Intentional Integrity | Robert Chesnut

Summary of: Intentional Integrity: How Smart Companies Can Lead an Ethical Revolution
By: Robert Chesnut


In ‘Intentional Integrity: How Smart Companies Can Lead an Ethical Revolution’, author Robert Chesnut examines the importance of organizational ethics and the steps involved in cultivating a culture of integrity in the workplace. As the former general counsel and chief ethics officer of Airbnb, Chesnut shares his insights and experiences in creating a code of ethics tailored to a company’s values. In this summary, you will learn about his Six Cs framework, which underlines the crucial role of the CEO, customization, communication, clear reporting, consequences, and constant practices in upholding a company’s ethical standards.

Ethics in the Workplace

Robert Chesnut, former general counsel of Airbnb and chief ethics officer, emphasizes that ethical missteps in organizations can be expensive, so companies need a clear roadmap to show executives and employees what they can and cannot do. He acknowledges the challenges of getting people to behave ethically and cites various ethics issues. Chesnut insists that building a culture of integrity requires hard work, but specific guidelines and a constant emphasis on integrity issues will prompt employees to do the right thing. He also gives examples of common integrity issues, such as conflicts of interest and mishandling of private data, and emphasizes that enforcing consequences and handling violators who are high-performing employees are crucial for maintaining integrity in the workplace. Publishers Weekly recommends the book as a fully realized look at not just what integrity means in the context of business, but how to make it second nature in the workplace. Kirkus Reviews finds it valuable reading for companies that want to get serious about workplace ethics.

Creating a Code of Ethics

Companies should create their own roadmaps for fulfilling ethical values instead of mimicking negative behaviors of other companies. The Intentional Integrity approach teaches people to ask themselves “What is the right thing to do?” before making decisions. Chesnut, who was proactive about ethics during his time at Airbnb, advises companies to form a diverse committee of representatives to create a code of ethics instead of leaving it up to one person. Chesnut also notes that employees must make judgment calls when complying with government regulations or reporting questionable behavior. He believes that eventually, a straight line should be drawn from every core value to every rule in the ethics code. Chesnut believes that companies can’t afford not to practice ethics and cites Patagonia’s decision to stop filling orders from suppliers who don’t prioritize the planet as an example of intentional integrity at work.

Creating an Ethical Workplace

In creating Airbnb’s ethics code, Chesnut implemented the Six Cs framework to establish a culture of ethics. This includes the support of the CEO, customization to align with values and brand, effective communication, clear reporting, enforcing consequences equally, and continuous practice of the ethics message. It’s imperative that top-level executives take responsibility in imparting a culture of ethical behavior that starts from the CEO’s support and trickles down to all employees.

Airbnb and Starbucks CEOs’ Ethical Leadership

In “The Ethics of Influence,” Allison Milchling Chesnut examines the ethical leadership style of CEOs. Chesnut recounts the early days of Airbnb where CEO Chesky initially claimed that they were not responsible for a host’s damaged property, only to backtrack and assume responsibility. She also praises Starbucks CEO Schultz for his swift response to a racially-motivated incident at one of their stores by instituting company-wide training to address bias. Chesnut argues that CEOs who prioritize integrity and accountability are more likely to foster an ethical organizational culture.

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