How To (and How Not To) Assess the Integrity of Managers (19 pages)

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the best source of information about a manager’s integrity. This conclusion converges with
recommendations made by leading researchers of leadership and ethics (cf. Brown & Trevino, 2006;
Craig & Gustafson, 1998).

Ratings are the most common way to assess performance in organizations (Murphy & Cleve-

land, 1995). The next section examines how subordinate ratings are used to evaluate the integrity of
managers in the context of competency models and 360-degree feedback surveys. These ratings
focus on behaviors that indicate the presence of integrity. We highlight the problems with this
method using data from executives in a Fortune 500 firm. Then we consider a method that focuses
on subordinates’ expectations regarding the behavior of their managers, an approach that seems to
overcome the limitations of competency ratings.

Study 1: Competency Ratings of Integrity

Most organizations use competency models to identify the performance capabilities that distinguish
high- from low-performing managers (Boyatzis, 1982). Competency models frequently include
dimensions like integrity, although they may be labeled something else—for example, credibility,
ethics and values, integrity and trust, trustworthiness, and straightforwardness (Leslie & Fleenor,
1998). Regardless of the labels, these competencies are defined in a manner consistent with the
dictionary definition of integrity. Integrity-related competencies can be assessed in many ways—
structured interviews, background checks, assessment centers, and so forth. Most common may be
the 360-degree method of gathering performance ratings from superiors, peers, and subordinates as
well as managers themselves. Thus, we focus on ratings as a method for assessing an integrity
competency because it is so common in organizational life.

1

We content-analyzed the items used to rate integrity contained in the Center for Creative

Leadership’s review of 24 popular assessment instruments (Leslie & Fleenor, 1998). Sample items
include “Worthy of trust, believable” (p. 68), “Maintains high standards of personal integrity” (p.
91), “Shows consistency between words and actions” (p. 248), “Tells the truth” (p. 261), “Can be
trusted to do what he or she says will be done” (p. 273), and “Is trusted by people in the work group”
(p. 285). These items resemble those found in other competency rating instruments commonly used
in organizations.

Three points about ratings of an integrity competency should be noted. First, just as leadership

research focuses on the positives, so too do instruments for rating the integrity of managers—the
items only reflect the desirable end of the integrity construct. None of the items listed above concern
lying, cheating, stealing, deceiving, or manipulating. In fact, we found no items focused on a lack
of integrity or unethical behavior in the various instruments we reviewed. The authors of these
competency-based rating scales seem to assume that low integrity is defined by the absence of high
integrity rather than by the presence of devious behavior. It is not clear how well such items
represent the integrity domain.

Second, competency ratings ask observers to rate observed behavior. However, common but

minor breaches of integrity (e.g., ignoring commitments, withholding information) can appear to be
honest mistakes, not moral violations. Further, serious violations of integrity are usually covert. As
the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (2010, p. 8) observed, “one of the primary charac-
teristics of fraud is that it is clandestine, or hidden; almost all fraud involves the attempted
concealment of the crime.” Further, the same article reported a study of 1,843 cases where white
collar criminals were found guilty; in 86% of the cases, the perpetrator had no prior convictions.
Overt and observable managerial misbehavior is a low base-rate phenomenon and most ethical

1

We thank one of the special issue editors for pointing out that there may be other methods that are more

valid and reliable than coworker ratings for measuring integrity. For instance, high-fidelity simulations and
strategically designed assessment center exercises may elicit strong indicators of a manager’s level of integrity
that trained observers can evaluate. However, such methods are expensive and time consuming and are rarely
used in practice relative to the competency rating method.

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SPECIAL ISSUE: HOW TO ASSESS INTEGRITY

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