WE ALL KNOW THE TYPE: the manager who advocates treating customers right, then is quick to take shortcuts that undermine the quality of the company's products or services in order to make the numbers. Or the executive who claims that people are the organization's most important asset, but who, when budgets are tight, is the first to suggest cuts in recognition and incentive programs.

Executives' character are defined more by their actions than by their words. And sometimes inaction — the unwillingness to take the time and effort to keep people motivated — speaks the loudest of all.

Integrity is not about convincing others you have it; it is about being consistently true to a set of values that you have accepted or have agreed to abide by in your role as a leader and a professional. It's something you live — not something you preach. That's why recognition programs that do not evolve from a corporate culture that values people as its most important asset often come across as superficial and without substance.

When the choices are difficult, doing the right thing is not always easy. Unfortunately, that's why nonsales incentive programs are often the first to go when budgets are cut.

I have come up with my own keys to making better ethical choices every day on the job. Many of these speak to decisions you must make when charged with building a culture that values individual contributions:

E — EVALUATE your decisions through the appropriate filters for you (filters might include such things as agreements, laws, policies, values, and even religion).

T — TREAT people and issues fairly within the established boundaries. Fair does not always mean equal; in fact, making adjustments as needed for employees is important.

H — HESITATE before making critical decisions. Do an ethics check and ask yourself how you would feel if what you did appeared in a newspaper or magazine. When in doubt, take more time to consider your actions.

I — INFORM those affected of the decision that you have made. Good ethical decisions are surprisingly easy to justify and explain!

C — CREATE an environment of consistency for yourself and your work group. Your measure of integrity and ethics will be the times that you abandoned both.

S — SEEK counsel when there is any doubt, but seek it from those who are honest and ethical themselves, who are not just “yes” people who want to please you.

The rewards for following these values are knowing that you did the right thing and being able to live with yourself and your decisions.

Bob Nelson, PhD, is president of Nelson Motivation Inc., San Diego; best-selling author of several books, including 1001 Ways to Reward Employees and Managing For Dummies; and a frequent speaker. www.nelson-motivation.com