I was going through my evening workout routine today, which means I was sitting on the sofa holding the TV remote and flicking through the show listings, when I noticed something unusual. An upcoming program description described it as “Reality, science fiction”. How could it possibly be both of those things?
Those incompatible descriptions made me think of one of the new terms that have entered the English language since the Trump Administration took over the White House in the U.S.: “alternative facts”, which has become a nice way to describe a lie and give it some measure of undeserved integrity. Something is either a fact or it isn’t.
Surprisingly according to some recent polling, people all over North America seem to have taken to the notion of alternative facts. Polls suggest many now prefer to hear their “news” from sources that simply reflect their own point of view rather than being concerned about hearing real facts. The result of that is the proliferation of outlets, often online, calling themselves news sources that are really more like propaganda media. And many people in both our countries now prefer to get their news from Twitter—from people they follow who also express opinions similar to their own.
So, I’m beginning to wonder if the word integrity is also getting a new definition, too. It means to have strong moral principles. But if those principles are based on a foundation of alternative facts, what value does integrity have?
Real integrity may be becoming rare indeed, if the behaviour of some politicians in Canada and the U.S. is any indication. So, it’s nice to see organizations in the business world take up leadership on the integrity front. For about a decade now, the Ethisphere Institute, which bills itself as a leader in defining and advancing ethical business practices, has been publishing a list of companies it thinks best meet those measures.
In March it announced it had put John Deere on that list. Ford and Cummins made it on there too. The Ethisphere Institute even named its favourite soft drink, putting PepsiCo on the list of 125 best companies. (Coke apparently didn’t make it.)
This is the 11th time Deere has made it onto the list. One of only 13 companies to get a ranking there that often.
“Over the last eleven years we have seen the shift in societal expectations, constant redefinition of laws and regulations and the geo-political climate,” said Timothy Erblich, Ethisphere’s CEO, in a press release. “We have also seen how companies honoured as the World’s Most Ethical respond to these challenges. They invest in their local communities around the world, embrace strategies of diversity and inclusion, and focus on the long term as a sustainable business advantage.”
I know I can hear a few people groaning about Deere making the list, because the company has seen a few controversial issues swirling around it, like the right-to-repair issue that has many farmers upset they can’t access the ECUs on Deere equipment they purchase. And some dealers have complained about how the brand has treated them. But arguably those are business decisions the company executive has made, and they’ve been clear about their position in those issues.
“Integrity is an important core value at John Deere that we emphasize throughout our business with all employees,” said Sam Allen, chairman and CEO, in the company’s press announcement. “We continue to seek the highest ethical standards as we know this is one reason John Deere is celebrating 180 years of doing business.”
No company the size of Deere or Ford will be loved by everyone. Virtually all major brands have one time or another irked individual farmers and dealers for similar reasons. And when thousands of employees are needed to put company policy into practice and deal with us individuals, it won’t always be done as well as it should.
But brands that place importance on making integrity a core value and make it a measure against which important decisions are made deserve our respect. Even if in practice, the end result isn’t always perfect. Until facts go back to being facts, we’ll need all the well-intentioned leadership we can get, anywhere we can get it.