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Trust, integrity and pride: Identifying best practice pro-integrity cultures within organisations

19 Oct 2023

What makes you proud to work in the public service? What is the line between vigilance and speaking up on potential integrity issues or being inherently untrusting ofthe system? These are some of the questions explored at IPAA Victoria’s Leadership and Integrity for Career Success event held on Tuesday 3 October 2023, which was part of a broader discussion at the IPAA National Summit.   

The inaugural IPAA National Summit was designed to facilitate a multi-jurisdictional discussion to address complex issues of integrity, trust in the public service and fostering pride in delivering public services in Australia. Through video interviews featuring a range of public sector leaders, a national survey, and a national panel event, some salient observations that emerged include that policies and programs won’t have the desired effect unless the community trusts what we’re doing, and the emphasis on stewardship in the public service to reinforce its position as a permanent system. 

At the Leadership and Integrity for Career Success event, esteemed speakers Brigid Monagle, Commissioner, Victorian Public Sector Commission, Jane Brockington, Principal, Bridging Policy and Practice, and IPAA Victoria Fellow, and Will Babington, Chief Data Officer, The Salvation Army and IPAA Victoria Board Member further explored the critical threads of stewardship, integrity and pride in service that were raised at the IPAA National Summit.  

The attendees then participated in a workshop to delve into the significance of integrity in the public sector and explore practical solutions. Below is some of the advice shared.  

What makes you proud to work in the public service?

Pride in stewardship was one of the major reasons given, in that contributing towards a common goal for the greater good or community while maintaining personal ethics. This correlates to the national survey findings, which provide a real snapshot of the current perceptions and sentiments of professionals working in the public service at each jurisdiction. 

The results indicate that 86%of respondents are proud to work in the service and 86% stated they were proud to work in the service. Among the sources of pride in working in public service, the responses ranged from the ability to make a difference and have a positive impact (40%); alignment with personal values and the opportunity to do meaningful work (40%); a dedication to service and serving its communities (26%); and supporting democracy (12%).  

What is the line between acting vigilant and speaking out on potential integrity issues or being inherently untrusting in the system?

Integrity at an intrinsic and operational level was explored. Through the speakers’ personal reflections, insights and advice, integrity was framed in various ways, including the clever connotation that “sunlight is the best disinfectant”. The link between a psychologically safe workplace and the confidence to speak up was agreed upon by the panel. Jane Brockington, in particular, framed the discussion around a spectrum of integrity to corruption (see image below). Jane also spoke about how we can reframe our thinking of a pro-integrity culture that puts integrity at the front rather than as thinking did, we act with integrity at the end.  

Source: Integrity Governance Framework, May 2019, Australian Centre for Healthcare Governance; adapted from A.Greaves, ‘Role of Audit’ presentation to the Corruption Prevention and Integrity Conference, Melbourne, 3–4 October 2017. 

What should individuals consider in determining if the culture embraces integrity?

The participants raised the following questions:  

  • Do you feel safe to speak up, or ask probing questions?  
  • Is there a culture of ‘compressed integrity’ where getting the job done is more important than doing it ethically?  
  • Do other colleagues and leaders take accountability and share learnings when things have gone to plan? 
  • Does the organisation have a failure-embracing culture? I.e. Characteristics include a safe environment for employees to innovate and ideate while capturing lessons learned to be actioned and a culture of open disclosure. – By what standard does an individual have to assess decision-making and actions (referred to informally as intersectional integrity)?  
  • To what degree do leaders embrace and foster learning and curiosity day-to-day?  

What proactive steps can someone take when there is an integrity misalignment?

Do something (in order to scale the response)  

  • Ask ‘why’: Seek to understand the thinking behind certain decisions or actions 
  • Lead by example: Create the integrity standards you expect by taking small and targeted actions. For example, take accountability when things don’t go to plan or create space to talk openly about learnings and mistakes.  
  • Raise concerns with leaders or trusted peers.  
  • Talk to someone independent such as an internal or external governance agency and/or department. 

Do nothing 

  • Watch and monitor the situation.

Opt-out and leave

  • Change teams or organisations if possible if there is a mismatch of values. In these cases, it’s best to find a work environment that aligns with your values. 

How do you maintain congruence in an ever-changing environment?

We should continuously assess if we’re taking the right actions for the right reasons. It’s of greater integrity to continue to change our minds as new information comes to light. More often than not, we become accustomed to voicing a fixed position – one that does not change based on new or better data – when delivering advice on policy, project scope or program initiatives. Central to robust integrity is the importance of overcoming inbuilt cognitive biases, to recognise them and be open to growth as one of our strongest virtues.  

IPAA Victoria would like to sincerely thank our speakers and attendees for sharing intelligence at the Leadership and Integrity for Career Success event. IPAA Victoria would also like to thank Aware Super for hosting and partnering with us on this event. 

To learn more about the IPAA National Summit, please visit the IPAA National website.