Financial integrity is essential and without it, nothing else really matters. If your organization lacks financial integrity you will lose your credibility.
“Be direct and forthcoming,” says Wade Steen, Chief Financial Officer of Cleveland Metroparks. “When you talk about integrity, be honest and respectful to create a level of trust between yourself, your employees and the public so they can see that your financials are accurate and the team managing the finance side of the house can take pride in everything they do. Integrity means you work hard and take responsibility, being honest, adhering to moral and ethical principles and having a general sense of right and wrong.”
Smart Business spoke with Steen about the importance of financial integrity and what the absence of it can mean for your organization.
Why is financial integrity so important?
For public companies, stockholders are holding you accountable and trusting that the financial information you put out is accurate. For a publicly funded entity like Cleveland Metroparks, the public supports us and entrusts us to carry out our mission. That’s a pretty heavy responsibility, and you have to have the trust and respect of the community to ‘do well by doing good.’ If the organization has not met certain financial goals or benchmarks, that’s what people need to hear. But if you have knocked it out of the ballpark, share that, as well.
Government entities are held to extremely high standards to adhere to the best interest of the communities they serve. While it can sometimes be burdensome and even costly, putting resources into transparency and easy access to information, through an award-winning annual Budget Book and Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) that the public can access, it goes a long way in establishing trust.
You also need to have a long-range financial plan and stick to it. That can be difficult today for a public company. Stockholders have an insatiable appetite for results, and with earnings reported quarterly being compared with projected results, it can make it difficult to have consistent leadership and stick with a solid plan.
How can you communicate to employees the need for financial integrity?
Create a culture where it’s OK to make mistakes. For example, if someone is working on a project and they keep running into problems, that person has two choices. They’ve already invested a lot the time and can just keep going, or they can stop and say, ‘I’m stuck.’ While people could fear they will be judged incapable by asking for help, this is an opportunity for mentoring and fostering professional growth among your staff.
Try to help everyone shine and instill integrity. Position asking for help as a positive, one that creates a culture of collaboration and learning, not competition. When team members get it right, celebrate those wins, big and small. In finance, too often, no one really notices until someone makes a mistake. People should not be remembered for their worst moment; instead, remember everything they’ve done right.
Success is just doing a lot of little things right, taking ownership and being accountable, every day. I often say that the finance staff of an organization is the like the offensive line of a football team. No one sees them until they make mistake. But I’ve never seen a championship football team that didn’t have an outstanding O-line.
How can a leader create an organization with integrity?
If you can demonstrate your own integrity, people will trust you and understand your intentions. It’s not for your own personal gain, you do it because it’s right. If you can take the finance team in that direction, other areas of the organization will benefit, so that, at the end of the day, your stakeholders and supporters have confidence and trust in what you do.
You want to maintain and enhance communication about your organization’s financial operations because that transparency will bolster the integrity of your organization, establishing a good reputation and trust, which as the saying goes, is more valuable than money. ●
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