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Do you have a professional reputation that screams integrity?

In an unregulated industry like ours, personal integrity and ethics will make or break a career.

Some have described digital as a frontier where we push boundaries. But the frontier can be a rough place. Just look at the wild west.

The frontier is wild, lawless and at times downright mean. People get hurt and only the fittest survive. It can feel like that at times when you work in digital.

Digital maybe the new frontier, but a frontier can be a rough place. Just look at the wild west
Digital maybe the new frontier, but a frontier can be a rough place. Just look at the wild west.

There is no regulation, and more than one unscrupulous competitor has sunk a business. We are a sector that lacks diversity, equality and based on some Twitter conversations, even basic decency!

But this isn’t a post on our need for a professional body or governing standards. An interesting discussion though that is, I am more interested in our personal integrity. How does morality, ethics and integrity play a part in our professional lives? Why does integrity even matter in the business world?

Why Integrity Matters

It is the fact that we have no governing body or standards that makes our personal integrity so important. There is no way potential employers or clients can judge our suitability. Instead we live or die on our reputation and that is defined by how we handle ourselves in our professional lives.

The fact that we work in a digital world makes our integrity even more important. Others can share or lookup opinions on us in an instant. Where once it was politicians and celebrities that lived in the spotlight, now we all do.

Where once it was politicians and celebrities that lived in the spotlight, now we all do.
Where once it was politicians and celebrities that lived in the spotlight, now we all do.

Prospective employers and clients will Google us and put weight on what they read. They won’t just focus on our own promotional material and sanitised testimonials. They will read what others say and also look at how we conduct ourselves online. They will read those arguments we had on Twitter and the snide comments we make on other people’s blogs.

For better or worse, what others say about us online shapes our career. But what we say and do ourselves has a huge impact too. In the end it comes down to two things, likability and trust. Somebody without integrity is neither, and both are essential to business success.

So what does your online footprint say about you? Does it project somebody who is trustworthy and fair? Do you come across as an opinionated troublemaker or a reliable, considered person?

Of course what people say might not always be true. But we cannot control what others say. We can only control our own words and actions. So when and where do we need to ensure we hold ourselves to the highest possible standards?

Where Integrity Matters

This is not about posting drunken photos on Facebook. If you don’t know that is a bad idea by now there is no helping you. No, this is about how we handle ourselves professionally.

For example, who do you choose to work for? The companies and clients you work for reflect on you and so you need to think before accepting a job. If you accept a job working for a petrochemical company, don’t expect an environmental charity to work with you. People will make judgements about you by your choice of client.

If you are an employer then you also need to consider what you ask your employees to work on. Just because you feel comfortable working on porn sites, doesn’t mean all your employees will.

But you responsibility towards your employees goes further. Remember each of them have an audience online and the last thing your reputation needs is them bad mouthing you when they leave.

There are no shortage of places a disgruntled employee can express their dissatisfaction.
There are no shortage of places a disgruntled employee can express their dissatisfaction.

Of course the same is also true for clients. It is easy to think our job is to deliver digital projects. But that is not the whole story. We also provide a service, and so treating our clients with respect is an important part of that. I encounter too many digital professionals who are dismissive of clients because they “don’t get it”.

I see people doing the same things with colleagues as well. It is not unusual to hear comments such as “they don’t have a clue what they are talking about” or “they don’t know anything about design”. It is worth remembering that they know a lot about subjects of which you are ignorant. Successful digital projects need people from a broad range of backgrounds.

In fact, I would go as far as saying that I see a general lack of respect for others within the digital community. I see flame wars over which technology is the best and people dismissed because of their gender or age. I see personal attacks and professional jealousy.

The truncated natuer of conversation on Twitter has fanned the flames of disagreements online.
The truncated natuer of conversation on Twitter has fanned the flames of disagreements online.

This is not the hallmarks of a mature professional community. They damage our individual reputation, but also the reputation of the whole industry. It makes us look like petulant teenagers squabbling among ourselves. We then have the audacity to complain that we are not included in executive decision making! We must appear like children complaining we aren’t allowed to drive our parents car.

I am sure many of you are nodding along in agreement at this point. It is something that is all too obvious. But are you sure you are not part of the problem? I know I am sometimes.

The Integrity Trap

Here is the problem with focusing on ethics and integrity; it is subjective. What I consider ethical might not be the same as somebody else. This makes it easy to become judgemental, if others do not live up to my standards.

Even if we share a belief that ethics are important, we may disagree over emphasis. You may get frustrated that I don’t talk more about diversity, but that is because I am focusing on keeping the web open.

But it gets worse. Even if we place the same emphasis on the same things we can disagree about how to solve the problem. I have seen speakers boycott conferences because they didn’t have a code of conduct. It wasn’t that the conference organiser didn’t care about creating a safe environment. They just chose to address the problem in a different way.

My point is that we must be careful not to turn into zealots. It is great to feel passionate about an issue. But we cannot get angry if others don’t share our passion. That will damage our reputation, not build it.

Integrity is important in our industry. There are a lot of issues to address and we need to put our house in order. But we need to do so in a tolerant and mature manner if we are to gain the respect of our peers and clients.


Paul Boag

About the Author Paul Boag

Paul Boag is the author of Digital Adaptation. He is a leader in digital and user experience strategy with over 20 years experience. Through consultancy, speaking, writing, training and mentoring he passionately promotes digital best practice.