Home » Interviews » Interview with Tony Simons on Integrity and Trust

Barbara: Tony, tell us a bit about your background, qualifications and expertise. Please provide the title of any books you have written.

Tony: As the president of Integrity Dividend LLC, I teach people, teams and organizations how to boost their bottom line through integrity. I speak, train and consult. I have been a professor of leadership and management at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration since 1993, when I earned my doctorate from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in Organizational Behavior. Before that, I worked as a psychiatric counselor and as a sales and sales management training consultant. I have published over 30 articles and book chapters for scholars and managers, and most recently published a book for managers based on 13 years of research – titled, The Integrity Dividend: Leading by the Power of Your Word (Jossey Bass, 2008). Link to The Integrity Dividend

I have trained executives and managers in negotiation and leadership since 1991.

Barbara: Trust Across America’s mission is to rebuild trustworthy behavior in North America, starting with public companies. How would you generally define trustworthy behavior?

In the broadest sense, I would think about ability, benevolence, and integrity, as per Mayer et al.’s (1995) classic article. My own work, however, focuses in on the aspect of integrity which is word-action alignment: consistently fulfilling promises and demonstrating by actions the same values one talks about. How good is your word? Is it impeccable? This one element is really hard to achieve, and it has huge, measurable impact on effectiveness. There are other things that are important, but perhaps nothing else works without this one ingredient.

Barbara: Are trustworthy behavior and integrity synonymous?

Tony: It depends how precisely you want to speak about the ideas. By some definitions, yes. By my definition, I would say that integrity (or more specifically, “behavioral integrity”) is a necessary element of trustworthiness, which is a broader notion.

Barbara: Can you provide some examples of public companies that are doing this well?

Tony: Johnson and Johnson comes to mind, for how well they managed the Tylenol scare. Marriott seems to be a company that consistently delivers on its brand promise. I once returned something to LL Bean under really bizarre circumstances, but they honored their money-back satisfaction guarantee even when they had every opportunity not to – the dress was delivered okay, but then my dog chewed on the package and then it got run over by a truck when a bee flew into the cab… The operator laughed at the story, but there was never any question about whether they would honor their guarantee.

Barbara: Why are high trust organizations more efficient?

Tony: Three main reasons – first, they engage their employees’ hearts better, which means their employees try harder and go the extra mile. Second, people understand each others’ intent and requests better, because they do not need to second-guess each other. Third, they can focus their attention on getting the job done, rather than jockeying for political advantage.

Barbara: Is the “trust” climate in corporate America improving or worsening? What actions will turn things around?

Tony: There are forces working in both directions, but mostly it is worsening. The economic struggles and the prevalence of layoffs tend to pit people against each other, and they raise fear levels, which are antithetical to trust. Bigger wealth disparities between the C-suite and the line workers reduce trust, and the recent corporate scandals do not help either. On the positive side, more and more people are recognizing the importance of trust – as witnessed by this blog!

Barbara: Any final thoughts?

Tony: For any who heard my radio show/podcast, I want to acknowledge a broken promise: The promise-keeping guy phoned in 15 minutes late, which broke my commitment to Barbara and Jordan. As a result, I have damaged my own credibility with all of you. I can rebuild credibility by making and keeping a series of promises… but it will take several to bring me back even to a starting place of neutrality, and a few more to build trust. This experience shows how important it is to deliver on your word, and it also shows (by the Kimmel’s grace) the slow and necessary process of rebuilding. Acknowledge the break, fix the damage, and then make very sure it does not happen again…and keep working at it. It is a process we all need to master, as it is necessary for managing trust. Aren’t you glad I arranged this demonstration?

Note from Barbara: As fate would have it, Jordan Kimmel was scheduled to appear as a guest on another radio show later that same day. He forgot all about the commitment and called in late. As I told Tony, all mistakes are being blamed on the tropical weather we are experiencing this summer in the Northeast! Tony, we forgive you and look forward to getting to know you better.

Barbara: Please provide contact information for readers.

Do you have any questions for Tony about trust and integrity? Leave them here and he will respond quickly.

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