Which organization has the most integrity?

by cv harquail on July 1, 2008

Last week’s AdAge online poll asked the simple question:

Which organization has more integrity: J&J, Google or UPS?

google-logo.jpg ups-logo.jpg

It seemed to me like a dumb question…

… because the voting system doesn’t let people explain their reasoning and thus you can’t really understand how voters define integrity or make their decisions. Websites have these mini-polls because the polls help to teach readers to interact with the site. Although these mini-polls can be fun, I usually find them troubling. As a trained scientist, I know all the ways in which these polls generate meaningless, ‘bad’ data…But, as an observer of organizations and authenticity, I know that this poll is hooking into something important.

I wondered why I cared…

How do I know that there is something important here? Because I thought about the question again several times even days after I clicked in my reply. I had to figure out why I’d chosen J&J as having the most integrity, above Google. And, I wanted to be know why UPS was never in the running.

Why not UPS?

Starting with the easy question– why was UPS never in the running as having the most integrity? Well, I don’t really know much about UPS. I always wave or say hello to the UPS guys & galls who bring me my online purchases, I can laugh about their silly ‘brown’ campaign, and I’m hip to the all the jokes about why the drivers’ shorts are so cute. But that’s pretty much the sum of my experience with the organization. UPS and its reputation have never made a big impact on me. And this is despite my using UPS all the time.

Why wasn’t Google the organization with the most integrity?

After all, I *heart* Google. I use Google everything, and I Google everything. Google is a great place to work. We have friends who worked for Google. I wrote a teaching case about the meaning of Google’s IPO strategy and what it said about their organizational identity. I cut Google some slack when I read about how their huge server farms devour electricity, divert water, and extract concessions from local government. I even overlook the ways that Google contributes to censorship in China . But still, I think that Google rocks.

I also think that Google is ambitious. Google is powerful. Google is clever. And Google has avoided any large scale consumer disappointment or service failure– so far.

We can anticipate that at some point, the ambition, power, & cleverness, as well as all of Google’s multitasking, might lead Google to miss something or to make a big mistake. It will be at that point, when Google makes a mistake so big that even Google fans like me are taken aback, that we’ll see what kind of integrity Google really has.

To me, integrity is doing ‘what is right’, especially in situations where doing something wrong is easier.

Applying this definition to Google, I probably should find them to be a little empty in the integrity department because of censorship, the environment and so on. But I diminish the importance of these smaller lapses (I even think of them as "smaller"), because they pale in comparison to Google’s larger successes.

So why does J&J win for me?

J&J is a company that I know fairly well. I’ve taught management cases about them, my step-dad worked at J&J for a while, and I bought all of their baby products when my girls were small.J&J is also an organization ‘with a past’– and that past, as everyone knows, is the ‘Tylenol scandal’. To this day, even 25 years later, people hold up the example of J&J’s response as the gold standard in crisis management. But what is it that people have taken away/concluded about J&J from their handling of this event?

The cynic suggests that it’s all about "telling the story ", and that the important issue is "How will the public react?" The idealist retorts that what we really learned is that caring about customers’ health and safety, as well as the application of a clear sense of ehtics (e.g., the J&J Credo ), is what really matters.

In this case, I’m inclined to side with the idealist.

After all of these years, the lesson that stayed with me was that J&J did the right thing, when it would have been so easy to do the expedient or popular thing instead.

J&J could have done many other things that weren’t wrong, necessarily, but that weren’t fully right. Because what I remember is that J&J did the right thing, they win my vote for having the most integrity.

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{ 1 comment }

Donna Steinhorn July 2, 2008 at 1:05 pm

I probably would have said Google until I read your reply. Because you’re correct, their integrity has never been tested. But I do feel they are authentic…which makes me want to know…what’s the distinction betweeen authentic and integrity? And if you had to choose on the basis of authenticity, would your choice be the same?

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