discussed than ‘trust’ as it puts character in question. You’re assumed to hold integrity, until that one moment shows otherwise.

  1. Psychological Safety

If integrity is the hottest topic, psychological safety (or maybe ‘psychosocial risk factors’) is also up there. In the integrity moment, this needs to centre on speaking up for what matters unreservedly.

  1. Intent – Was the integrity (or lack thereof) deliberate or unconscious or stupid?

Intentionality is everything. Was it a deliberate choice, where a choice made points to one’s total lack of integrity? Or unconscious? Or a foolish mistake where consequences were missed or misunderstood? Each is poor, but intentionality matters.

Can you do something about it?

Less small talk, more big talk

Integrity is assumed present and rarely discussed (unless proven absent). As we’ve often avoided ‘soft skills’ in place of ‘technical’ training, we’ve definitely avoided big talk on what really matters in favour of small talk. Waiting for the lift we ask ‘Are you busy?’ not ‘Do you care about X big topic?’ We rarely cover topics like trust, societal impact, and integrity. And yet, these are the ones with value, with emotion. So, less small talk, and more big talk.

Deliberate Integrity

Have integrity as you think you do. And let nothing change it.

We can’t have any more corporate shells.

Integrity is the first thing you should hang your Succession hat on.

For PWC, the poisoned chalice (and sad) part of it all – is that a (female) acting CEO will always be tarred as the Acting CEO during a huge integrity incident that tried to say sorry for the ills of others (?). She might have great integrity but she’s been thrown an absolute hospital pass and we probably will never get the chance to know the reality of her whole ethos and being.

Integrity often speaks up, and it is never silent.

 I’d love to hear this in the 2023 corporate jargon vernacular:

‘This might be unpopular, but my integrity means I cannot stay silent’.

 That’s not a perfect answer to solving integrity caverns, but it’s a place to start.