Sept. 18, 2008

Integrity is good for business, writes Hotel School professor in new book

Doing what you say you will do makes your business more money. That's a central thesis of the new book "The Integrity Dividend: Leading by the Power of Your Word" (Jossey-Bass, 2008), by Tony Simons, a faculty member in Cornell's School of Hotel Administration.

Simons, an associate professor of management and organizational behavior, conducted an in-depth study with thousands of employees at a U.S. hotel chain. His book includes excerpts from interviews with dozens of executives from the hospitality, high-tech manufacturing, financial services, waste disposal and health-care industries. Simons found that employees who believe that their managers can be counted on to keep their word show deeper commitment to the business, leading to lower employee turnover, superior customer service and higher profitability.

"Leaders' consistency between word and action supports employee trust and gives them clear direction," Simons said. "It promotes engagement of employees' hearts in their work, which leads to a host of discretionary contributions, from enhanced initiative to problem solving to customer service ... Behavioral integrity also increases the strength and efficiency of relationships with customers, suppliers and unions."

Things that get in the way of managers keeping their word include company culture, leadership hierarchies, communication habits, personal discipline and even the ubiquitous mission statement. Simons writes that leaders must not only be credible, but they must also be seen as such. Employees bring expectations and past hurts to their interpretation of employers' actions. Communication must be perfectly clear.

Simons teaches courses in organizational behavior, negotiation and leadership.