Conducting Business with Integrity in a COVID-19 World

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The world is a strange, sometimes scary place that’s constantly changing. We’re constantly being bombarded with new challenges in the form of new technology or devastating viruses or any number of things. Because of this, sometimes we can feel so lost in how to best conduct business in this world. Here’s a hint: don’t conduct business in reaction to fear or pressure! Here are five things to consider when making sure you’re conducting your business with integrity.

1. What even is integrity?

“Integrity is the idea that any one component of something is consistent with every other component,” Brian Engelland writes in his book Force for Good: The Catholic Guide to Business Integrity. There are three components of integrity: natural law (respect for others, etc.), Catholic Social Doctrine (human dignity, solidarity, subsidiary, and the common good), and virtues (ie. prudence, justice, and moderation). Virtues build on natural law and Catholic Social Doctrine builds on virtues and natural law.

CSD is probably the one you’re least familiar with. It isn’t called the Church’s “best kept secret” for nothing! Breaking it down simply, human dignity is the “people first” principle, solidarity is the “teamwork” principle, subsidiary is the “personal responsibility” principle, and the common good is the “human flourishing” principle. When all of these principles are at play in a business, the business has integrity.

2. Good relationships with employees

As the owner or operator of a business, you’ll most likely have some employees. 3 or 300, it doesn’t matter, if you have employees, you need to take care of them. “Workers are entitled to certain innate rights….These include the right to just compensation, the right to work, the right to rest, the right to safe working conditions, and the right to associate with other workers for collective-bargaining purposes,” points out Engelland.

The importance of some of these is probably easy to understand. Safe working conditions are obviously necessary as an entitlement for all workers. The Bible itself says that we need time to rest: “Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God. You shall not do any work. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord has blessed the sabbath day and made it holy” (Ex. 20: 9-11).

We hear a lot about just wage so we know it’s important and necessary but it can be hard to pin down exactly what a just wage is. Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Rerum Novarum defined a just wage as the necessary amount to provide for current needs and put some in savings without both parents or children needing to work. Basically, a just wage is an amount earned by one adult in the household that covers living expenses (housing, food, childcare/school, utilities, and necessary travel) and gives enough leftover to put in savings for future expenses. What makes this tricky is that living expenses vary from place to place and each person may have a different family situation to provide for. This means that two people doing the same job may not need or earn the same amount. The point here is that a just wage is less about a number and more about taking care of each other. When businesses get this down-pat, we’ll have integrity-driven businesses and a more just society.

3. Producing good products that help customers do good things

Next to employees, customers are the people businesses interact with and cater to most, so obviously it’s important to treat customers well and develop good products! The principles of Catholic Social Doctrine need to be kept in tight play here, especially subsidiary and the common good. If it’s not good for these, it’s not a good product or service. This means that “the market demands it” is not a good excuse. Engelland says, “Accordingly, if businesses wish to do good, they should produce products that help customers do good things. Products that are detrimental to human well-being, such as nontherapeutic drugs, pornography, gambling, violent video games, and abortion products, do not meet authentic human needs. These products bring misery, not happiness, and should not be offered….Market forces are not adequate to determine what should be produced.”

Good businesses, businesses with integrity do not feed consumerism; rather, they help people temper their consumerism and raise up the good of all. We need to be good, not just have goods.

4. What conditions lead to good decision-making?

Several factors go into creating conditions that lead to good decision-making: deadlines and time pressures, input from close colleagues, personal ethical standards, values and intentions, the organization’s culture and practice, and the influence of stakeholders. Engelland uses an example from baseball to explain this: “Major-league baseball teams send their poor performers to the minors, where problems in hitting or pitching can be ironed out, and once resolved, the players can be recalled later in the season. No employee tried to be a poor performer– that would be contrary to human nature. When given the opportunity to improve, employees usually work to improve what they do….Second, because business performance relies so much on employees working together as a team, the overvaluing of individual performance in our rankings means that we might undervalue the efforts the individual has on the performance of those around him.”

What this all boils down to is that human dignity ad the common good need to be front and center when making decisions. How can you help your employees improve? How can you help society improve?

5. How to ensure your organization is filled with integrity

Engelland lays out ten simple steps for infusing your organization with integrity: pray, self-assess, establish standards, ensure commitment, recruit, train, communicate, support, enforce, and improve. Let’s talk about establishing standards, supporting, and enforcing.

“The organization should establish clear compliance standards and procedures for all stakeholders, and make these standards readily available….your code should include guiding principles, a list of ethical and unethical types of behavior, and procedures for reporting violations. There are three objectives to keep in mind. First, communicate to all those associated with the organization that the purpose of your code is . . . to promote principled behavior by everyone involved. Second, the code itself…should provide overall direction, guidance, and encouragement to promote right behavior. Third, the code should use clear, unambiguous language that can be understood by all concerned,” Engelland writes on establishing standards. These are important for keeping everyone on the same page and on mission.

Supporting employees in this means providing confidential resources so they can come forward without fear or repercussions when reporting another employee of unethical behavior. These should be reliable, trusted resources and people that will offer this safety to employees.

Lastly, enforcing constitutes how violations will be handled throughout the investigative and disciplinary stages. Engelland says, “Processes should work smoothly and efficiently, and roles and responsibilities should be clear and well documented. . . . To keep the organization from lapsing into a false sense of ethical security, the compliance program must be continually audited and monitored, and feedback must be provided from and to employees . . . the purpose of such activities . . . is to identify any weaknesses in ethical conduct and to correct them so that the organization can improve over time.” Grievances should be handled swiftly, smoothly, and with an eye towards improvement.

For more on how to run a business with integrity, pick up a copy of Brian Engelland’s book Force for Good: The Catholic Guide to Business Integrity.

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