Beyond the Pandemic: Are we Recovering with Integrity?

This morning, I came across a news report about an autorickshaw driver in Bangalore who returned Rs10000 that was erroneously transferred to his account. He had just dropped off a passenger, who had paid the fare via UPI. Sometime later, the auto driver received a payment of Rs10000 from the same passenger’s mobile phone. Turns out that soon after getting off the auto, that passenger had received a request from his friend to transfer Rs10000, but by mistake, he had transferred the amount to the auto driver’s account. The honest auto driver called up the passenger and returned the money. The grateful passenger wrote a letter of commendation to the police authorities.

While the above news report gladdened my heart, I have also, in the last few days, read news reports about independent directors of various companies resigning from their respective Boards for various reasons. While honesty and integrity have not altogether disappeared, it is saddening that there seems to be a dearth of these values in the corporate world- where, arguably, they are needed the most. I therefore write this piece with mixed feelings.

E&Y’s Global Integrity Report 2022 reveals that a third of the respondents from India reported that their organizations had suffered a “significant incident of fraud” in the last 18 months. In itself, this is a grave concern but what’s worse is that India ranks second worst in this survey, which polled business executives from 54 countries. The survey’s other findings about Indian executives and companies are cause for worry too. Almost two-thirds of the respondents from India have acknowledged that to benefit their careers, they would be willing to indulge in patently unethical conduct such as falsifying information, paying/receiving bribes or ignoring misconduct in their teams/organizations.[1]

The economic disruption that has occurred in the wake of the pandemic has undoubtedly increased challenges for organizations across industry sectors. Owners, business leaders and employees at all levels have experienced the impact in many ways- cost cutting, job losses, scaling down, longer working hours, greater difficulty in closing deals through virtual channels etc. The magnitude of the impact has been varied but some sectors have bounced back faster than others and depending on the nature of their business, have been able to adapt better to hybrid models of working. But to me, nothing gives anyone the excuse to compromise on one’s integrity and ethics. It is better to work smarter and harder, have honest conversations within the organization and with clients or reach out for help than to succumb to the temptation of short cuts. Once we fall prey, it’s a slippery slope, and there’s almost always no going back.

One of the most important lessons I have learnt from my father and grandfather is to never compromise ethics and integrity no matter what the reasons or potential payoffs. This is one of the core values that our firm holds dear. Every individual who is part of our organization understands the importance of honesty, personal and professional integrity and ethics. To me, leadership is not just about vision, strategy and execution or delivering financial success; it is as much about being able to hold one’s head high and look at anyone in the eye because there is nothing to hide in our conduct or speech. And this is what my colleagues and I strive hard to practise every single day.

 

The economic disruption that has occurred in the wake of the pandemic has undoubtedly increased challenges for organizations across industry sectors. Owners, business leaders and employees at all levels have experienced the impact in many ways- cost-cutting, job losses, scaling down, longer working hours, greater difficulty in closing deals through virtual channels etc.

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