Supply chain 15 August 2016

The value of integrity to micro business owners

Business owners tend to feel safer around individuals of integrity

In business, integrity is a quality that shines through. Here, author John Reynard discusses the many reasons why it’s essential to maintain integrity as a micro business owner, whether you’re a buyer or a seller.

Integrity is an expression of wholeness in which people live out their values to their highest ideals. It is honesty and sincerity, and people with it show consistency between what they think, say, and do. They do not compromise themselves for easy material gain.

In business, buyers feel safe around individuals of integrity and are secure in doing business with them. They know they will be respected.

When clients buy from you, they put their trust in you. If we let them down, their own reputation is threatened. Trust has to be earned however, and that takes time. At the beginning of a working relationship, people are not used to each other, and motives and actions can be misinterpreted.

All the best clients I have worked with have initially presented us with challenges. It’s as though there is an integrity test that we must pass as a prerequisite to establishing a long-term relationship.

When running my own market research company, I attended an exploratory meeting with a German manufacturer. It became evident we were discussing an important project. A whole new product line had to be designed and developed, and the client needed to understand their target market in considerable detail.

The meeting went well. My German hosts treated me well and explained their requirements in great depth. I suggested a research methodology that they liked and we submitted our proposal involving a series of focus groups with their potential users across Europe. After some negotiation on price we were awarded the job.

The assignment did turn out to be a challenge. The subject matter was complex and we inadvertently recruited a number of inappropriate respondents to the focus groups. I apologised profusely, but I knew our patrons were beginning to question our abilities. Then, something else went wrong. One of our normally much-appreciated interviewers floundered. She failed to moderate her groups skilfully. Maybe she was having a bad day, but this was the last straw for our client.

At such moments, one notices differences in national characteristics. When the British get upset, they tend to couch their words in diplomatic terms, and the gravity of the situation is not always communicated.

Germans on the other hand make it clear when they are not happy – they speak openly and explicitly, and I found myself on the receiving end of such Teutonic clarity. I listened to their complaints and acknowledged them – there was no point arguing. We were offered a deal. They would continue with us, but we would have to pay towards the next phase of the research from our own funds.

We could have agreed to take the hit and then cut corners to save on costs. Alternatively, we could have simply continued but been resentful during the remainder of the project. We did neither and remained totally committed. We used the insight we had gained to define realistic expectations during the next phase, and all went well.

Integrity demands commitment. Our client saw how we handled the challenges. We did not seek to blame others, argue, or give up. Instead, we demonstrated a level of integrity that attracted them to us for the long term. We passed the integrity test and went on to enjoy an extremely positive, ongoing and profitable relationship.

Entrepreneurs with integrity always set the tone of their organisations. If the person at the top conducts their affairs with integrity, the rest of the team behaves similarly. People recognise it is the norm and live up to it. If, on the other hand, the boss lacks integrity and deceives clients, fiddles expenses, or talks about others behind their backs, such behaviour is witnessed by staff, and they feel it is all right to behave likewise.

The more we live with integrity, the more we attract clients with the same values. These are the ones we want. They are appreciative, ready to pay a premium, do what they say they will do and come back for more.

As a small business owner, consider the following:

  • In what situations has your integrity been tested? Assuming you exercised your integrity, what was your payback?
  • On what occasions have you let yourself down by not fully exercising your integrity? What was the price you had to pay and what did you learn from the experience?

John Reynard is an entrepreneur and author of the ‘Spiritual Route to Entrepreneurial Success’.

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