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A Culture of Integrity: It Starts With Purpose

May 13, 2020
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A Culture of Integrity: It Starts With Purpose

By Uantchern Loh

George Mallory was an English mountaineer who became famous over the mystery as to whether he was the first man to summit Mount Everest.  He was last seen in 1924, and just 245m from the summit when he disappeared.  Although his body was found 75 years later, the mystery was never solved.

But perhaps Mallory is even more famous for replying to the question, “Why did you want to climb Mount Everest?” with the retort “Because it’s there”, which has been called “the most famous three words in mountaineering”.

Purpose is the why and a commitment to what it is there to do.  Stating a purpose sets a clear focus and direction for everyone involved.  A properly defined purpose influences the right values, which in turn shapes culture and drives strategy.

Section 17A of the MACC Act emphasises the need for commercial organisations to promote a culture of integrity.  It is easy to define integrity – it is the honesty and truthfulness of one’s actions.  But honest and truthful to whom, and how do you embed integrity into the behaviour of everyone in the organisation?  It starts with purpose.

A culture of integrity can only grow with the right tone at the top – commitment of the Board to the company’s purpose.  It is also the behaviour and actions of management that cascade down and influence the rest of the company.

The tone at the top, literally, was clear to George Mallory.

“People ask me, ‘What is the use of climbing Mount Everest?’ and my answer must at once be, ‘It is of no use.’ There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behaviour of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron… If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to live. That is what life means and what life is for.”

What is your why?

Uantchern Loh is the CEO, Asia Pacific at the Black Sun Group.

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