Trusted Advisor

The Trust Matters Blog: Trust Principles

Integrity: What’s Up With That?

Can You Roll The Dice On IntegrityLike trust, integrity is something we all talk about, meaning many different things, but always assuming that everyone else means just what we do.  That leads to some vagueness and confusion. But a careful examination of how we use the words in common language is useful.

Integrity and the Dictionary

Merriam Webster says it’s “the quality of being honest and fair,” and/or “the state of being complete or whole.”

If you’re into derivations of words (as I am), then it’s the second of these definitions that rings true. The root of “integrity” is Latin, integer.  That suggests the heart of the matter (integral), and an entirety. “Integer” also has the sense of a non-fractional number, i.e. whole, not fragmented, complete.

In manufacturing, we have the idea of “surface integrity,” the effect that a machined surface has on the performance of the product in question: integrity here means keeping a package of specified performance levels intact. Similarly, a high-integrity steel beam is one that will not break or otherwise become compromised within certain parameters of stress.

Related also to this theme of wholeness is the idea of transparency, of things being whole, complete, not hidden – in this sense, we have high integrity to the extent we appear the same way to all people. Think of the phrase “two-faced” as an example of someone without integrity. (For a somewhat different and nuanced take on this issue in cyberspace, see @danahboyd on Mark Zuckerberg and multiple online identities).

Sometimes when we say someone has integrity, we mean they act consistently, in accord with principles. We say someone has high integrity when they stick to their guns, even in the face of resistance or difficulty.

Which raises an interesting question: where’s the line between integrity and obstinacy? For that matter, can a politician who believes passionately in the art of compromise ever be considered to have high integrity?

Then there’s that other common use of integrity that has a moral overtone – honorable, honest, upright, virtuous, and decent. Some of it has to do with truth-telling; but some of it has to do with pursuing a moral code.

Yet that raises another interesting question: can a gang member or a mafioso be considered to have integrity? Can an Occupy person ever consider a Wall Streeter to have integrity? Or vice versa? There may be honor among thieves, but can there be integrity?

Integrity – Your Choice?

So which is it?  Does integrity mean you tell the truth? Does it mean you operate from values? Does it mean you always keep your word? Does it mean you live a moral life? Does it mean your life is an open book?

Let’s be clear: there is no “right” answer. Words like “integrity” mean whatever we choose to make them mean; there is no objective “meaning” that exists in a way that can be arbitrated.

But that makes it even more important that we be clear about what we do mean. It just helps in communication.

For my part, I’m going to use “integrity” mainly to mean whole, complete, transparent, evident-to-all, untainted, what-you-see-is-what-you-get.

For other common meanings of “integrity,” I’m going to stick with synonyms like credible or honest; or moral and upright; or consistent.

What do you mean when you think of integrity?

Applying Trust Principles to Pricing

A New Perspective on PricingLet’s get tactical.

Friend Mark runs a small coaching business, mainly by himself.  He focuses on an intersection of personal and business development issues: helping people get unstuck.

The usual approaches to pricing in that business are tried and true. Rates are typically quoted for a month at a time, over a planned period of months. Variations on the theme are weekly rates, or hourly rates with a stipulated number of hours agreed upon up front.

Basically, it’s a time-based fee linked to some agreement about the period of time over which the agreement will be in effect. It’s an arrangement familiar not only to coaches, but to consultants, lawyers and other professionals.

Attempts are occasionally made to introduce value-based billing. The attempts succeed or founder based on both the definition of value, and the percent of said value attributable to the professional. I’d love to hear from readers about successful examples, but I’ve rarely run across them.
Mark, however, has some interesting ideas.  Let him tell it.

Many of my clients are hourly-type billers like me.  Since it takes me 8 hours, on average, to get a client from stuck to where they want to be…one approach is to charge them 8x the rate THEY bill at. Using their rates rather than mine, I suspect, is both easier to comprehend for them, and it strikes them as client-focused.

Another approach is that I figure I can work with about a hundred paying clients a year.  So, each client represents 1% of my income.  So I now ask 1% of their income as the fee.

Again, from what I can see, it engenders even more trust in the coaching relationship, helps things go faster, and makes it more likely for clients to refer.  Now, there’s no way I’d ask them to verify that the figure they give me is 1% of their income – I leave it all up to them.  And, of course, if they aren’t satisfied with the journey, I don’t charge them at all.  I leave that entirely up to them.  [David Maister used to do the same—CHG]

I see two powerful themes in the approaches that Mark is developing. First, I’m sure the pricing feels more ‘fair’ to his clients, because he is overtly working off their economic model, not his. It’s the opposite of one size fits all.

The other thing is that he trusts his clients – right from the outset. And as I’ve often written about, the impulse toward reciprocity plays out strongly in trust. We live up to the trust people place in us – and live down to the suspicions others have of us.

I asked Mark, “Have you ever, to your knowledge, been screwed over by an unscrupulous client taking advantage of your ‘honor-box’ approach to pricing?”

Mark’s answer: “Never.”