Project Management Institute

Authenticity and integrity

by Randall L. Englund

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MANY PEOPLE IN ORGANIZATIONS lament that their leaders lack authenticity and integrity. When that feeling is prevalent, trust cannot develop, and progress toward creating a project-based organization is greatly hindered. But why are authenticity and integrity so important to project success? And how can managers create a culture that supports these qualities instead of undermining them?

When Bob Graham and I wrote Creating an Environment for Successful Projects [Jossey-Bass, 1997], this recurring theme permeated our findings. Our combined experiences and observations—Bob as a cultural anthropologist and me as an industry practitioner—uncovered many examples of “organizational perversities,” most often caused by leaders who violated authenticity and integrity.

Authenticity means that managers mean what they say. For example, the director of Sony's Computer Science Laboratory believes people need the chance to fully exhibit their performance capabilities. He attracts many applicants by stating that a good hire is someone who exhibits originality and vision, who has the strong will to deny orthodoxy and to challenge the future. It's clear that this leader's beliefs and stated goals are consistent.

Integrity means that they do what they say they will do, and for the reasons that they originally stated. To promote the creativity that produces good software, the Sony director hires the best researchers and, instead of telling them what to do, says, “Do whatever you want; the only thing is to be the best and have results with the highest impact.” He follows through by employing researchers on a one-year contract basis, with annual performance reviews. Salaries are based on success, not on seniority. His actions and statements are consistent—they reflect his belief in supporting people to achieve high performance.

By linking intentions, words, and actions, authenticity and integrity connect the head and the heart. They help leaders establish credibility among their followers. Demonstrating these values in action often makes the difference between success and failure. Simply put, managers who don't “walk the talk” seldom motivate people to follow them.

Consider J.C.R. Licklider, known as the mentor for the generation that created computing as we know it. He believed that humans and computers were destined to unite in an almost mystical, symbiotic partnership. “Lick” recognized good ideas and good people, and he had the competence and integrity required to win the respect of his disciples. Described as extremely intelligent, intensely creative, and hopelessly generous, he didn't care who got the credit for an innovation, as long as the organization accomplished its goals. He forged bonds with hundreds of people that stimulated them to do their best work and realize that they were a part of something much larger than themselves. Licklider epitomized the power of acting with authenticity and integrity.

Randy Englund is a senior consultant and project manager at Hewlett-Packard Company's Project Management Initiative in Palo Alto, California. He is co-author of Creating an Environment for Successful Projects: The Quest to Manage Project Management [Jossey-Bass, 1997]. He is also a PMI member, presenter, and workshop facilitator.

Demonstrating Authenticity and Integrity

Say what you believe.

Act on what you say.

Involve team members in designing strategic implementation plans.

Align values, projects, and organizational goals through asking questions, listening, and using an explicit linking process.

Foster an environment where project teams can succeed by learning together and operating in a trusting, open organization.

Integrity “Crimes.” People easily pick up on the lack of sincerity that characterizes platitudes—even at the highest levels in an organization. For instance, Business Week [27 December 1999, p. 60] reported that the Xerox board of directors had issued a letter supporting its CEO despite disappointing financial results. Employees and investors, however, saw the letter as a “kiss of death” because “happy boards don't feel a need to defend management.” Even the CEO in question recognized the hollowness of the board's attempt to placate stakeholders: “When you have this kind of destruction of shareholder value, I can say all the words I want, and it doesn't matter.” Instead, investors wanted the leader to be more candid about the challenges facing the company and more careful about timing big moves when rivals were racing to grab market share. In response, shocked investors revolted by driving the stock down to about one-third of its previous high.

In my work, it is clear when team members sense a discrepancy between what leaders say and what they imply is important through their actions. Energy levels drop, and productive work slows down or even ceases. For instance, one project team set out with great enthusiasm to develop a strategy for the next year. It foundered, however, when the project manager advanced a particular agenda in order to carry out a request from a higher manager. Feeling a lack of respect from their leader and disconnected from their original purpose, the team members went through the motions of creating a plan but invested little heart-felt energy in the project.

Another team felt betrayed when the team manager prodded the team to complete an 18-month project in six months—an untenable goal given the group's staffing and capacity. By setting them up to fail, this directive violated the integrity of the dedicated, professional people who genuinely wanted to make a contribution to the organization. Although common in competitive, high-tech environments, pushing unrealistic schedules creates tremendous conflict and unrest. Not surprisingly, the team proved unable to meet the manager's expedited timetable and suffered serious morale problems.

Some might accuse the leaders in each of these cases of committing “integrity crimes.” They failed to be fully honest and to treat others with respect. Why do these offenses occur so often in organizations? One reason is that measurement and reward systems based on short-term goals and bottom-line results often compel managers to compromise their commitment to workers’ goals, aspirations, and vision. Some managers succumb to the pressure to satisfy those higher up the corporate ladder and only manage upward; they place a much lower priority on managing downward.

The most effective leaders balance their attention in both directions. They attend to their own values and are sensitive to the values of other people. They reflect on the situation and act based on their beliefs rather than react based on external demands. True leaders speak with honesty and authority so that all concerned come to believe in the direction they choose.

Creating a Positive Culture. In many ways, the values of authenticity and integrity serve as the glue that holds an organization together. As employees come to trust their managers and grow comfortable taking risks, they ultimately contribute their best efforts. This kind of supportive environment unleashes boundless energy among workers, because they know where the organization is headed and what they need to do to help it reach its goals.

For instance, many organizations face the problem of having too many projects in the pipeline. In a company that doesn't value honesty and respect, managers might prioritize and schedule projects without engaging the individuals charged with completing the projects. To the staff, these decisions may seem arbitrary and inconsistent with the business's stated values and goals. In this kind of environment, cynicism, complacency, and a sense of powerlessness corrode workers’ initial enthusiasm.

On the other hand, openly involving team members in creating a strategic plan for evaluating, prioritizing, and selecting projects can help the group see how those decisions support the organization's stated goals. Successful managers demonstrate values-based leadership, share their thought processes, seek and sincerely consider input from others, and understand and encourage the desire of all involved to accomplish great results.

To nurture authenticity and integrity, be prepared to go against well-established norms, address the true needs of followers, and be open to new ways of thinking. Effective leaders are known by the quality of questions they ask; therefore, ask true inquiry questions. Reward learning. Use what's learned from projects to help make things better in the future, rather than punish mistakes or shoot the messenger of bad news. Work to build trust by being trustworthy and following through on commitments. Empower teams to act based upon the results of their deliberations.

For instance, a general manager of one business unit within Hewlett-Packard recognized the need to involve staff members in prioritizing projects. Despite initial doubts that their input would be valued, the team members designed a plan for balancing the general manager's forward-looking vision with the realities of executing current projects. Through their involvement in specific steps that supported stated objectives, people came to believe the new process could work. The general manager and his staff embraced criteria recommendations that came out of intense collaboration within a subteam. Instead of pushing his own agenda, the manager was pulled by the thoroughness and integrity that emerged from this work. Everyone agreed to move on to the next step—capture a project list and apply the criteria.

The true test came when the group applied their criteria in prioritizing a project list. One business manager felt threatened when a large project within his department was deemed a low priority. In the past, this particular manager would have found a way to implement it on his own. This very pattern of behavior had created some of the unit's current problems. But through open, face-to-face discussions, the entire group came to agreement on how best to achieve divisionwide goals. The leader's support for the integrity of the process created an environment that allowed this team to succeed.

The general manager demonstrated further integrity when he asked the team to help him identify the top three projects. Since he had a meeting with his manager the next day and needed to report how the organization would meet its goals, the general manager solicited input from the team members. Now they knew he seriously wanted their involvement and would act on it accordingly. This was not a “going through the motions” exercise; the business would be run according to the results of the process that they were part of creating.

Making the Change. Most change efforts do not fail from lack of good ideas or robust strategies for implementing them. They falter when managers say one thing but do another. When managers speak without authenticity and act without integrity, they are like the naked emperor: they think they are clothed, but everyone else sees the truth. Leaders cannot ask others to change without first changing themselves. It may also take a disinterested observer or process consultant coming in to help guide the effort.

AN EXECUTIVE VP REFLECTED to an audience of Hewlett-Packard project managers on the “concept, belief, strong principle I have about focus. It can be applied to everything we do. There is so much more value that if there are 10 things you can do, pick one or two to do extremely well, and then go on to the third one. This is so much more valuable and so much more rewarding than trying to cover everything and doing a mediocre job.” This manager demonstrated values-based leadership, shared his thought processes, provided one answer to the issue of doing too many projects, and empathized with the desire of all people in the audience to accomplish great results through projects. Fortunately, it is possible to find managers who act with authenticity and integrity—just look for the successful work environments that they create and the productive teams who reward them with their energy and loyalty. ■

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This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

PM Network August 2000

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