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Integrity Matters

Author(s): Craig P. Dunn  
Issue: 2  
Volume: 5  
Year: 2009

Integrity is a concept oftentimes referenced in organizational studies, but not well understood as a theoretical construct. This paper aims to remedy this shortcoming by honing in on a conception of integrity grounded in the writings of moral philosophy. In order to accomplish this, competing definitions of integrity will be vetted. The concept of integrity will be critically distinguished from those of virtue, character and honesty. Integrity will next be explored as consistency across contexts, coherence between values and action, stability over time, permanence across roles, and union of ethical perspectives. Finally, the notion of organizational integrity will be assessed and suggestions for operationalization of the integrity construct offered.

What is integrity…and what is it not? In common usage, integrity has a myriad of meanings. This has been reflected in much of the organizational research that purports to examine the antecedents and outcomes associated with integrity. When integrity has been defined within such investigations, it has most often been the case that definition(s) are grounded not in moral philosophy but rather based upon prior construct operationalizations. This approach has had the deficit of both perpetuating as well as magnifying a-theoretical conceptualizations of integrity. The current treatise means to remedy this shortcoming.

In commencing this exploration into the matter of integrity, it is prudent to provide both a well-grounded definition of the construct as well as to differentiate integrity from constructs with which it is often confounded.

Integrity Defined

Palanski and Yammarino (2007) noted the study of integrity “suffers from significant problems,” among them being “too many definitions and too little theory” (p. 171). Perhaps it would be best to begin with the most succinct conceptions of integrity offered in the literature. Citing the writing of Bernard Williams, Harcourt (1998) concurred that “integrity means “a…person sticking by what that person regards as ethically necessary or worthwhile'” (p. 189). While it is not entirely certain what “sticking by” might mean, it can reasonably be inferred thatreference is being made to coherence of one sort or another—either between values over time or between values and behavior. 

Not a few writers extend the notion of integrity beyond the human community, in some instances even referencing the integrity of objects: “integrity refers to the wholeness, intactness or purity of a thing” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). The suggestion offered here is that the meanings of things are legitimately carried over when the concept of integrity is applied to people.

Furrow (2005) offered a unique perspective on integrity, seeing it as “the extent to which our various commitments form a harmonious, intact whole” (p. 136). Coherence from this view is between the variety of obligations one has embraced and the consistency each has with the other(s). This author extended his development of the concept of integrity by noting that to have integrity “…is to be capable of living an integrated narrative” (Furrow, p. 141). The theme of one‘s life narrative, and the coherence of the story one tells regarding one‘s commitments, is a theme to which Furrow often returns.

Musschenga (2001) delineated the concepts of integrity found in ordinary language along the two axes of formal-material and local-global. “Formal‘ refers to coherence between values and behavior; “global‘ refers to consistency across contexts, roles, and time. Given this matrix, three concepts of integrity can be elucidated: “the formal concept of personal integrity, and the material concepts of local and moral integrity” (Musschenga, p. 219).[i] Perhaps the most useful distinction offered by Musschenga is between personal integrity—”found more in academic literature than in ordinary language”—and moral integrity, which he considers the “most conventional and perhaps central one” (p. 222).

TABLE 1. Personal v Moral Integrity (Musschenga, 2001, p. 222)

Formal personal integrity
      Material(critical) role integrity:   professional integrity   occupational integrity   civic integrity   political integrity   managerial integrity   etc.(critical) social moral integrity

In this conceptualization, both personal integrity (formal-global) and moral integrity (material-global) require the agent to exercise consistency between values and behavior. What differentiates personal integrity from moral integrity is that agents exhibiting moral integrity are ones whose selves “are constituted by socially-shared moral identity-conferring commitments” (Musschenga, 2001, p. 223); to put it more straightforwardly, there is coherence between the individual agent‘s conception of the good and the socially-constructed conception of the good. 

Unsophisticated conceptions of integrity imagine that you either have integrity or you do not. More refined conceptions, such as that of Williston (2006), suggest that “agents can act with integrity to a greater or lesser degree” (p. 566). The agent acting at all times in accordance with core commitments and the agent acting at no time in accordance with core commitments are equally implausible archetypes. However, Williston noted that our appraisal of an agent‘s behavior is accomplished on the basis of an “assessment of just how close to the ideal, or far from the non-ideal, he is in acting the way he does” (p. 566). Williston further suggested an observer might assess an agent as lacking in integrity merely because the agent believes this his action is wrong, but performs it anyway; presumably this judgment of blameworthiness is made independent of whether or not the agent‘s behavior coheres with the observer‘s values.

One could hardly outline a definition of integrity without referencing Aristotle. Puka (2005) well summarized the Aristotelian view of integrity as “the spring of excellence in living” (pp. 24-25). What it means to be a person of integrity is “full integration of our admirable traits and abilities into an admirably functioning virtue system” (Puka, pp. 24-25). These admirable traits and abilities become a matter of habit, honed through practice; they require good judgment, both in choice of activity as well as in the execution of activity; and they are exercised tactfully and in spite of difficult social context(s). As Puka stated, integrity “put[s] the art in living, in relating to others, and in being an exemplary type of person” (pp. 24-25).

What we know of integrity so far is that it requires coherence among a set of moral values, with this set of moral values having consistency with a set of social values, and that integrity further requires congruence between an agent’s behavior and this set of moral/social values over time and across social context(s). In order to test the adequacy of this definition of integrity, it is useful to contrast integrity with a variety of other constructs with which it is oftentimes confused.

Integrity differentiated from virtue

Is integrity one among a set of virtues? More than a few writers, including Palanski & Yammarino (2007), have suggested so (p. 172). Additionally, Furrow (2005) discussed three virtues—care, integrity, and practical wisdom—in his treatise on ethics. But before considering whether integrity is merely a virtue, it is worth considering what is meant by virtue in the first place.

In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle distinguished moral virtues—which have to do with feeling, choosing, and acting well—from intellectual virtues—a kind of wisdom acquired by teaching. We are here concerned with, if a virtue at all, the moral virtue of integrity. A further useful distinction for an inquiry into integrity is Aristotle‘s description of virtues as being the point of moderation between two extremes, or vices. For example, courage is the middle between one extreme of deficiency (cowardice) and the other extreme of excess (recklessness). A balanced diet is the middle between one extreme of deficiency (anorexia) and the other extreme of excess (gluttony). Intimacy is the middle between one extreme of deficiency (celibacy) and the other extreme of excess (sexual addiction). But if integrity is to be considered a virtue, one must wonder: what is the deficiency and what is the excess associated with integrity? If integrity references the coherence between values and behavior, certainly one might conclude the deficiency of integrity is hypocrisy—the lack of coherence between belief and action. But what is the excess of integrity—what could be concluded to be the vice associated with having too much integrity? If Aristotle is correct, and virtues exist as the midpoint between two vices, we must conclude integrity is not a virtue at all.

Teehan (1995) suggested that virtue ethics consists of three major points. The first of these argues that virtue theories are a response to the narrow quality of more “traditional‘ ethical theories, such as those of deontology and utilitarianism. His concern here is that narrow ethical theories—which are based on evaluation of behaviors as opposed to nurturing of virtue—fail to capture the full significance of the moral experience. The second point elaborates the first by noting that virtue theories shift the emphasis from “act-appraisal to agent, or character, appraisal” (Teehan, pp. 841-42). The third point is that virtue theories contain a theory or discussion of “virtues proper to a moral agent” (Teehan, pp. 841-42). Virtue ethics move us from the question “How ought I to act?‘ (…with integrity) to the question “What kind of person ought I to be?‘ (…a person of integrity). But even though integrity moves us from appraising acts to appraising character, this is not to conclude integrity is fully encapsulated within virtue theory. Integrity means more than this, for central to integrity is the notion of coherence. 

One of the preeminent writers on virtue theory is MacIntyre, who introduced a teleological emphasis into the discussion of virtue theory. MacIntyre noted that virtues are coherent social activities which “seek to realize goods internal to the activity…[t]he virtues enable us to achieve these goods” (as cited in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Virtue Ethics, p. 3). What is this end, or telos, toward which virtue directs us? “[T]he good of a whole human life…the virtue of integrity or constancy” (The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Virtue Ethics, p. 3). And this is in part what distinguishes integrity from other virtues, such as honesty: there is a strong sense in which integritydemands a whole-life orientation, rather than a focus on any specific and presumably self-sufficient virtue. Or as Solomon (1999) put it, “[i]ntegrity is not itself a virtue so much as it is a synthesis of the virtues, working together to form a coherent whole…integrity is that sense of cohesion such that one is not torn apart by conflicts” (p. 38). This latter notion is consistent with the definition of integrity outlined in the introduction to this treatise. 

Musschenga (2001) largely side-stepped the debate over whether integrity is one among many virtues by noting, consistent with an Aristotelian approach, that the “…philosophical doctrine of the unity of virtues…tells us that someone cannot be said truly to possess a virtue when he does not have all the other virtues” (p. 225). To the extent this is true, integrity stands as something separate and distinct from the other virtues—as the ultimate among a set of penultimate virtues.

Integrity differentiated from character

Is integrity one among many positive character traits? As with the discussion of virtue, it is worth considering what is meant by character in the first instance, as well as how character might be differentiated from integrity. The first thing to note is that dispositions of character are commonly held to play a significant role in the explanation of action (Moriau, 2005). The converse, of course, also holds: observation of action(s) is held to provide insight into the character of a person. 

The literature notes a decided difference between dispositions of character as explaining action and dispositions of character as providing reasons for action. One might explain stealing a loaf of bread by stating the act was nothing more than spontaneous thrill-seeking taken without regard to consequences, but such an explanation is hardly an appeal to reason; reason might justify the same act by appealing to this action as the only available means by which to provide dependent children a meal for the day. Moreau (2005) observed that, beyond “revealing…regularity of behavior” (pp. 274-77), observers tend to appeal to a person‘s character as a means of establishing some reasonable explanation for an agent‘s behavior. However, the agent herself may not make such an appeal. There seems in such attributionmaking an assumption of coherence between character and action; in deciding why a particular course of action was chosen, an observer infers a reasonable—perhaps even causal—connection between the observed action and the surmised character trait that would give rise to such action. Moreau (2005) further argued that dispositions of character are connected to “goods‘ important to an individual‘s sense of self:

“They [dispositions of character] point to the agent‘s purpose, and sometimes, to the ends for the sake of which the agent is pursuing that purpose. To explain someone‘s action by appealing to her jealousy is to say that part of her purpose was to eliminate or lessen another person‘s advantage over her; to explain someone‘s action by appealing to her generosity is to say, among other things, that she adopted a certain purpose out of concern for another person. Because these character traits point to the person‘s purpose or end, they seem to help us understand her behavior from the point of view that she occupied, at the time of acting.” (pp. 274-77)

But let us return to the question of whether or not integrity is merely one among many character traits. If this were the case, reference to an actor‘s integrity would mean nothing more or less than similar reference to an actor‘s jealousy or reference to an actor‘s generosity. But the definition of integrity herein constructed reveals that integrity is fundamentally different than either of these two—or any other—character traits. Observation of a person‘s generosity does not directly allow for assessment of whether or not there is congruence between the full constellation of an agent‘s character traits, or whether or not there is coherence between the agent‘s dispositions of character and the agent‘s actions, or whether there is stability in the agent‘s character and/or behavior over time. Integrity, on the other hand, does allow for assessment of such congruence and stability. To say of an agent that she is a person of integrity is to say something fundamentally different than that she is a jealous person or a generous person. In short, integrity is not a disposition of character in the same way that jealousy and generosity are; the latter are micro conceptions of morality, whereas integrity is a macro formulation.

Integrity differentiated from honesty

Is honesty a synonym for integrity? In reading the organizational behavior literature, and particularly the empirical research on what is described therein as integrity, one might conclude the answer is “yes.‘ Palanski & Yammarino (2007) cited Rieke & Guastello (1995) as noting that measurement of integrity within the field of psychology “attempt[s] to assess an employee‘s overall honesty or predict an employee‘s likelihood of stealing from his or her employer” (p. 172). Such is not the case in the ethics literature: 

“[a]…valuable distinction in ethics comes from moral exemplar literature (see Oliner and Oliner 1988; Colby and Damon 1992; Puka 1993)…Gandhi distinguished sharplybetween honesty and integrity, as did Aristotle in his Ethics…[f]or Gandhi, integrity meant living one‘s life as an open book…[i]t meant conducting a long series of experiments in better living that others could analyze, learn from, and criticize.” (Puka, 2005, p. 24) 

Such experiments often fail. Integrity does not demand success, but it does demand that theattempt be made to dedicate “our whole lives to our betterment in dealing with others” (Puka, 2005, p. 24). If an unintended consequence of this effort is that someone is hurt in the process, then apology and compensation are in order—but nothing more, so long as care has been taken to avoid such consequences. In outlining this conception of integrity, Puka drew a clear distinction: “[c]ontrast this ongoing routine of full-life integrity with mere honesty—with the struggle of not telling lies or with being a “man of my word‘“ (p. 24). Integrity demands more than mere honesty.

Yukl and Van Fleet stated, “[i]ntegrity means that a person’s behavior is consistent with espoused values and that the person is honest and trustworthy” (as cited in Becker, 1998, p. 155). The first requirement is consistent with the argument being developed herein—that integrity is in part coherence between values and behavior. The reference to honesty, however, has no normative basis as a requirement for a person to be considered of high integrity. The reference to trustworthy, to the extent this means that a person is consistent in their values and behavior over time, well captures one dimension of integrity: stability. The citation, while appropriately noting a distinction between integrity and honesty, points to the confusion of terms—in this instance, integrity, honesty, and trustworthiness—which is endemic in the organizational literature.

Several researchers have begun to identify dimensions of integrity. Miller and Schlenker (2007) settled on several findings: those with higher integrity scores a) attached greater importance to being principled as part of their self-concepts; b) described themselves as behaving more consistently with their principles; and c) more strongly preferred principled characters over expedient ones (as cited in Schlenker, 2008). Each of these findings well relates to the definition of integrity, in the first instance having to do with coherence between moral values and identity, in the second instance having to do with coherence between values and behavior, and in the third instance having to do with the requirement that integrity be normatively grounded (i.e., that integrity demands coherence among a set of moral values, with this set of moral values having consistency with a set of social values). The last of these findings involved assessing respondents by utilizing the Integrity Scale. The items contained therein “measure the inherent value of principled conduct, the steadfast commitment to principles despite temptations or costs, and the unwillingness to rationalize unprincipled behavior” (Schlenker, 2008, pp. 1084-85). Given the prominence of this instrument in organizational research related to integrity, it is worth taking a close look at the items making up this scale (see Table 1 below).

Items 1, 5, 12, and 15 specifically reference the importance of telling the truth—or honesty. This is the single item pointing to a specific disposition of character. The balance of the items reference duty, obligation, character, principle, and (in one instance) integrity. Shortly the concept of deontology will be introduced into this discussion, but suffice it to say at this point that the words duty, obligation, and principle—words contained in roughly half the items within the Integrity Scale—reference not integrity but rather commitment to the universalist perspective that actions are right or wrong independent of their consequences. Other scale items tap into this same normative construct without using these key referent terms—instead mentioning “being inflexible” (item 4), “right and wrong” (item 5), “standing by [what one believes to be right]” (items 6 and 9), and “transgressions [of principles] are wrong” (item 18). What emerges from a careful examination of the Integrity Scale is that it is well designed to measure an unveering commitment to honesty. All items reference choosing principle(s) over outcome(s), with several items expressly referencing honesty. The implication? That the construct of integrity is reducible to a stalwart commitment to honesty.

TABLE 2. The Integrity Scale: Items and Item Loadings (Schlenker, 2008, pp. 1084-1085)

Item NumberItem WordingItem Loading
1It is foolish to tell the truth when big profits can be made by lying. (R).57
2No matter how much money one makes, life is unsatisfactory without a strong sense of duty and character..42
3Regardless of concerns about principles, in today’s world you have to be practical, adapt to opportunities, and do what is most advantageous for you. (R).47
4Being inflexible and refusing to compromise are good if it means standing up for what is right..33
5The reason it is important to tell the truth is because of what others will do to you if you don’t, not because of any issue of right and wrong. (R).36
6The true test of character is a willingness to stand by one’s principles, no matter what price one has to pay..50
7There are no principles worth dying for. (R) .35
8It is important to me to feel that I have not compromised my principles..58
9If one believes something is right, one must stand by it, even if it means losing friends or missing out on profitable opportunities..66
10Compromising one’s principles is always wrong, regardless of the circumstances or the amount that can be personally gained..61
11Universal ethical principles exist and should be applied under all circumstances, with no exceptions..40
12Lying is sometimes necessary to accomplish important, worthwhile goals. (R).56
13Integrity is more important than financial gain. .65
14It is important to fulfill one’s obligations at all times, even when nobody will know if one doesn’t..48
15If done for the right reasons, even lying or cheating are ok. (R) .50
16Some actions are wrong no matter what the consequences or justification..40
17One’s principles should not be compromised regardless of the possible gain..74
18Some transgressions are wrong and cannot be legitimately justified or defended regardless of how much one tries..44
Note. Respondents are asked to read each of the statements and indicate the extent of their agreement or disagreement where 1 = strongly disagree, 2 = disagree, 3 = neither disagree nor agree, 4 = agree, and 5 = strongly agree. Items marked (R) are reverse scored. Item loadings are standardized regression coefficients from a singlefactor solution from a principle factor analysis (N = 1341); items were reverse scored (R) prior to analysis. Integrity Scale © Barry R. Schlenker, 2006.

Integrity goes well beyond such a commitment, however. The “whole person‘ perspective of integrity demands researchers grounding empirical inquiries upon this construct be doggedly rigorous in their operationalization of the integrity construct. Critical instrument construction would capture each dimension of what integrity means—in both its values and behavioral manifestations.

Integrity differentiated from moral integrity

It has been herein suggested that the first requirement for integrity is coherence among a set of moral values. This brings up a necessary dimension of integrity, its commitment to “the good.‘ In developing the Integrity scale, Schlenker‘s (2008) focus on honesty—while too narrow to fully access the richness of what it might mean to be a person of integrity—acknowledges this moral imperative. Though this moral aspect of integrity may seem obvious, consider Furrow‘s (2005) observation that “[b]y itself, integrity refers to the coherence of a viewpoint, not its content” (p. 139). To the extent Furrow is correct, one could be considered a person of integrity if one held fast, not to the moral virtue of honesty, but to the moral vice of lying. Imagine an individual having great coherence among a set of values: all were debauched. Imagine this individual living in a society characterized by the same set of debauched beliefs. Imagine this individual consistently exercising behaviors consistent with this coherent set of debauched values, over time and in a variety of contexts. Would this individual exhibit integrity? Yes, but only in a limited sense. The requirement that the values underlying integrity be moral values would not be met. One might conclude this individual exhibited personal integrity, but lacked moral integrity.[ii] So too with Furrow‘s simplified but useful illustration: “A person deeply devoted to his skill as an assassin might have integrity since his commitments may be consistent and his actions in conformity with them” (p. 139). Personal integrity, yes; moral integrity, no. Furrow elaborated the matter by suggesting “the neutrality of integrity regarding moral actions is not a problem if integrity is not the only dominant virtue” (p. 139). 

It is worth citing Mcleod‘s (2005) succinct summation of the debate as to whether personal integrity is usefully differentiated from moral integrity: “The prototypical version of integrity is moral, although we do sometimes use the term in other (i.e., non-prototypical) ways” (p. 110). The term integrity will be used in the prototypical sense throughout the balance of this examination.

Integrity Elaborated

The definition proposed herein argues integrity requires coherence among a set of moral values, with this set of moral values having consistency with a set of social values, and that integrity further requires congruence between an agent’s behavior and this set of moral/social values over time and across social context(s). Five requirements are set forth in the definition offered here, each of which will now be considered in some detail: 1) internal coherence; 2) external consistency; 3) value-behavior congruence; 4) temporal stability; and 5) permanence across roles.[iii]

Integrity: The Requirement of External Consistency

“People of integrity can give persuasive and plausible accounts of how the various dimensions of their lives fit together in manners consistent with their most basic commitments” (Dobel, 1990, p. 356). Some of these commitments are ones we have made to ourselves; most are external to the individual, including obligations emerging across disparate professional, social, and geographic frames. Palanski & Yammarino (2007) reference this category of integrity in noting “in the integrity literature the terms “ethics/ethical‘ and “morality/moral‘ generally refer to actions which are in accordance with socially acceptable behavior” (p. 174). External consistency presumes the capacity to craft confluence between demands these commitments place upon us, and our set of values preferences.

Gintis and his co-authors (Gintis, Henrich, Bowles, Boyd, & Fehr, 2008) adopt an evolutionary perspective from which to examine such consistency. Their argument is that “human morality is the product of gene-culture coevolution” (Gintis et al., 2008, p. 249). These authors construct an argument that human morality has developed as a consequence of goodness of fit: those members of the human community exhibiting prosocial behavior were better equipped to survive than those who were less collaborative. In this argument the notion of inclusive fit is formally tied to the moral construct of justice, since arrangements among group members exhibiting the value of fairness are seen to work to each individual‘s advantage over time. Conversely, unfair arrangements are seen to come at the expense of inclusive fitness. The value for justice emerges only through repeated interactions among members of a group, “allowing fair-minded individuals to gain reputations that advanced their genetic interests” (Gintis et al., p. 249). Finally, the suggestion is made that “[t]he same reasoning may be applied to generosity, bravery on behalf of ones‘ associates, and punishing those who transgress social norms” (Gintis et al., p. 249).

The argument is perhaps more compelling as one takes up the matter of integrity. Given that consistency between personal value preferences and group value preferences is rewarded by the group, it is only rewarded to the extent to which such integrity is in evidence. Take again the matter of fairness. If the group has a social norm for fairness, and an individual holds this same norm as part of her personal value set, it can be expected that the group will reward the individual—assuming this value is demonstrated in behavior. But what does it mean to value fairness? Remembering that values are ordered preferences of moral “goods,‘ holding to the value of fairness has meaning only against the backdrop of a complete set of moral “goods.‘

To illustrate this point, consider a circumstance in which both the group and the individual value fairness. Additionally, both the group and the individual value caring. However, within the group values set fairness is valued more highly than caring, while within the personal values set caring is valued more highly than justice. As decisions are made within the group context, the penchant is for objective assessments of individual performance to be linked with rewards. The individual within this group who privileges caring above fairness—who, although valuing justice, nonetheless privileges compassion to fairness in her personal interactions with others—does not exhibit the external consistency required by integrity.

Integrity demands consistency between organizational values and personal values. This consistency is measured not merely by the inclusion of the same or similar values within the values set of the group and the values set of the individual, but more particularly the same or similar preference ordering of these values.[iv]

Integrity: The Requirement of Value-Behavior Congruence

Chief among the stipulations of integrity is the requirement for congruence between values and behavior.[v] This has generally been referred to as behavioral integrity.[vi] The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy identifies such congruence as one (of two) fundamental intuitions regarding integrity: “integrity is connected in an important way to acting morally, in other words, there are some substantive or normative constraints on what it is to act with integrity” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).[vii] McFall (1987) followed this intuition in noting “[i]ntegrity is the state of being “undivided; an integral whole‘“ (p. 7), and in offering greater specificity states such wholeness requires coherence “between principle and action” (p. 7).[viii] Teehan (1995) cited Dewey as observing “that “the key to a correct theory of morality is recognition of the essential unity of the self and its acts‘“ (p. 846). Musschenga (2001) suggested “[t]he interest in integrity leads us to investigate the coherence and consistency of the sayings and doings of those we have to deal with” (p. 219), arguing further that “[w]hat unites those we regard as persons of integrity is…consistency between what they say, profess and promise, and what they actually do” (p.220). Simons (1999) suggests behavioral integrity “does not consider the morality of principles [themselves], but rather focuses on the extent to which stated principles are seen as aligning with actions” (p. 19), further noting that while “a colleague who openly advocates self-interest, rather than the common good, as a basis for personal actions might be despised if one does not share his values… such a colleague might [nonetheless] be seen as having high behavioral integrity if one can see clear alignment between word and deed” (p. 19). Finally, Palanski & Yammarino ultimately reduced all of integrity to “consistency of an acting entity’s words and actions,” (p. 178), further suggesting “the proposed definition, based on the literature review, may be used as a guide to further inquiry into the meaning of integrity” (p. 181).[ix]

The requirement for values and behavior congruence must be understood against the backdrop of the multiple realms of judgment moral agents hold in tension. In spite of this complex web of decision processes, behavioral integrity stresses the importance of “keeping some coherence in their actions and lives…in this sense, personal integrity is a normative ideal for which individuals should and almost always do strive and one presumed by any notions of personal responsibility” (Dobel, 1990, p. 355). Dobel elaborated that discourse as to how individuals can hold potentially disparate commitments, and yet “balance them in a morally defensible manner” (p. 355), is within the purview of behavioral integrity. It is in the telling of stories, grounded in moral reasoning, regarding resonance between values and behavior— whether these stories constitute an inner dialogue or reason-giving to an outside observer— which reveals the extent to which enacted values cohere with espoused values. And as Solomon (1999) observed, “[w]hereas a single action may betray the lack of integrity, there is no single action (or, indeed, any number of actions) that will definitively establish a person‘s integrity” (p. 40).

There is some debate as to whether or not behavioral integrity exists as a matter of course. Gintis and his coauthors (2008) purported to extend upon the economist‘s rational actor model in suggesting “[o]ur ability to infer moral values from observed behavior is based on our use of what we term the beliefs, preferences, and constraints (BPC) model of human choice” (p. 247). In this argument actors are presumed to be rational—not in the economic sense of being self-interested utility maximizers, but rather in the psychological sense of acting in accordance with individualistic core values. The logic then is straightforwardly syllogistic: Actor A is observed to behave in manner X; manner X is consistent with value X; therefore actor A values X. On this logic values can be accurately inferred from observations of behavior—though it is acknowledged there may exist external constraints serving to erode such inferences. This argument discounts the complexities attending an actor‘s commitment to values, or an actor‘s commitment to translate values to action—either of which diminishes the ability to infer values from behavior(s).

Integrity: The Requirement of Temporal Stability

In their non-moral sense, values are simply preference orderings: I prefer a to b and b to c (and by extension I prefer a to c). However, in both common as well as ethical usage the term values does not refer to such pedestrian preferences as food predilections (I prefer steak to tofu) or season preferences (I prefer Summer to Winter), but rather contains an essentially normative quality, referring to the ranking of moral values (I prefer caring to honesty).[x] And such moral values are generally held to be strongly stable over time—and formed at an early age. Although it has been argued herein that integrity is reducible to neither virtue nor character, integrity does share with both these constructs the characteristic of stability over time:

Another distinguishing feature of virtue ethics is that character traits are stable, fixed, and reliable dispositions. If an agent possesses the character trait of kindness, we would expect him or her to act kindly in all sorts of situations, towards all kinds of people, and over a long period of time, even when it is difficult to do so. A person with a certain character can be relied upon to act consistently over a time. (The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Virtue Ethics, p. 4)

Consistent with this notion, the reflections of Schlenker (2008) resonate with arguments coming “from several theoretical perspectives…that moral identity plays an important selfregulatory role in linking moral attitudes and behaviors (Aquino & Reed, 2002; Blasi, 1980, 1983; Colby & Damon, 1992; Hardy & Carlo, 2005; Lapsley & Lasky, 2001; Narvaez, Lapsley, Hagele, & Lasky, 2006)” (p. 1081). In emphasizing the internalization of moral goals and traits into moral identity, Schlenker‘s perspective—in concert with the view of the numerous writers which undergird his work—stands “in sharp contrast to earlier cognitive development models that focused on moral reasoning as a determinant of moral behavior [emphasis added]” (p. 1081), such as the writings of Kohlberg (1971, 1976, 1981). To the extent integrity is a matter of moral identity, which is relatively constant over time, integrity itself is correspondingly stable over time.

Schlenker‘s (2008) thinking is further elaborated as a useful distinction between an expedient ideology and an ideology grounded in integrity is outlined. Expediency suggests “principles can and should be tailored to fit the context” (Schlenker, p. 1080); that it is reasonable, at least in the sense of economic rationality, “to take advantage of profitable opportunities and foolish to fail to do so” (Schlenker, p. 1080). An ideology of expediency provides a rationalization for deviations from integrity—at least to the actor herself.[xi] Rather than subscribing to this view, Schlenker proposed commitment to a principled ideology determines the potency of integrity—as evidenced by congruence between values and behavior—, going so far as to refer to differences in principled versus expedient ideologies as variations in integrity itself. The logic here is straightforward: deontological principles are by definition universal, meaning free of variation across person or place—or time. While Schlenker‘s logic does not contain explicit reference to temporal stability as a dimension of integrity, such can be inferred from a careful analysis of the following summation:

The present theory holds that integrity, defined as the strength of personal commitment to a principled ethical ideology, determines the strength of the relationship between ethical beliefs and behavior. Personal commitment links the self-system to the ethical principles, producing greater accessibility of relevant moral constructs in memory, a sense of duty to perform consistently with those principles, a sense of responsibility for the consequences of relevant actions, and less rationalization of deviations from principles, (p. 1117)

Similarly, in arguing “…without constancy all the other virtues to some degree lose their point” (p. 242), MacIntyre (1984) inferred that stability over time is an essential aspect of integrity.

Furrow (2005), as noted earlier, is primarily concerned with understanding integrity as integrated narrative. With respect to such narrative, Furrow cited Paul Ricoeur, Alasdair MacIntyre and Nina Rosenstand as “hav[ing] argued that human beings view themselves as continuous through the many changes in a lifetime by representing themselves in a narrative [emphasis added]” (p. 141). Narratives are different from anthologies in two primary ways: narratives are accounts unfolding over time,[xii] and narratives are seamless stories. Within narrative the seemingly incongruous transformations of the protagonist—past, present and future—come to be understood against the backdrop of a unified, enduring theme helping life to make sense. And Furrow noted the teleological sense of narrative in suggesting “[t]he way we anticipate the endings of our narrative give structure to experience because they give significance to past and present” (p. 141). A necessary element of both narrative and integrity is a stable temporal thread serving to unite seemingly disparate parts into one coherent whole.

Integrity: The Requirement of Permanence Across Roles

“There is clearly disagreement about whether integrity requires internal coherence between the beliefs and values of a person in all roles and domains of his life, or between only those in a particular role or context; about whether integrity is a global or a local concept…” (Musschenga, 2001, p. 221). In focusing on principled ideologies Schlenker (2008) is unequivocal on this question. Within the contention that endemic moral principles guide conduct is incorporated the notion “that principles have a transsituational quality and should be followed regardless of personal consequences or self-serving rationalizations…” (Schlenke, p. 1079). While context or circumstance will matter as one deliberates alternative courses of action, integrity demands decisions as well as behaviors be taken with regard to stable principles—in spite of such context or circumstance.

This thinking contradicts the perspective that individuals occupy disparate roles in their lives, with each such position being associated with a distinct standard for behavior—the notion, e.g., that integrity in business means something very different than integrity in friendship. Within business, integrity might mean conforming behavior to the value of shareholder wealth maximization; within friendship, integrity might mean conforming behavior to the value of love. This logic is consistent with one dimension of what integrity means—that of values-behavior congruence—but inconsistent with another—that of permanence across roles. Only a twisted sort of integrity would allow for ranking profit above love in one life-role and love above profit within another life-role—and what coherent life narrative could be crafted serving to adequately account for such extreme differences in prioritization of values? Yet bifurcation of work and love has become particularly commonplace within those social structures which have systematically commodified labor. The challenge to at least one aspect of integrity within such systems is apparent.

 MacIntyre (1984) is particularly astute here, echoing Furrow‘s (2005) focus on integrated narrative: “…the unity of a human life becomes invisible to us when a sharp separation is made either between the individual and the roles that he or she plays…or between the different role…enactments of an individual life so that life comes to appear as nothing but a series of unconnected episodes” (p. 204). While agreeing with MacIntyre that behavior cannot be assessed independent of intentions, as well as concurring that context serves to make “those intentions intelligible both to agents themselves and to others” (p. 231), Musschenga (2001) nonetheless argued against what he brands “the divided moral personality…[t]hat is the person who acts morally in the diverse roles and domains of his life but lacks an overarching, integrating morality” (p. 231). Musschenga suggested two explanations for this lack of integration: either the splitting of oneself into different selves, or the lack of development of “a general, context-transcending morality” (p. 231)—or, simply put, a lack of integrity.

Furrow (2005) is quite nuanced in his discussion of integrity and permanence across roles. Beginning with the observation that roles—or what he describes as “identity-conferring commitments” (p. 139)—can come into conflict, Furrow suggested “[t]here must be some commitments that are unconditional in that to violate them would be to lose the sense that one has a stable sense of self” (p. 137). The challenge becomes to acknowledge and honor all roles one occupies, while simultaneously crafting coherence among them. 

The view that role commitments are central to crafting an integrated life is shared by Dobel (1990). In offering the image of personal integrity as a complex web with many subnetworks, Dobel abandoned the conception of integrity as a unitary hierarchical structure with a set of higher-order values within which lower-order values inhere. Rather, subnetworks are conceived as held together by a center network of commitments. Extending the metaphor, Dobel imagined “commitment[s], such as roles, are connected to the skeleton of one‘s personality” (p. 355), with those commitments most central to identity “form[ing] the moral, intellectual, and emotional network that individuals use to tie together other clusters of commitments linked to roles” (p. 355). Dobel noted the difficulty of living lives in which “one…role pulls or yanks at the centering values” (p. 355)—a difficulty mitigated by integrity understood as permanence across roles. Absent a systemic sense of integrity it is not only inconsistency across roles, but between roles and core values, which is problematic; failure to ease such discontinuities “disturb[s] all other aspects of the weave of one’s life and raise[s] most of the serious issues of personal integrity” (Dobel, p. 355).

Integrity: the requirement of internal coherence

Having outlined four of the five conditions of integrity—those of external consistency, value-behavior congruence, temporal stability, and permanence across roles—it is time to attend to the final condition, that of internal coherence. It is this sense of integrity Musschenga (2001) references in noting “[w]hen we praise someone for having personal integrity we usually mean that there is internal coherence and consistency between his various convictions” (p. 222). McFall (1987) suggested, “personal integrity requires that an agent (1) subscribe to some consistent set of principles or commitments and (2), in the face of temptation or challenge, (3) uphold these principles or commitments, (4) for what the agent takes to be the right reasons” (p. 8); taken collectively, it is concluded these conditions result in “internal coherence” (p. 9). However, it is McFall‘s (1987) first sense—that of subscribing to some consistent set of principles or commitments—which is referenced by the condition of internal coherence throughout the current treatise.

In their work on teaching business ethics, Burton and his co-authors (Burton, Dunn, & Goldsby, 2006) recommend the benefits of adopting a pluralistic approach to ethics—”the view that more than one basic principle operates equally in an area of human endeavor” (p. 91). This perspective begins with the premise that a balanced ethical outlook exists as “a middle ground between monism (the view that one principle or good is basic) and relativism (the view that no principle or good is basic across individuals or societies)” (Burton et al., 2006, p. 91). In elaborating this view, Burton et al. note that within such a pluralistic decision framework intrinsic goods or principles are first identified, with each then utilized in the course of making a determination as to the proper course of action. Moral intuition “is called upon in judging which principle or good gains the highest priority while still fulfilling other principles or attaining other goods as far as is practical” (Burton et al., p. 91). The demand for internal coherence becomes evident within this decision model as it is suggested the degree to which a decision is deemed moral is dependent upon the extent to which such a decision simultaneously fulfills the demands of multiple ethical perspectives—or failing such unity of coherence offers reasonable justification as to why one or more ethical perspectives are privileged above others as a decision is made.

Candidates for inclusion within a pluralistic decision model range from principle-based to outcome-based to virtue-based to caring-based models of ethics (see Table 2 below).[xiii]

TABLE 3. Moral Considerations Emphasized in Monistic Moral Theories (Burton et al. 2006: 96)

1Kantian deontologyDuty to follow principles
2UtilitarianismNet benefits to society
3Rights basedDuty to protect others‘ rights
4VirtueIndividual character
6CaringDesire to strengthen relationships
7Social contractPeace in society/fulfilling promise to society

This pluralistic view allows each ethical perspective included within the decision model has legitimate normative force, but each is incomplete in that no single framework is able to fully elucidate the good, or right, or fair, or praiseworthy course of action. In order to assess internal coherence it is necessary to appreciate the similarities and differences within the range of perspectives incorporated within the pluralistic decision process.

Deontology.[xiv] The deontological, or universalist, perspective is premised upon the existence of objective standards for deciding matters of right and wrong. These principles can be discerned using the innate capacity for pure reason. Within deontology integrity is defined as “loyalty, in action, to rational principles (general truths) and values” (Peikoff, 1991: 259; Rand, 1964: 52, as cited in Becker, 1998, p. 157). In short, “integrity is the principle of being principled…not allowing any irrational consideration to overwhelm one’s rational conviction” (Becker, 1998, p. 157). There is in such reasoning the requirement for value-behavior congruence; “[i]n judging a person‘s moral integrity one starts from the substantive virtues, principles and values that are seen as essential for the diverse social roles people normally fulfill in society, and examines how those are manifested in his conduct” (Musschenga, 2001, p. 223). But to the point of the current exploration there is also the necessity for internal coherence across the full constellation of deontological tenets: within this set of universal principles must be found no conflict between any two (or more) of the individual principles which comprise the set.  As to the distinction previously drawn between personal integrity and moral integrity, the deontological commitment to “adhere to some set of recognizable moral principles” (McFall, 1987, p. 15) adds to personal integrity a decidedly moral constraint. Just any principles won‘t do, however, if one is to be allowed status as being a person of integrity; while “we need not approve of his or her principles or commitments…we must at least recognize them as ones a reasonable person might take to be of great importance and ones that a reasonable person might be tempted to sacrifice to some lesser yet still recognizable goods” (McFall, p. 11).

Persons of integrity exhibit high regard for a consistent set of significant moral principles.

Utilitarianism. The Aristotelian focus, while principally on virtue, “argues one who reasons well…does so with community and society firmly in mind” (Rugeley & Van Wart, 2006, p. 382); such reflection “can be a Kantian consideration of their duties and responsibilities (Guyer, 2000) or a utilitarian analysis of how to help the most people in the best way (Bentham 1996)” (Rugeley & Van Wart, p. 382). Rather than suggesting right actions consist of those measures conforming to important moral principles, utilitarians adopt the consequentialist (or teleological) approach of assessing actions based on assessment of the capacity of the action to achieve favorable outcomes. In its most common formulation the teleological good is described as “the greatest good for the greatest number.‘[xv] Or, as Teehan (1995) puts it in outlining Dewey‘s pragmatism, “[m]oral values…develop in relation to the concrete needs of morally problematic situations and are held as valuable due to their efficacy in resolving particular moral problems” (p. 843)—a decidedly teleological prospect.

Several authors, most notably Kohlberg (1971, 1976, 1981), have devoted study to the variety of ways in which moral development might occur. Though a matter of some considerable controversy, such explorations have suggested those exhibiting utilitarian calculation are more highly developed morally than are those utilizing deontological logic. On this reasoning, as Rugeley and Van Wart (2006) note, “lower levels of development reflect selfish and selfcentered concerns, and subsequent levels gradually evolve to more selfless, altruistic…modes of being” (p. 382). Chief among these more selfless perspectives having an eye, not toward personal gain, but rather toward the collective good, stands utilitarianism.

“What then is moral integrity?…moral integrity is intimately linked with the social side of morality” (Musschenga, 2001, p. 223). And as such it can be concluded persons of integrity exhibit high regard for maximizing net social benefits.

Virtue. It has been argued heretofore that integrity is not merely a virtue. However, this is not to deny that one of the hallmark characteristics of integrity is virtue. “Virtues are dispositions—acquired habits—to act in ways that are conducive to developing our potential” (Furrow, 2005, p. 116). The focus on virtue changes in a fundamental way the kind of question we ask about ethics: 

Where deontology and consequentialism concern themselves with the right action, virtue ethics is concerned with the good life and what kinds of persons we should be. “What is the right action?” is a significantly different question to ask from “How should I live? What kind of person should I be?” Where the first type of question deals with specific dilemmas, the second is a question about an entire life. Instead of asking what is the right act here and now, virtue ethics asks what kind of person should I be in order to get it right all the time. (The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Virtue Ethics, pp. 3-4)

Within virtue theory the moral objective becomes to craft unity between actions and “moral image” (Teehan, 1995, p. 847), rather than between actions and values. This can occur in one of two ways: either action can be brought into conformance with moral image, or moral image can be brought into conformance with an action to which one is solidly committed. AsDewey declares, “”the thing actually at stake in any serious deliberation is not a difference of quantity, but what kind of person one is to become, what sort of self is in the making…‘“ (as cited in Teehan, 1995, p. 846). An example well serves to deconstruct the thought process driven, not by duty or outcome, but by considerations of the virtuous self:

I am dressing in the morning. As I go to choose a tie I find that the one I had planned to wear is missing – a problematic situation. I need to find a different tie which will match my outfit. When I do so I transform the problematic situation by resolving it. This does effect a change in me also, I go from a slight feeling of anxiety and indecision to a state of calm; but the change is not one which affects my character and hence it is a non-moral decision. We can, however, change the scenario a bit and get a different view. Suppose that when I search for a tie I find that I must choose between a tie that matches my outfit but which needs to be ironed and a tie that does not need to be ironed but which clashes with my outfit. Now I must choose between ironing the matching tie, which will make me late for an appointment I promised to make on time, and wearing an ill-matching tie that will make me self-conscious about my appearance. Here is a dilemma which will affect my character: do I put my concern for my appearance before obligation to others or do I put my vanity behind me, realizing that I put myself in this situation due to my habitual tardiness, and accept the personal price which will come from keeping my promise to be prompt? While this isstill not an earth shattering dilemma it does fall within the scope of moral deliberation. According to Dewey all such dilemmas are to be resolved not by applying the categorical imperative nor by calculating the maximization of good but rather by answering the questions ‘what kind of person do I wish to be? What kind of world do I wish there to be?‘“ (Teehan, 1995, pp. 845-46 (emphasis added))

Further, virtue theory is aspirational in that it stresses “integrity…not between an action and who I am, or who I have been, but between an act and who I desire to be” (Teehan, 1995, p. 848). And unlike deontology and utilitarianism, which attend to the morality of particular actions, with respect to virtue “moral integrity…is much more than sheer coherence and consistency…it concerns what it takes to be a whole, a completely moral person” (Musschenga 2001, p. 227).

Persons of integrity exhibit high regard for realizing their personal ethical ideal.

Justice. Justice has oftentimes been parsed into three categories: commutative, distributive and social. Briefly put, the first of these refers “to the fairness of exchanges or agreements;” the second of these “to the ways in which the burdens and the benefits of society are “distributed‘ or allocated;” and the third of these “to the ways in which society is structured so that all can make their contribution to the welfare of the whole” (Weigert, 2006, p. 2). In concert with this commonplace trifurcation is the view that “persons of integrity understand that one cannot do the right thing in a vacuum…[j]ust institutions…are the underpinnings of personal integrity” (Manning & Stroud 2007, p. 6). Integrity can only be fully exercised within the context of fair social systems.

Beyond the institutional perspective on justice, however, is a further observation more central to the current exploration: that “if I claim that “justice‘ is an essential part of my life but I systematically treat other unfairly, I am not “acting with integrity‘“ (Weigert, 2006, p. 2). This comment clearly references values-behavior congruence, but not only this dimension of integrity: it further alludes to the truth that to be a person of integrity is in part to be a person holding to the foundational value of justice—in both its institutional as well as personal manifestations—in the first instance. Or, as put by Rugeley and Van Wart (2006), “[t]he person of good character…has a refined sense of justice or fairness that instinctively detects disjointedness and inequity” (p. 382)—and presumably acts in such a way as to remedy these deficiencies through the exercise of self-control (though “not necessarily [through]…total self-abnegation of personal interests”) (p. 382). 

Persons of integrity exhibit high regard for fair treatment of others.

Feminism. A recent addition to the landscape of ethical decision-making is feminist moral philosophy. Here the focus is “on relationships, responsibilities to stakeholders other than the firm itself, consensus building and communication, and trust and cooperation” (Burton & Dunn 2005, p. 457). Rather than emphasizing objective, formal relationships between firms, or among firms and stakeholders, ethics of care recommend “a way of managing that must be understood in depth and lived within particular contexts” (Burton & Dunn, 2005, p. 457). The demand here is that we recognize and take seriously the moral worth of relationships—not in a general sense, but in the only sense in which we experience them: personally.

Within feminist moral philosophy discussion shifts from rights and duties, or outcomes, or character, or fairness as “right acts are [re]defined as actions that emerge from certain motives, namely those that exhibit care” (Furrow, 2005, p. 132). “Thus, in the ethics of care, the idea of a caring person is primary, and conceptions of right or wrong action are derived from that” (Furrow, 2005, p. 132). In contrast to those conceptions of self which view the individual “as some pre-formed entity which needs to have various layers of inhibitions or enculturation stripped away so that it can shine in all its glorious splendor” (Teehan, 1995, p. 844), ethics of care are more consistent with notions of identity which do not “tend to introversion and isolation of the self from its social relations” (Teehan, 1995, p. 844)—and as such are compatible with the philosophy of Dewey.

As to the tie between feminist moral theory and integrity, “”wholeness‘ has just as much to do with one‘s coherent connections and relationships with other people…as it does with one‘s relation to oneself” (Solomon, 1999, p. 39). Integrity is not merely a matter of individual temperament or disposition or make-up, but importantly a matter of sense-making which is “mutually constitutive” for both parties to a caring relationship (Teehan, 1995, p. 851).[xvi]

Persons of integrity exhibit high regard for nurturing caring relationships

Internal Coherence: A Conclusion. It has been asserted herein the requirement for internal coherence involves the person of integrity exhibiting high regard for a consistent set of significant moral principles, for maximizing net social benefits, for realizing their personal ethical ideal, for fair treatment of others, and for nurturing caring relationships. The requirement for internal coherence additionally demands all this be done simultaneously, or at a minimum that the demands of the most relevant ethical perspective be reasonably balanced against the requirements of competing ethical perspectives as decisions are made. The person of high integrity is one who, while fully cognizant of the multiplicity of ethical demands which inhere within any particular circumstance, manages to successfully embark upon a course of action which is at once satisfying to the deontologist, to the utilitarian, to the virtue theorist, to the justice theorist, and to the feminist—or at a minimum to a subset of these frameworks most relevant to the issue under deliberation. And when it is difficult to arbitrate inconsistency between competing models of the moral good, “[p]ersons who are able to resolve such conflicts without continuing to feel deeply torn between the values in play have integrity; persons who cannot do not have integrity” (Furrow, 2005, p. 137). Critical core values “keep us integrated in a way that others do not because they are more central to our identities than others” (McLeod, 2005, pp. 119-20).[xvii] If we were to go against these values, we would experience what McLeod refers to as “psychological alienation” (p. 119)—suggesting “the importance of psychological integration for [moral] integrity” (p. 120).

Organizational Integrity

The concern throughout has been to consider integrity as intimately fixed to an individual moral agent. After all, one might well ask with MacIntyre (1984): “In what does the unity of an individual life consist? The answer is that its unity is the unity of a narrative embodied in a single life” (p. 218). 

Yet, not a few writers purport to speak to the question of organizational integrity. It is worth considering what this might mean, if anything at all.

Simons (1999) provided insight here, extrapolating from more traditional notions of behavioral integrity to offer—at least by insinuation—a concept of organizational integrity. Defining behavioral integrity as “the perceived pattern of alignment between an actor‘s words and deeds” (p. 19), Simons posited behavioral integrity entails not only the perceived fit between espoused and enacted values, but additionally between espoused values and perceived promisekeeping. On this formulation integrity is not only assessed through evaluating the extent to which behavior adheres to psychological contracts in general, but more specifically through assessments of behavioral adherence “to mission statements, corporate value statements, [and] descriptions of…management styles…” (Simons, p. 19). So one notion of organizational integrity has to do with the confluence of personal behavior and organizational purpose.[xviii]

An empirically supported concept of organizational integrity has to do with the congruence of personal behavior and organizational values.[xix] Within this research stream the concept of values enactment is introduced. “Values enactment refers broadly to employee and managerial behaviors that are aligned with the explicitly defined core values of the organization such as those found in mission and values statements” (Gruys et al., 2008, p. 5). In their study, Gruys et al. explored the outcomes associated with “reinforc[ing] the importance of [core organizational] values in the day-to-day lives of executives, managers, and all employees (Anderson, 1997; Pruzan, 1998; Rosenthal & Masarech, 2003; Wetlaufer, 1999)” (p. 5) by drawing upon longitudinal data from an organization utilizing a performance evaluation system specifically capturing ratings for how well employees enacted the core values of the organization. The central research question had to do with whether employees are more likely to stay with the organization, and get promoted, “when the social learning context influences employees to effectively enact the values of the organization” (Gruys et al., p. 10).

The findings? As individual enactment of organizational values increases, voluntary turnover decreases. And as individual values enactment of organizational values increases, so to do promotions for individual employees—but only so long as such employees are within departments that also enact the organization‘s core values. In an interesting permutation of this second finding, as individual enactment of departmental values increases, so to do promotions for individual employees—irrespective of individual enactment of organizational values. The conclusion offered from an examination of these findings is that “correspondence between values and turnover at the individual level of analysis suggests that incorporating the measurement of values enactment into the performance appraisal process is a viable organizational strategy for increasing retention of those employees who adhere to the organization‘s value structure” (Gruys et al., 2008, pp. 25-26).

Simons‘ (1999) observation on the matter of organizational integrity is that perception of values enactment is critically important for the development of trust.[xx] Within neo-classical economics (Jensen & Meckling, 1976), and particularly transaction-cost economics (Williamson, 1964, 1975, 1981, 1983, 1984), it is held that trust substitutes for more expensive forms of organizational structuring—such as developing and monitoring formal contracts. To the extent both these claims are accurate, measures reinforcing trust enhance organizational efficiency and commensurately elevate corporate profitability.

But just what is organizational integrity? Some would argue not only for integrity of organizations, but for morality of organizations as well: “[i]ntegrity, by contrast [from autonomy], entails offering forth our best judgment to members of our moral community about how we and they should live and be treated by others…[i]t involves supporting a moral identity for that community” (McLeod, 2005, p. 111). The research into organizational integrity, however, contains none of this normative flair. Rather, organizational integrity is operationalized as the extent to which organizational values inhere in an individual’s values and/or behavior. It is not the organization that has integrity, after all; to speak of organizational integrity with regard to this empirical referent is to use the term integrity in only its most prosaic sense.

However, there is an alternative meaning that could be given to organizational integrity. Consider MacIntyre (1984), who in penning his seminal work on virtue proceeds through three stages: “a first which concerns virtues as qualities necessary to achieve the goods internal to practices; a second which considers them as qualities contributing to the good of a whole life; and a third which relates them to the pursuit of a good for human beings the conception of which can only be elaborated and possessed within an ongoing social tradition” (p. 273). In this third stage, organizational integrity might be conceptualized as the congruence of organizational values and societal values, or organizational behavior and societal values.[xxi] A compelling argument could be made that stakeholder theory has as its normative grounding just such an interpretation of organizational integrity: legitimate stakeholders are those having a societal-level claim against the corporation.

Future Directions

It is impossible to conclude this exploration of integrity without being confronted with the sharp disconnect between integrity understood as a normative ideal and integrity as operationalized within organizational research. How might greater coherence between relevant theory and research design and methods be crafted? Perhaps taking each constitutive element of the definition of integrity in turn will provide some direction.

Macro-level research might address the theme of external consistency, measuring uniformity between a corporation‘s values, statement of mission, objectives, goals and strategies and the mores and desirable outcomes associated with the society within which the organization is embedded. To the extent social legitimacy is enhanced by such external consistency—i.e., as improvements in values fit are elevated—a positive correlation between what might now reasonably be called organizational integrity and improvements in organizational performance could be hypothesized.

The balance of the requirements of integrity might inform micro-level research. The most obvious improvements here have to do with scale development and research design. Valuebehavior congruence, argued herein as being perhaps the most fundamental dimension of integrity, when operationalized requires clear comparisons between values—whether personal, organizational, or societal—and observed behaviors. As to scale development, defaulting to existing measures of honesty as if these were measures of integrity should be avoided. Similarly, it should not be presumed behaviors automatically illumine values; actions must be assessed by independent measures if value-behavior congruence is to be gauged. Ideally observations of behavior would be offered by impartial respondents, and compared or contrasted with espoused values, in order to determine the extent to which values are enacted; the result would be a normatively-defensible empirical measure of one essential dimension of integrity.

While value-behavior congruence can legitimately be measured at a single point in time, longitudinal research is demanded if one is to accurately assess temporal stability. The appropriate time duration between administrations of integrity assessment is an open question, but it should be kept in mind that values are relatively stable—meaning the timeframe should be longer rather than shorter. Evaluation of permanence across roles necessitates either observing the agent in a variety of contexts, or targeting multiple reliable respondents who have observed the agent within or across the roles she occupies. Finally, the stipulation of internal coherence— while the most complex of the dimensions of integrity—is perhaps more easily measured. Brady‘s (1990) survey of ethical theoretic aptitudes might serve as a model here. This instrument “is designed to ascertain an individual‘s inclination to approach ethical issues from a deontological or a utilitarian perspective” (Brady, pp. 211-213). Extending this logic, the instrument could be expanded to incorporate the relevant frameworks of virtue, justice, caring, and social contract. Research design would have be sophisticated enough to incorporate an overall measure of coherence within an agent‘s ethical decision-making across all these dimensions of moral theory.

Locke and Becker (1998), in their exploration of leadership integrity, note that “[b]y being philosophically passive, academics unknowingly perpetuate past philosophical errors”(pp. 175-176).[xxii] Nothing could be truer. While extant organizational research has allegedly investigated the antecedents and outcomes associated with integrity, in failing to offer a normative grounding for this core construct the legitimacy of such research is called into question. As measurements of integrity have lacked philosophical rigor, associated empirical research has thereby unavoidably lacked theoretical rigor—and by extension practical rigor as well. We can do better. By attending to the philosophically grounded multi-dimensional definition of integrity elucidated herein, refinements to construct operationalization bear the potential to be dramatically enhance organizational research into integrity.

About the Author

Craig P. Dunn is an associate professor at Western Washington University and an associate professor Emeritus of San Diego State University, in both instances specializing in business and society issues. His research interests include managerial ethics and values, corporate social responsibility, corporate governance, the meaning of work, and social entrepreneurship. He is active in the International Association for Business and Society—publisher of the Journal Business & Society—serving as a fellow as well as past president.



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[i] Musschenga (2001) suggests the first cell represents a ―theoretical possibility,‖ but is one which ―does not appear in ordinary language‖ (p. 222). 

[ii] At least one writer challenges this bifurcation of moral and personal integrity, suggesting ―[t]here is a temptation to make this task too easy by drawing a distinction between moral and personal integrity and saying that moral integrity requires truth telling, honesty, and fairness while personal integrity does not‖ (McFall 1987, p. 6). 

[iii] The first of these will require the greatest elaboration, and will be taken up last.

[iv] The implications of this finding for operationalization of the integrity construct within empirical research will be explored as future research directions are proposed.

[v] Coherence is the opposite of hypocrisy; hypocrisy involves espousing values which are not reflected in behavior.

[vi] Simons notes behavioral integrity can only be assessed retrospectively, by ―focus[ing] on the past pattern of alignment between words and deeds‖ (Simons 1999, p. 23). 

[vii] The other fundamental intuition is that ―integrity is primarily a formal relation one has to oneself, or between parts or aspects of one’s self‖—what is called herein the requirement for internal coherence (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

[viii] Another ―kind of coherence is simple consistency: consistency within one’s set of principles or commitments‖—again, what is called herein the requirement for internal coherence (McFall 1987, p. 7).

[ix] This is the fundamental point of distinction between the work of Palanski & Yammarino and the current work: these authors extrapolate a definition based on the misuse of the term integrity within extant organizational literature—which by their own admission ―draws from a body of literature that contains disparate theory and little empirical research‖ (p. 182), while the project here is to deduce a definition of integrity from an exploration of sound philosophical reasoning.

[x] In addition, ―[s]elf-knowledge is essential for integrity because we have to know what our values and commitments are if we are to put them in order‖ (Furrow 2005, p. 137).

[xi] There is a clear distinction to be made between rationalization, which involves ascribing one‘s actions to causes only superficially reasonable, and justification, which involves defending one‘s actions based on wellgrounded principles.

[xii] Contributions to anthologies may be contemporaneous.

[xiii] To this list might be added the theory of the land ethic, which in addition to impacts upon members of the human community considers impacts of decisions upon non-human species—as well as upon the balance of the ecosystem. To this list might also be added the theory of libertarianism, which emphasizes commitment to those actions tending to maximize the capacity for free, informed personal choice—though it is here suggested autonomy is a background condition for integrity rather than a separate framework within a pluralistic decision process.

[xiv] The deontological perspective considers both duties as well as rights, and in so doing subsumes two of the moral considerations referenced within Table 2 above.

[xv] The tautological nature of this characterization should not be lost on the reader; this represents one of the deficiencies of the utilitarian perspective, that as benefits and costs are weighed one against the other some a priori assessment of what factors get categorized as ‗benefits‘ and what factors get categorized as ‗costs‘ has to have been made.

[xvi] One of the more fascinating issues which has emerged primarily from the writers associated with feminist moral philosophy, but not only from them, has been the question as to whether or not persons of integrity have a duty to exhibit the ‗proper‘ affective reaction to an ethics challenge. Furrow (2005), for one, argues ―[m]oral virtues are habits of character that express themselves in the correct emotional response to any situation we might confront‖ (pp. 116-17). Consideration of this matter will not be considered in the current treatise.

[xvii] ―On the self-integration view of integrity, integrity is a matter of persons integrating various parts of their personality into a harmonious, intact whole. Understood in this way, the integrity of persons is analogous to the integrity of things: integrity is primarily a matter of keeping the self intact and uncorrupted‖ (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

[xviii] Freeman and Gilbert‘s (1988) notion of personal projects enterprise strategy would have us turn this logic on its head. In wanting the ―answer to ‗What is a person?‘ to allow for the maximum amount of liberty so that persons can pursue their own projects in a civilized manner,‖ these writers argue ―…organizations, and other institutions are mere means toward these [personal] ends.‖

[xix] While the primary concern here is not with the instrumental value of integrity—i.e., with justifying integrity on the basis of improvements to organizational performance—, those few empirical studies adopting a groundedtheory approach are instructive on the matter of organizational integrity, and what this concept might mean (see, e.g., Gruys et al. 2008).

[xx] In addition, ―employee trust leads to: Employee willingness to promote & implement espoused change; Employee intent to stay with organization; Employee organizational citizenship behavior (OCB); Employee performance.‖ (Simons 1999, p. 19).

[xxi] As noted in the discussion of integrity as external consistency, integrity might be conceptualized in part as the congruence of personal values and societal values, or personal behavior and societal values; as McLeod (2005) notes, ―[w]hen our conception of what is good for us conflicts with what we think is right and we act on the former, we act with personal autonomy, but forego our integrity‖ (p. 124). However, external consistency does not constitute organizational integrity; nowhere in this formulation is the organization referenced.

[xxii] Locke and Becker (1998) confront head-on the matter of leader integrity as value-behavior congruence, suggesting ―…for example, an organizational leader who claims that all employees will be treated justly (i.e., in accordance with their actions and the full context in which their actions occur) and acts consistently with this claim is a leader with integrity. A leader who professes justice but does not act accordingly lacks integrity, as does a leader who professes corrupt principles (e.g., racism) and acts to promote them‖ (pp. 175-76).

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