Integrity – The Iceberg Analogy – Above the Waterline – Part 1

What is integrity? Integrity is like an iceberg. We can easily see the visible part above the waterline, but the larger part is below the water. And colliding with either can sink a person, an organization, or an entire nation.

The visible parts of the iceberg – let’s call them written ethics – include laws, regulations, and corporate ethics guides. Violating these can get you fired, fined, or thrown in jail.

Written ethics rules are usually pretty much black and white – if there are gray areas it’s because people want them to be gray. A consulting contract meets ethics standards if a true, externally validated service is performed. Otherwise it’s a bribe. That’s why ethical companies scrutinize consulting contracts, and don’t allow payments to government officials and their relatives.

In my global marketing and logistics courses we have passionate discussion concerning the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Many believe that the FCPA creates a disadvantage for US companies. But the playing field is leveling when competitive economies join the United Nations bribery convention. New regulations – as strict as FCPA – were adopted by 38 countries, including 34 OECD members. A recently adopted UK bribery bill is stricter than the FCPA, and prohibits any bribery, not just government officials.

While cultures and ethical standards evolve over time, the worst happens when individuals, organizations, cultures, and entire societies lose their moral compass. Witch burnings, the great inquisition, slavery, and genocide were the result of a collective moral collapse.

At times, the iceberg above the water line may be shrouded in fog. Then, individuals and organizations believe that they are untouchable, that bribes are a reward for getting elected, or a legitimate cost of doing business. The Mayor and City Council President of Detroit created what is now alleged to be a “criminal enterprise” demanding bribes from contractors. For Siemens (not related), bribes became a cost line item, meticulously accounted for in good German fashion – even with a budget.

The problem with corruption is that it’s a slippery slope. Corruption can create a short-term advantage. Years ago, I lost a deal with the Nigerian Central Bank to a competitor who was willing to pay the right people. But the corruption did not end with the contract award; more bribes were needed to pass acceptance tests, free up currency for payment, etc. In the end, corrupt business in usually bad business.

The fog may never lift, but don’t count on it.

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