How Principles and Purpose Relate to Personal Integrity at Work

When I refer to integrity, I have something very simple and very specific in mind. Integrity, as I will use the term, requires three steps: (1) discerning what is right and what is wrong; (2) acting on what you have discerned, even at personal cost; and (3) saying openly that you are acting on your understanding of right from wrong.
Integrity by Stephen L. Carter


We are deluged with information about how to be, what to think, and what to believe. This is probably nowhere more true than in our professional lives. In the workplace we exchange our time, or life energy, for an income which sustains us and those we care for. The purposes of the organization may not be ethically aligned with our own. In order to determine misalignment, we must first know our own principles—or values. Knowing your own principles, your own ethical viewpoint, requires introspection and reflection and occasional revisiting and re-validation of those principles.

This reflection is an opportunity to re-validate whether you are doing the right thing for the right people and purposes. Imagine being presented with a story that implies a coding requirement or expresses business value that directly contravenes one of your key purposes.

For instance, suppose you have a firm belief in doing no harm to other living creatures as a result of your work. You see a story come through a grooming session that introduces a new feature in a cell phone server management application. Your company tells the customer this feature will save large amounts of money by re-purposing that server to run large batch jobs between 1a and 4a every night. You know that server supports cell phones for child protective services in your state. What do you do? Code the requirement to deliver the business value or refuse to code the requirement as is until it also ensures 24×7 coverage for those responsible for protecting children in your state? What would right use of your power dictate?

And, here, perhaps, we depart from the ideal and step back into the pragmatics of making a living and how it can exert tension against making a life. Some people just want to be happy in any given moment, and they see their work and its resultant income as a means to that end.


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