Have you ever thought about what are the benefits of integrity?

We constantly hear in the news about acts of corruption that affect companies, communities and society as a whole. These cases, due to the negative effects they cause at the economic and social level, are judged as undesirable and need to be stopped.

The solutions have come from different sectors, however, most have focused on the educational field, considering that educational institutions have a greater responsibility in forming people with values and ethical principles who do not commit these acts of corruption. The result of this effort has been the creation of several programs that promote academic integrity within schools and universities.

The efficiency of these programs has not yet been fully verified. Although, there are studies that evidenced that those students who graduated from universities with strong and structured programs of academic integrity, have a lower probability of been reported for some kind of corruption or unethical action. Despite the efficiency of these programs, these studies also show the relevance or need to generate mechanisms that promote integrity within organizations, not only from the education sector. In other words, companies and public institutions also have to design strategies to prevent people from engaging in dishonest practices. Basically, the conclusion is simple: fighting corruption and promote ethics is the job of everybody.

Now, in most of these integrity programs, whether academic, public or labor, there is an interest in exposing or denouncing those people who have committed an act of corruption. This strategy has managed to reduce unwanted acts within universities and organizations, however, the persecuting aspect of the initiatives makes the lack of ethics and morals be seen as something bad, but it fails to generate that being ethical or upright is seen as something good and worthy of being rewarded.

Although it seems a paradox, the reality is that it is not. It is not the same to punish those who have done something wrong and, in some cases, to reward those who reported it, than to recognize the person who has always acted with integrity and stands out for it. This lack of recognition of integrity, is based on the assumption that we are all "good" by nature, although we live in a world that seems to reward those who evade the law, that is, those who commit acts of corruption or misconduct, and are not discovered, or worse, that they find gaps in the regulations to commit this type of action.

When I have worked with companies on ethics management issues, we always do an exercise in which the employees document an act of corruption or lack of ethics within the organization. We analyze it and see that the consequence for the person who committed the offense is less than the benefit he obtained. For example, I remember this company where one of the senior managers saw the opportunity to create a company that became the main supplier of the company he worked for. Upon being discovered, he just left the company and continued working in the company that he had built at the expense of the company he worked for. So, the consequence is much less than the opportunity of not doing it.

With this little example, it is easy to observe that these programs are oriented to punish a lack of ethics or a corruption act, and its main consequence is not the change in people's behavior due to an aspirational perspective, but rather due to a fear of being trapped. In other words, we do not seek to act with integrity, we are looking to reduce the number of cases of corruption or lack of ethics.

In all the companies and universities which I have had the opportunity to work with, I find that none of them offers a system of incentives towards integrity. When I am asking my students or the people within the companies, what is the benefit for acting with integrity in this university or organization? Most of them mention the idea of being good, or not being punished for acting in a bad way, but none of them consider integrity as something aspirational in our society.

We need to create systems that not only promote integrity, but also reward and recognize it. People of integrity must be a role model for the whole society and this is achieved by generating incentives for them, and not only by punishing those who are not. It is true that more and more companies and universities are subjecting their promotions or recognition to people that are not linked to an act of corruption or lack of ethics, but we still have a long way to go to generate an incentive system for integrity that is comparable to the system of punishments that we already have.

Let's walk towards building a society where the benefits of being people of integrity outweigh the benefits of being corrupt and not being caught.