The unique organizational discipline with an unparalleled return on investment

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur the contributors are theirs.

“We’ve seen an increase of over 300% in production, with virtually no increase in inputs. And our employees are happier.”

It sounds like a testimonial in the business management version of a get-rich-quick infomercial. But it’s not. It was uttered by a Harvard Business School professor almost a decade ago when asked about his contribution to a publication in the school newspaper. Negotiation, Organizations and Markets Department, Research Paper Series. What was the research about? In a word: integrity.

What do we mean by integrity?

Yes, integrity will create better quantifiable business and financial results. Before we get to the how, let’s first consider what we mean by integrity. We are not referring to the type of integrity related to “doing the right thing” – refusing to accept bribes or manipulate financial reports. Of course, it is important.

But there is the most fundamental integrity in the form of simply doing what you say you are going to do, when you say you are going to do it. This type of integrity is not a moral or ethical concept. It is a factor of “functional performance” as exemplified by the branch of engineering called structural integrity.

Structural integrity is ensuring that a structure (read: organization) or one of its components (read: individual) is fit to function (read: perform) under the intended circumstances, as well as to a certain level beyond.

If you build a bridge, will it support the weight? If you build a skyscraper, will it withstand strong winds? If you build a rocket, will it withstand intense acceleration, heat, and atmospheric pressure? There is no “right or wrong” here. No morals, no ethics. Just performance to functional expectations.

If you are building a team, will it take responsibility and deliver the expected results? It depends on the integrity of all the individuals on the team. After all, with a bridge, a faulty beam can bring it all down. A singular flaw in a thermal protection panel will destroy the rocket (along with its occupants and its mission).

Before we look at the pragmatic impact of integrity on the bottom line, we might like to agree that when a leader makes a request or sets expectations, associates who don’t object accept, by default (by other words: express, say, undertake) that they will do what is asked of them. Let’s work with the understanding that – even though it’s best practice for the manager to actively obtain this explicit alignment – it is the responsibility of those under a manager to actively express that they are uncommitted towards an expectation or a request, if they have any hesitations at Any gender.

Related: Test your structural integrity

What is the impact of integrity?

Consider what it could be if:

  • Did everyone show up to the meeting with all the necessary preparation, as you requested when inviting the participants?

  • Or if they were fully present and engaged instead of multi-tasking on Slack, as requested at the start of the meeting (or better: as a cultural norm).

  • What if, as agreed at the beginning, the group reaches a final decision at the end of the meeting?

  • Or what if the follow-up meeting to really come to that final decision happened at the end of the week (as discussed) instead of being delayed due to [fill in the blank with the latest reason]?

A 300% increase in production seems quite realistic if you apply it to hundreds of circumstances, thousands of times a week, 52 weeks a year. What does it look like for code releases? Product launches? Marketing campaign timeline? Recruitment goals? Deployment of new compensation plans? Sales quota reached? How does this improve the execution as a whole, and therefore the top and bottom results? Employee morale and retention? Investor returns?

If anything, to be honest, an organization and its individuals actually need to invest less in saying “no” more often, to ensure that they are not over-committing and under-delivering. More effective prioritization will need to take place. Practices to create visibility on commitments and results will be needed. It will be necessary to hurry to keep its commitments when unforeseen complications arise. But as noted above, to receive outputs as vast as this type of operational and individual integrity creates, these inputs are relatively negligible (if not table stakes for the survival of any organization to begin with).

Related: The Importance of Integrity: Now More Than Ever

What could you do?

Improving organizational integrity is a big business, not a four-step process. We are talking about what often amounts to a culture change and an upgrade, which will require very specific, pragmatic and consistent actions. This will require change management. This will take time and patience. But it will absolutely pay off.

That said, here are four steps you can take to begin your journey:

  1. Start from the top: Discuss with your leadership team the concepts reviewed here. Emphasize the need to reinvest in building “integrity muscles”, making integrity more than just an abstract concept, but an operational reality. Then get an explicit commitment from all members of your leadership team that you will do whatever is necessary to operationalize integrity in a pragmatic way.

  2. Create new meeting standards: Meetings are the time and space in which organizations work. Create the habit of starting every meeting by committing to a desired outcome and set aside 5% of the time at the end of each meeting to answer the question: who will do what and when?

  3. Use technology: Adopt a platform to help you establish and maintain your new integrity practices. Work management systems like ClickUp, Asana, or Monday can help you document actions taken at the end of each meeting, assign owners and due dates, take advantage of automated reminders, and generate views or easy reports to create the visibility you need for accountability.

  4. Acquire help: Find a consultant you can partner with to help you create a pragmatic plan to implement this cultural and operational change, to help you with common derailments and best practices, and to hold you accountable for the execution of your plan.

Related: What’s Keeping Organizational Change From Sticking and How to Change It

Integrity is the core value that an organization (and all individuals within it) should strive to uphold. Without it, any intention to see accountability in execution, and therefore exceptional results, is just that: an intention. But by continually improving integrity – “a mountain with no summit” – an organization can see outsized returns.

Aubrey L. Morgan