It’s unclear if the world of business was ever a “handshake” world. It certainly plays well on classic TV, and it offers fond memories of The Way It Was Then, but, regardless, it’s certainly not that way anymore. But should that mean the only thing defining your reputation is the letter of the law? Not at all. In fact, your word — your reputation for integrity — can be one of your most powerful marketing tools.
It’s not enough to do your best to appear to have a high level of integrity or to put that out in your marketing. Sooner or later, false integrity will be exposed, and, in these days of instant and easy worldwide communication, there is no way to turn off the negative flow once it starts. You can absolutely, counter that with positive PR, a service we successfully deliver for our clients every day because not all criticism is fair or warranted. But that doesn’t stop the negative.
One of the best ways to protect yourself from an increasingly negative and cynical internet marketplace is to build a wall of positive integrity around yourself, your brand and your operations, so that, when people see you, what you do, and how you do it, the positive and honorable shines through.
Begin by setting checks and balances on yourself. Don’t trust yourself to always make the right or best decisions. We all have blind spots and weak moments, and, these days, one misstep can create an avalanche of bad PR that has to be cleaned up. Instead, of just winging it, build intention into your statements and actions. Protect yourself from mistakes and weak moments using systems defined by integrity. Build off your vision and your core values. Do things a certain way for a certain reason, and do your best not to deviate from that.
Invest time every day building your own personal integrity and focus on what’s most important. Don’t ignore warning signs and cautionary messages from people you trust until you become one of those people who ends up losing everything and is left standing around wondering where it all went wrong. No “ride” is worth that level of devastation.
Hold those around you to a similar standard. Expect a high level of compulsory care and judgment in the processes of the people you trust most. While it can be creative, interesting and entertaining to have a loose cannon on the team, understand there will be consequences for that, and build mitigation of those into your business protocols. Remember, even at Rolling Stone Magazine, there was only room for one Hunter Thompson.
Create a culture in your brand that, when you screw up – and you will – the first reaction most people have is disbelief. If you’re known to have little integrity, and you screw up, people will then take that incident and use it to prove the rumor-developed opinion they already have. In contrast, if they believe you to be a person of integrity leading a company of integrity when the inevitable negative thing happens, you will be able to point to the mistake as an aberration while, in the process, offering proof of your personal integrity.