Often, we think of integrity as a concept relating to someone’s character and integration as something relating to processes and systems. The reality, however, is that the two words are intertwined.
When we talk about a person having “integrity” we are saying that there is a consistency or “integration” between what they say and what they do. When they say they’ll be somewhere at 5p, they’ll be there at 5p. When they say they’ll have a project done by Thursday, it’s done. While we all may aspire to have integrity it can be difficult to actually deliver. In order to deliver on that aspiration, you have to intentionally plan and execute on that plan. If you need to be somewhere at a specific time, you have to make appropriate plans to ensure that you’ve accounted for variables and arrive at the appropriate time. Another way to say this is that you engineer the situation and influencing factors to create a desired and consistent outcome.
When we talk about a system or process using integration, we are talking about how that system or process connects with other systems or processes. You could say that your quoting system is integrated with your accounting system if quotes are able to easily pass from the quoting system to the accounting system without extra manual data entry. The reality is that we can have varying levels of integration. In the quoting example, you could have integration in that you use the same part numbers on quotes as you use in your accounting system. You could also go as far as to have a system that takes quotes, converts them to orders, drives procurement, generates invoices and connects to the accounting back-end. Both systems have integration, they just have it to differing degrees.
So, why does all of this matter? To us, we find that it is valuable to recognize that the two concepts are intertwined. We find that, when we aspire to be people of integrity while also building systems and processes that have integrity, the two aspirations rub off on each other. Our personal pursuit of integrity drives the processes and systems we develop so that we make sure they have appropriate stop-gaps, catch-alls, etc. Additionally, the systems and processes we develop help us build our own personal systems and processes to ensure that we make it to a meeting on time, remember an important dinner with our spouse or whatever else may come up.
Whether you are developing a process or just working to be better at following through on your commitments, maybe the concept that both integrity and integration are intertwined concepts will help you as it has helped us.
Often, we work with our clients to help write IT policies for their Employee Handbook. I have mixed feelings doing this as part of me wants to write out every detail of the policies while another part of me wants to scream and just say “do the right thing!” This exemplifies the different approaches to writing handbook policies. One approach is to detail every single possible element while the other is to provide an overriding vision for what is considered right and wrong and expect people to fill in the gaps with common sense.
My oldest daughter is a competitive CrossFit athlete and this tension on standards came up this past week in the CrossFit world. In the spring, a worldwide competition, called the CrossFit Open, runs over 5 weeks. Each week, a specified workout is published, along with defined standards on the performance of that workout. In the first workout, the athletes had to perform a “bar over burpee”. Part of the movement is to jump over a bar, loaded with weights. In almost every case, you do this with a bar that is loaded with standard-sized plates. However, one group looked at the rules and thought they might be able to get a competitive edge by putting smaller plates on the bar so it wouldn’t be as high off of the ground. Approval was received from a regional CrossFit Director but their policies state that approval must be received from CrossFit Headquarters. As it stands now, CrossFit Headquarters has said that the modification was not allowable and violated the standards because it unfairly modified the range of motion the athlete must go through. As a result, CrossFit has assessed a severe penalty on all athletes in the group.
On social media, there is a firestorm over this CrossFit “controversy” with people feeling strongly on one side or the other. The interesting thing, however, is that both sides are right. On the one side, the athletes followed the letter of the law and sought and received approval from someone they reasonably believed had the authority to approve their request. On the other side, approval was not received from the proper person and the standard was modified beyond the spirit of the standard.
I say all of this to point out that, as leaders, we can tend to live on one side of the fence or the other. Either we detail exactly how we want something done or we just tell someone to “get it done” or “do the right thing”. It seems that both approaches leave quite a bit of room for well-meaning misunderstanding. When we respect this, we can seek to find a way to convey our intentions while also providing adequate detail in the policies we write ensuring that our intentions are understood at both the detailed and conceptual levels.