AB Thinks  →  29th January 2019

Inviting the challenge

AB Thinks

The writer CS Lewis said that ‘integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching’.

He’s assuming perhaps that it’s harder in some way to do ‘good’ when you’re on your own. But what of doing the right thing when everyone is watching? In communications, that’s not always the easiest way to go.

Take the case of Claas Relotius, the award-winning journalist who was recently exposed as having lied in his reports and making up quotes and sources in the stories he had published in Germany’s most respected publications.

Der Spiegel, one of Relotius’s biggest exponents, sacked him. This was to be expected, especially at a time when honest journalism and non-biased storytelling is under threat. But instead of then trying to brush the issue under the rug – the easy option, perhaps – Der Spiegel took the difficult route, not just putting their hands up and admitting mistake, but publishing a 23-page special examining the errors made. The front page read: ‘Tell it like it is.’

It was the right thing to do; honest reporting, warts and all, even when you’re the subject.

In the first episode of The Internal Comms Podcast, guest Rachel Miller told Katie Macaulay: “The authenticity and integrity and honesty that we try and champion in our organisations – I have to do that. I have to role model that for myself, for my business, and for my children.”

Organisational integrity certainly goes hand in hand with that of its staff. In the case of Der Spiegel: ultimately their own integrity wouldn’t have been so badly compromised if one of their reporters hadn’t been so dishonest.

But the ‘one bad apple’ excuse doesn’t rub anymore. In order to improve – to make sure this doesn’t happen again – the whole organisation must admit its mistake and learn from it. Tackling it publicly and transparently is often the best way to go.

“The more people challenge my thinking, the more I learn,” said Rachel. “And the more I’ll admit: ‘I got this absolutely wrong’.”

The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals that trust has changed profoundly in the past year—people have shifted their trust to the relationships within their control, most notably their employers.

According to the report, 58 per cent of  general population employees say they look to their employer to be a trustworthy source of information about contentious societal issues.

Given this – businesses have an opportunity to build on this trust and IC can help achieve this.

And while sharing news about big, positive changes in any organisation is a key component of internal comms, finding honest, arresting ways of sharing the bad news is just as – if not more – important.

If integrity is grappling with the conflicts of what’s important, then you can’t claim integrity unless you’ve faced those conflicts – those challenges – head on. And done the right thing, even when the whole world is watching.