Tuning in to Integrity. (Backup)
Birchfield, Reg, New Zealand Management
Integrity, the word, is getting a lot of airtime in the organisational world these days. For instance, I was invited to a dinner in Auckland recently at which the thorny corporate and investor issue of 'continuous disclosure' was debated.
What constitutes, and when to disclose, sensitive market information is a tricky subject that greatly exercises the minds of public company directors and management, stock exchanges and, of course when things go awry, politicians. I don't want to get into the nitty gritty of the night's conversation suffice to say that New Zealand Stock Exchange representatives were there trying to explain their new rules of the game.
Since Enron, WorldCom, HIH and others, the regulators and legislators have been hard at it coming up with new reporting rules, new auditing standards and better governance procedures as a show of 'intent' to keep us safe from marauding managers and directors.
The conversation that raged around the dinner tables suggested the investment market was now so dislocated from day-to-day management reality that perhaps the market was becoming irrelevant. Does the steadily mounting list of rules and regulations now in fact distort the market?
The share market is not, of course, reality based. It is emotion and publicity driven. As such, it is as secure and predictable as the story stream that flows from its listed companies. Enron and Co were built on fictional reality.
Joseph Healy, passionate advocate of corporate wealth generation, offered the most profound and commonsensical comments of the evening when he said, quite simply, "we can't legislate for integrity". He exposed the blindingly obvious that "you can never legislate for dishonesty" and that at board and top management level, it is the "spirit of compliance" which matters most.
Other commentators, like former Massachusetts attorney general Scott Harshbarger and consultant/author Robert Stringer suggest that "integrity" will become the world's most valued management commodity. They believe that in the US, "thanks to the actions and alleged excesses of CEOs, the general public, the investing public and the media have lost confidence in the fundamental integrity of corporate America". We may not be quite as sceptical in New Zealand, but few of us trust much of what we hear and read about corporate activity.
What is integrity? Well, say Harshbarger and Stringer, we "know it when we see it" because it induces trust. "The bigger the conflict between acting in accordance with our values and our self-interest, the more integrity we are perceived to have and the greater the trust. …