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IQ and Personal Integrity

Published
  • August 01 2003, 1:00am EDT
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In the wake of the separate collapses of Enron and Andersen and other corporate financial shenanigans, we are now caught up in other ethical scandals, such as Sam Waksal's conviction for insider trading and former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair's "creative" reporting that contradicts the code of ethics for honest journalism. All of these examples illustrate nonquality information and the ultimate costs of nonquality.

These high- profile stories raise the question: What is the role of business ethics in today's business world? Is personal integrity no longer a "desirable" trait in management or in employees?

It is interesting to watch the revived ­– yet reactive –­ interest in business ethics and in formal ethics policies. Even more interesting are the studies on how worker behavior is influenced by formal ethics policies versus their boss' behavior. Marshall Schminke, who teaches business ethics, says that a person's own ethical behavior is influenced more by his/her immediate boss' behavior than by his/her peers' behavior, and only after that does personal moral code play a role in their business actions.1 With respect to those formal ethics policies, in a nationwide survey of more than 10,000 employees, Penn State researcher Linda Trevino found that employees seek to discern the motive behind such policies and that an ethics program perceived as protecting top executives from legal consequences "may be worse than having no program at all."2

What does this have to say about those who aspire to a career in information quality (IQ)? A lot.

Information quality calls for high standards. The current levels of information quality in organizations cause process failure, high costs of information scrap and rework, employee dissatisfaction and end-customer dissatisfaction.

An Exclusive Group

People who are called on to lead their organizations to improve information quality must have personal integrity.

  1. Information quality focuses on "consistently meeting or exceeding customers' expectations." To accomplish this IQ, professionals must lay aside personal ambitions to focus on the needs of the information consumers, their ultimate customers.
  2. Information quality focuses on improving IQ for the benefit of the larger organization. Peter Block proposes stewardship as an alternative to supervisory management. He defines stewardship as, "the willingness to be accountable for the well-being of the larger organization by operating in service, rather than in control, of those around us. Stated simply, it is accountability without control or compliance." 3

An Inclusive Focus

While IQ practitioners are an exclusive band of people, they are not exclusive in a "holier-than-thou" manner. IQ calls for people to care about each other. Information producers must care about their information consumers. Knowledge-workers who require information must care about their information producers and what they need in order to capture information with quality.

Therefore, the code of ethics for IQ practitioners is one of genuine concern for others. Deming's Quality point 8 calls for quality leaders to "drive out fear" from the workplace so that workers can have a secure environment in which they can focus on doing their work with care. IQ practitioners do not create environments that create fear in the information producers. Rather, they seek to understand the factors that create stress among information producers and find ways to mitigate the stress-producing causes.

Figure 1: Examples of Nonquality Information

The fourth habit from Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People sums it up: "Think Win/Win." Whether resolving conflict, developing applications or improving information processes, the goal is for everyone to benefit. No one "wins" while others are disadvantaged. It is not a win/win situation if downstream knowledge- workers obtain higher quality information by making upstream producers work overtime under stressful conditions to provide it. IQ improvement is about partnerships that result in win/win across the value chain.

The position of IQ leader is a role that is reserved for people who have a high degree of personal integrity. IQ leaders are not just "doers" who make information quality happen; they are leaders who are stewards in every sense of the word. They work for the well-being of the larger organization –­ for what is best for all.

IQ is a career that is not suited to those who seek to pursue it for ulterior motives, such as to create a new empire for personal gain or to jump on the IQ band wagon in order to sell other services to someone who is not truly a "customer," but a target from whom to profit.

My book on information quality states, "This book is not for everyone. It is for people who care about their customers and their information customers."4 These are the people who are going to change the world and bring in what I call the realized information age.

What do you think?

References:

1. Wessel, Harry. "Bosses' example outweighs clout of ethics policies." Knight Ridder News Service, reported in The Tennessean, June 8, 2003, p. 1E.
2. Ibid.
3. Block, Peter. Stewardship: Choosing Service Over Self-Interest. San Francisco: Berrett-Kowhler, 1996. p. xx.
4. English, L. Improving Data Warehouse and Business Information Quality, NY: John Wiley & Sons, 1999. p. xvii.

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