The impact of the Volkswagen emissions scandal and all of its repercussions are nothing short of tragic. It’s an expensive lesson on many levels and one that we would all do well learning from.
How did it start?
It starts when we put the wrong things first. A New York Times article covering the scandal brought out the fact that CEO, Martin Winterkorn, had ambitions to take the company “to the very top of the global car industry,” putting huge demands on his team to deliver growth. There’s nothing wrong with financial success or striving to be number one. The problem arises when we make raising profits and being number one such a high priority that we’re willing to sacrifice our values and integrity. It is, without a doubt, a very slippery slope.
Is that really all it took?
This wasn’t the first time the company got involved in cheating the system. They were caught cheating on emissions testing in the 1970’s. Matt DeLorenzo, a diesel expert and the managing editor at Kelley Blue Book, told the New York Times regarding this round of cheating, “It could have been an incremental thing that got them caught up in this. They thought they could maybe fix this later, then discovered they couldn’t and went down a dark path.”
How could this have been avoided?
Integrity is something that we all need to value as a non-negotiable. It’s so important that the Hebrew word for integrity is used 30 times in the Bible. Consider these Scriptures:
- Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out.
- – Proverbs 10:9
- The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.
- – Proverbs 11:3
- A faithful person will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished.
- – Proverbs 28:20
- “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” – Luke 16:10-13
Winterkorn got to see his goal achieved in July 2015, but it came with a high price tag that dramatically blots out his short-lived victory. The company is facing billions of dollars in losses, huge dips in stock price and a tremendous hit to consumer confidence. The impact includes the employees of the company, the dealerships around the world that sell their cars, the environmental impact of 11 million cars emitting up to 40 times the permitted level of nitrogen oxides, not to mention the potential impact on the German economy, which revolves around the auto industry.
Breaches in integrity start one person and one decision at a time. We all need to diligently guard not only our own integrity, but the integrity of those around us. Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” What can you do to protect integrity in your organization?