The first thing I do when I get a book is flip open to the inside flap of the dust cover and read the summary. I like to get a fifteen second feel for the book before I dive right in.
The first line on the dust jacket read: “Corporate and government scandals continue to deepen our mistrust of leaders.” Tony Simons, author of the The Integrity Dividend and an associate professor of management and organizational behavior at the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University, hit the nail on the head with that line. While the book was probably influenced by the Enron and similar scandals, corporate greed in financial companies and weak governmental oversight (or straight up looking the other way) the last five or ten years has combined to create an economic maelstrom the likes of which haven’t been seen in decades. Add it all together and you get an environment where employees may be distrustful of their management. Are the leaders of my firm focusing on the quick buck to keep shareholders happy or are they interested in building a long term future? Richard Fuld, ex-CEO of Lehman Brothers, earned half a billion dollars in cash between 2000 and 2008. Lehman is now bankrupt, leaving many employees with empty retirement accounts.
The main point of this book, if I’m allowed to oversimplify, is that companies must build their integrity, protect it at every turn, and, in summary, “do what you say they will do” for their people. The integrity dividend refers to how keeping your word as a leader can positively impact the bottom line. Leaders who are trusted, often get the most performance out of their employees.
I worked at a very large defense contractor for the first three years of my nascent career. Every single year (2003-2006) I enjoyed a 4% raise and was told that “raises wouldn’t be good this year,” by my manager. I know I wasn’t a rock star (I wasn’t a bum either, I won my fair share of monetary performance-based awards), I didn’t put in 60-80 hours a week, I wasn’t on high profile projects, and I didn’t expect rock star raises. I was satisfied with my 4% raise but hearing “raises wouldn’t be good this year” bothered me.
When you couple that with my belief that my manager was wholly unqualified to either manage or lead (and put in charge because of nepotism), you can see how I was distrustful of management. I worked my 40 hours, took advantage of education reimbursement, and left at the first opportunity. I wasn’t alone. The company used 20% attrition rate for our age group (within 5 years of graduation) but based on memory, about 33% of people hired in the three years I was employed there had left.
The Integrity Dividend, in part, talks to that point. Since I, and many others, didn’t trust management (the CEO got like a 20% raise each year), I didn’t kill myself for them. For a company to say, in a time of war when defense spending is going through the roof, that raises won’t be good seems disingenuous. The next company I worked at, a consulting firm, was much different. While I didn’t report, in the management chain, to the people I worked for, I trusted them. They didn’t BS me and tell me some line out of a management book. I had a couple 50 hour and 60 hours weeks there, near delivery times, and I had no problem working them. I trusted that management would take care of me because they were transparent and followed their word.
That’s the integrity dividend Simons talks about. If you’re in a leadership or management position, check out this book. I’m sure you can respect the fact that trust, not money, is the most valuable currency available in an organization.