With that provocative question, Rob Chesnut, Airbnb’s former chief ethics officer, opened a recent CHM virtual workshop event. Viewers responded to the survey with 93% saying "yes," but Chesnut pointed out that everyone thinks they have integrity and yet people don't trust the media, government, corporations, or even their fellow citizens. In a rapidly changing world where everyone is connected, there are immediate and drastic consequences for behavior, and trust and integrity are more important than ever. Had George Washington lived during these times, Chesnut joked, he would have been immediately decried on social media for deforestation when he chopped down the cherry tree. So, how do companies ensure they are promoting ethical cultures, and how can individuals behave with integrity? Chesnut shared key insights and real-world examples from his new book, Intentional Integrity: How Smart Companies Can Lead an Ethical Revolution, during a lecture, fireside chat, and Q&A with CHM’s VP of Innovation Marguerite Gong Hancock.
Today, there is increasing pressure on companies and leaders to act with integrity. Employees want to feel they're doing something positive for the world when they go to work, and consumers are scrutinizing companies they’re doing business with. Chesnut says, "We are in an age of conscious consumerism."
No longer can a corporate executive focus solely on increasing shareholder value to be deemed a success. Companies now must consider the consequences of how they do business, looking at how their suppliers treat their workforce, if their carbon emissions are contributing to climate change, and if their products or policies promote discrimination. They must balance the interests of all their stakeholders: investors, employees, customers, communities, and even the world at large. A company must have a purpose beyond profit, and those that “get it” will benefit.
To cultivate a culture of integrity, company leaders must talk openly about integrity and model it in their behavior. This creates a virtuous circle because integrity resonates with employees, and when people feel they are in an environment with integrity they respond with integrity. Chesnut describes his developing understanding of these dynamics through childhood, where his mother returned excess change at a store, through his career as a federal prosecutor working at the intersection of rules and ethics, and into the corporate sector.
Chesnut was responsible for setting up the trust and security program at eBay when CEO Meg Whitman put him in charge of determining what the platform could buy and sell. Could you offer wine, guns, scalped tickets in the Wild West of the new online marketplace? Figuring out what to do to promote a trustworthy and safe platform for customers was not easy, especially when it was difficult to determine which laws even applied. And when there are no laws at all, integrity helps you determine the right thing to do, says Chesnut.
At Airbnb, where he served as the chief ethics officer, Chesnut instituted integrity training as part of new employee orientation. He used examples of real ethical dilemmas faced by Airbnb and worked through scenarios with the trainees. At the end of the hour, the new hires had a deep understanding of the company’s code of ethics, and could feel proud of working in a place that valued integrity. This experience, along with his work at eBay, made Chesnut realize he had lessons to share for others faced with difficult ethical decisions in the business world.
In his book, Chesnut lays out “code moments,” or teaching scenarios. Walking through some common workplace issues, as well as answering specific questions from the audience, he provides examples of behavior that models intentional integrity… or the lack of it. Treat the following clips as a self-directed workshop and explore issues that resonate for you.
How do you lead with integrity?
How do you act with integrity when something goes wrong?
How can global organizations address cultural differences with integrity?
How do you lay people off with integrity?
What do you do if your boss wants you to lie for him/her?
How should you handle alcohol at work events?
Is personal use of company resources ever OK?
What companies have handled COVID badly? Well?