March 30, 2023
Integrity Is Important, But As a Core Value, It Is Massively Overrated
Written By: Colin Browne

You may never have heard of Jack MacLean, but during the 1970s and 1980s, through his relentless pursuit of excellence, he became incredibly wealthy. One could say he was in the jewellery business. Perhaps you’d call him an entrepreneur with a very niche set of skills. He didn’t seek praise or celebrity, nor even recognition. In fact he avoided it. He was happy to know that what he was doing was always done to an exceptionally high standard and that his end result was consistent.

Jack MacLean wasn’t a man of integrity in everything he did. He routinely carried a change of clothes in case he was spotted near his work and needed to create a disguise. He carried a police scanner so he could eavesdrop on nearby police cars to make sure he wouldn’t be interrupted while he worked on one of his projects. He needed these, because he was a cat burglar who stole over $133-million in jewels from Florida apartments in a 20-year career.

He never damaged property, using lock picks instead of forced entry. He never resorted to violence. His methods were so meticulous that it often appeared that items that were stolen had simply been misplaced since there was no reason to assume a theft had taken place. In his work, integrity of purpose was a non-negotiable.

55% of all Fortune 500 Companies list ‘Integrity’ as one of their Core Values. In its day, so did Enron. All it really says is that those companies have something in common with a jewel thief, which of course is not at all the point they’re trying to make.

Values such as Integrity are what we at Happy Sandpit call entry-level Values. They’re philosophies that shouldn’t need to be expressed, because without at least a modicum of integrity, you don’t have a business of any worth. In other words, they should be a given. There is absolutely no way you’re ever going to convince me that’s the deepest thing you can reveal about the personality of your business. It doesn’t tell me anything that enables me to differentiate you from anyone else.

And it doesn’t give your employees anything like enough guidance.

Core Values are not things that can be so glibly expressed, and the appearance of words such as integrity is all the evidence that is needed that you haven’t applied the correct measure of thought to what it is that you cherish most dearly. In a personal sense, Values are not chosen, they evolve very individually so that even siblings may have a very different set of inherent philosophies. In an organisational sense, Values are best stitched into the fabric when a limited subset of leaders and super-committed employees agree on what will cause them to lose sleep at night or to throw up their hands in glee.

Having Integrity isn’t one of those things.

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