Launched in 2008, Airbnb has grown into the world’s leading hospitality company with over seven million accommodations, 40,000 handcrafted activities powered by local hosts, and accessible in 62 languages and 220 countries and regions. Over the last four years, Rob Chesnut, Chief Ethics Officer at Airbnb, has played a large role in helping the company navigate the complex regulatory framework.
On Friday, January 10, 2020, Chesnut spent the afternoon engaging with Master of Engineering students about his experience developing Airbnb’s unique ethics program “Integrity Belongs Here”. The conversation provided insights into how individuals can cultivate intentional integrity in the workplace.
What is intentional integrity?
Chesnut began his talk by laying out the current ethical landscape for companies: Can you hug in the workplace? Are romantic relationships within the workplace appropriate? How might one approach alcohol at a work event? What might an individual do if they were offered free tickets to a local game? Have you ever printed personal materials on the office printer?
While many of these are decades old ethical quandarie, the internet has forced companies — and CEOs in particular — to grapple with leadership values, and confrontintentional integrity. “There’s not a company out there that doesn’t have ethical issues, says Chestnut. “Being a company that operates using intentional integrity doesn’t mean you have all the answers — and some of these answers are going to be really hard. Intentional integrity means a commitment to understanding the problems and to making an effort to do something about it.”
Generic ethical codes and flyers posted in the break room are of a bygone era. As evidenced by news headlines about employee walkouts, customers pushing for more transparency, and government intervention, there’s a “new truth” and “revolution of integrity” holding leaders and companies accountable to both the broader impact of the company and need for a greater purpose beyond the bottom line. For example, this means that for Airbnb, company stakeholders include guests, hosts, investors, employees, and the transnational community at large. “The world is forcing leaders to take these and multiple stakeholders into account,” says Chestnut.
There’s a “new truth” and “revolution of integrity” holding leaders and companies accountable to both the broader impact of the company and ensuring a greater purpose beyond the bottom line.
“Integrity Belongs Here”
While at Airbnb, Chesnut developed the company’s unique ethics program, “Integrity Belongs Here,” that promotes an environment of ethics and compliance within the company.
“Show of hands — who in this group has integrity?”
This question is posed at the beginning of every new employee presentation. The goal of this question is to grow integrity organically so that employees are proactive, instead of reactive to it. After this “ethics orientation,” employees will receive consistent colloquial newsletters and videos from the legal team and are equipped to seek “ethics advisors” throughout the company to discuss any issues that may arise. “Ethics [within a company] can’t be limited to just one person,” Chesnut concluded.
His reminders to MEng students on how to build personal integrity in the workplace:
- You’re building your reputation every day. It’s surprising to realize how often you might run into people again. It’s important to make a positive impression and conduct yourself in a way that you’d want to be proud of. In a way, you’re interviewing for a future job in the simple way you operate day-to-day.
- Develop your own communications style. If you plan on being an engineering leader, one of the most underrated qualities is authentic communication. In addition to having “radical candor” with your team on their shortcomings and achievements, can you communicate genuine caring and trust?
- You can’t outsource something like integrity. As employees of a company, how can we inoculate ourselves to drive integrity into the company? Stand by your values and communicate in an open and transparent way to do something and open the conversation about issues at large.
In his book, Intentional Integrity, Chesnut offers a six-step process for leaders to foster and manage a culture of integrity at work. He explains the rationale and legal context for the ethics and practices, and presents scenarios to illuminate the nuances of thinking deeply and objectively about workplace culture. Check it out in June 2020!
Rob Chesnut is an experienced general counsel, board member, and advisor to tech companies. Rob is skilled in Leadership, Management, Fraud Investigations, and Workplace Ethics. He is a former federal prosecutor and graduate of Harvard Law School and University of Virginia. He is the author of the book Intentional Integrity: How Smart Companies Can Lead an Ethical Revolution, set for publication on June 2, 2020 by St. Martins Press. Pre-order your copy now: Amazon, Powell’s, Indiebound, B&N, and BAM. Connect with Rob Chesnut.