In our final Client-Partner Philosophy post, we discuss Integrity, the core tenet of our client interactions. We stress the importance of honesty, commitment to deliver, and adherence to ethical principles in our dealings with clients, colleagues, and research participants.
We've been diving into the three core tenets of EchoUser's Client-Partner Philosophy: Transparency, Collaboration, and Integrity. Chloe previously wrote about Transparency and Rally wrote about Collaboration. In our final installation on EchoUser’s Client-Partner Philosophy, Chloe and I, together, talk about Integrity.
Let’s talk about “integrity”, our third core tenet of how we interact with clients. This is actually a little hard to talk about because it seems really obvious and straightforward. Of course, we act with integrity! But what does that really mean, especially in the context of us and how we work? I’m going to pass the buck and ask you, what does integrity mean to you?
Yeah, I agree with that. It’s kind of like the standard mode of operating. But it is actually something that is important to dig into and ensure that we are all on the same page. My core understanding of what integrity, or acting with integrity, means to me is that we do what we say we’re going to do, and we are transparent and honest when we make a mistake. This applies to our relationships with our clients, our relationships with each other within EchoUser, and the relationships we have as researchers with the participants we engage in research studies. We have an ethos at EchoUser to act with integrity and to act ethically with all.
Oh, I like that—we do what we say we’re going to do. You actually just inspired me to ask ChatGPT (and Bing and Bard) to define integrity.
Well, I can’t say they added too much clarity, but all their responses made me focus on these core things: 1) do what we say we’re going to do; 2) be honest; 3) be transparent even when things are going wrong; and, 4) adhere to a set of moral and ethical principles and values.
Okay, thanks, ChatGPT! So, let’s dive into those pieces a little bit. We do what we say we’re going to do. We make commitments to our clients both verbally and in the statement of work form, to commit to delivering an outcome. Our ethos of working and engaging with our clients demands that we’re going to follow through on delivering that outcome. We know that our best work and our focus on getting to that outcome (not just on the letter of an SOW) is how we develop lasting relationships with our clients.
Absolutely. When we enter into an agreement with a client, we will deliver what we’ve agreed to deliver. There are no questions there. This is especially important if (when) things don’t go exactly as the original plan. Our team does pretty well with unpredictability since we all embody a common North Star to deliver what we agree to deliver, no matter the path. But I think it’s just as important that we exhibit this attitude and behavior for the smaller things too. For example, agreeing to set up the next meeting invite and actually doing it, or saying I’ll send you directions to our office and actually doing it. On the surface, forgetting to do things like this is not really going to derail a project on its own. But over time, not doing what you say chips away at people’s trust. So, when the questions or the challenges are larger and more difficult, it’s that much harder for others to believe that you will ultimately accomplish what you say you will.
Yes, I totally agree! Following through on the “little” things is so important to build the trust we need when projects get thorny. Of course, as much as we’d like it to be, nothing is ever perfect. Unplanned events, obstacles, challenges, and mistakes happen. We have the responsibility to deal with anything that comes up in a project with transparency (going back to our previous pillar). In particular, if we make a mistake, we own up to it and make the situation right. In one personal example (though this was prior to working at EchoUser), I made a copy-paste error, copied the wrong data into a research report, and sent it off to the client without checking my work. I realized my mistake the next day and felt terrible. I requested a quick phone call with the client to describe the mistake, apologize, and communicate how I would fix the issue. This is often an example I think of when I think of integrity—it’s owning up to and acknowledging the mistake I made and clearly communicating what I’ll do to fix it.
There are also times when the situation can be a bit trickier. In one project we were recruiting participants for a client who had a tight deadline. We recognized that the recruit was at risk. We were having a difficult time finding the right participants, so we began to clearly communicate the risks, as well as start on contingency plans for how to address the situation. In the end, we were not able to fully complete the project as outlined within the deadline. We had some hard and transparent conversations about the different ways we were trying to address the issue. Essentially, we did the best that we could, and we were honest about what we could and could not achieve for that project.
Those are tough situations, but our commitment to integrity dictates that we must approach them with transparency and accountability.
Those are great examples of being honest and transparent when things go wrong. I especially like your last example because there are usually going to be very good reasons that we’ve landed in a place where delivering the initially promised outcome looks at risk. When we’re transparent about the challenges that we’re facing, reasonable clients will understand why, and that paves a path to a mutually acceptable solution even when compromises need to be made.
You know, this does make me think about the challenge of making more broad and philosophical decisions with integrity. There’s been a lot of chatter over the last few years blaming a lot of societal ills on social media and, more relevant to us in UX, putting some of that blame on the design decisions that went into how social media products work. There’s an argument that applying more integrity to our UX work should have prevented some of these negative outcomes. To be honest, though, that is a very complicated ball of wax that, in my opinion, is way too complex to be explained by the assertion that people should have simply known better and done better. So let me step back from that ledge. There still is something broad and philosophical that I can buy into - having a consistent underpinning for what it means to act with integrity. I do believe strongly that we need to have a consistent belief and understanding of what is right and wrong. This is actually the fourth part of that definition I laid out earlier—adhering to a set of ethical and moral principles.
Okay, yeah I think I see where you’re going with this, though philosophical discussions, especially about social media, aren’t really my thing! But digging into your point in a concrete way, I think what you’re saying is that there is a set of ethics and principles by which to adhere in running our business, and that are fundamentally important to the running of the business at a deeper moral level.
Yes. Although, like everything interesting in life, it’s not always so simple. When you start invoking morals, it gets complicated. Didn’t Google used to have a very simple mantra, “Don’t be evil?” That didn’t last. I think the best we can do, at a company level, is to be consistent. We’re lucky, many years ago, we defined a set of values that we felt both represented who we were and what we wanted to continue to be. Over the years, the values have stood up pretty well and have been a great baseline for how we want our team to behave and ultimately have served as a model for integrous behavior.
Rally, are you sure “integrous” is a word? I guess I learned something new….
Anyways. One other aspect I want to bring here about integrity that I feel is important as a UX researcher is our commitment to acting with integrity with respect to the participants that we interact with for our work. We have a duty, to our participants and to our profession, to bring integrity to that relationship. To me that means clearly communicating the purpose of the study, what we will do with participant data, and ensuring that we are fulfilling the promise of “informed consent”.
And I’ll add to that, ensuring the safety and well-being of every participant has to be at the forefront. Even though nothing we do puts anyone at any risk of physical harm, there are instances where sometimes people can experience a lot of mental stress. I’ve certainly experienced times when it was in the best interest to simply abandon a usability test because the participant was getting too stressed out. I wonder how self-trained or boot camp-educated UX people learn about ethics in UX practice these days. I remember having to take an “ethics” course back in university and even though it was boring (admittedly, I found most classes boring), I realize that it really set a philosophical foundation for how I approach any UX activity. I hope it’s something that is still prioritized in all of these programs and in other organizations’ best practices.
This does remind me, we’ve talked about acting with integrity to our clients and to our research participants. But there’s another very important group we should discuss, our peers.
I see this as pretty similar to the way we interact with clients. Do what you say you’re going to do, and be transparent and honest, even when it’s hard. I’m curious to hear your perspective Rally.
Yes, very similar to how we interact with clients, but turning the lens specific to your teammates. You have to treat your teammates with the same level of integrity you do your clients and I’d say the hardest aspect is what you mentioned—being transparent and honest, especially when it’s hard. We’ve never had issues with doing what you say you’re going to do, being honest, or displaying immoral/unethical behavior. Where we do sometimes have a challenge is with being transparent and honest with what I’ll call harder truths. These are things like being particularly tough (but fair and constructive) in design reviews, or telling a teammate that they’re not meeting your expectations. Our team is made up of nice people, but I think it can result in not wanting to make people feel uncomfortable, even when we see things we know need to be corrected or improved. I will admit, this is definitely something I’ve needed to work on through the years (and continue to work on). I remind myself, it’s not about being unpleasant or mean. It’s about having a consistent standard for what I think is the right way to do things, feeling comfortable and free to make sure our team is doing things this way, and just as importantly, believing that that standard applies to myself and expecting everyone else to call me out when I’m not doing things to our standard.
Well, thanks, Chloe. I appreciate you indulging me and sharing your thoughts on integrity. It’s interesting, we don’t talk about this explicitly very often. But I do believe that it weaves its way through in everything we do, all the time.
This completes our deep dive into EchoUser’s Client-Partner Philosophy. We hope that it gives you deeper insight into how we interact with our clients and why. To read the complete series, follow the links below:
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Published on June 20, 2023