Category Archives: Culture

Three Ways to Assess Someone’s Ethics

What if unethical behaviors emitted a visible indicator? That’s the premise of a great book I just finished, Smoke by Dan Vyleta. Set in Victorian-era England, people produce a trail of smoke every time they sin. As a result, they are not able to hide their worst thoughts or impulses.

As leaders, there are certainly benefits to a smoking-inducing culture. We’d always know who to trust, intentions would be crystal clear, and we could take immediate action when faced with ethical hiccups. Of course, with our morals on display we’d also have to remain on the virtuous path, but that wouldn’t an issue, right?

If you want to avoid the smokey discharge of corruption, the following are three ways you can assess your team’s ethics.

Establish a Baseline

When identifying an ethical quandary, many rely on perception. Sure, some situations are black and white, but these are the obvious examples. For those predicaments in the grey-ish area, perception is dependent upon circumstances and the individual trying to recognize the breach. Therefore, if you are going to be on the lookout, you need to ensure that everyone on the leadership team shares the same expectations.

Creating a foundation begins with assessing your current organizational culture. According to Kenneth W. Johnson, Director of the Ethics & Policy Integration Centre, there a number of measurable factors that can serve to align a company, including how employees:

  • perceive that leadership prioritizes ethics and the core values over the bottom line,
  • speak openly about ethics and the company’s core values,
  • consider the core values in decision making,
  • feel that they and their co-workers are treated fairly,
  • pressure felt to compromise values,
  • distinguish that ethical behavior is rewarded and unethical behavior is punished,
  • identify that “good faith” mistakes are seen as opportunities for growth and development, and
  • hold themselves and others accountable to the standards.

These factors provide a profile of the organization so as to help leadership design and implement an effective ethics program. Then, after the program has launched, this list is valuable in evaluating program success.

Ask the Right Questions

When you know what to ask and what to listen for, a behavioral approach to conversations can uncover a person’s ethical leanings.

If you ask people if they’re ethical, they’re going to say, ‘Yes.’ Behavioral questions tell you that the person was in a situation that they saw as ethics-related and tell you how they thought through the problem and what they did.—Patricia Harned, President of the Ethics Resource Center

When trying to gauge someone’s ethics, consider a few of these questions:

  • What makes up an ethical workplace?
  • At Acme Corp, we are accountable, dependable and transparent. How do you define accountable, dependable and transparent?
  • Did you see the section of our website where we described the company’s stance on ethics? Which of our core values made an impression?
  • When you’ve had ethical issues arise at work, whom did you consult?
  • Can you describe an instance when you witnessed or learned of someone engaging in unethical behavior? What was that behavior and how did you address it?
  • Tell me about a time when you felt it was necessary to cut corners on the quality of a job. What was the situation and how did you resolve it?
  • Describe a time where you were pressured to cheat on a [test / expense report / project. What were the circumstances and how did you handle it?

Clandestine Observations

Famed basketball player and coach John Wooden once said, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” To really assess someone’s ethics, you need to observe them in situations where they aren’t aware of being observed. Consider:

  1. Creating a list of ethical criteria in which you are interested. This will provide a starting point in the behaviors of which you need to be mindful. They may involve honesty, value driven decision-making, modeling, humaneness, trustworthiness, and fairness.
  2. Getting a full picture. Use 360 practices to gather the team’s experiences with the individual. For instance, with interview candidates, I like to utilize the receptionist. How do they treat him/her when a manager is not present? Are they courteous and respectful or dismissive?
  3. Observing firsthand. You can’t rely solely on other’s perceptions. Watch the individuals’ actions and reactions in a manner where they do not realize you are monitoring their behavior. Take note of the criteria you outlined and anything else you find pertinent.

In the absence of smoke, a growing Pinocchio nose, or a flashing red “LIAR” sign, leaders must be able to detect falsehoods. Start with establishing your code of conduct. Then engage in intelligent conversations and observe people’s behaviors. It’s not as easy as watching someone emit smoke, but it’ll sure cut down on the cleaning bill.

Workplace Initiations: Six Ways to Build a More Loyal Team

I was meeting with a few colleagues last week discussing our companys’ onboarding practices. It was interesting to hear how they welcomed newcomers. Most had a formal one-day orientation followed up by job specific training and departmental hospitality. Then there was Chuck.

Chuck did some variation of what everyone else was doing but he incorporated six months of “hazing.” Hazing is probably too strong a term, but they certainly made new hires earn their place on the team. It sounded harsh until Chuck mentioned his company’s incredibility high retention rate, employee engagement scores, and seven-year streak of being a Best Place to Work. Now I’m questioning whether unconditional acceptance is the best way to initiate a newbie.

According to anthropologist Aldo Cimino, “hazing” is the ritualized humiliation of newcomers to a group, often through initiation challenges. This is not a new concept, nor is it relegated to one culture or social class—hazing occurs in upper-class schools, street gangs, sports teams, indigenous tribes, and any other segment of the society where a person joins new groups.

While this may sound barbaric or immature, it can be effective. Cimino’s research found that the groups with higher status and more resources had more rigorous initiations. Another study found that participants who experienced severe embarrassment and discomfort to gain access reported a much higher level of satisfaction with the group. And studies by Brock Bastian concluded that individuals who collectively experienced painful events display stronger bonds and greater generosity to group members.

So why do people (subconsciously) want to go through an initiation? As explained by cognitive anthropologist Harvey Whitehouse, the laborious experiences create a powerful shared memory that serves as social glue, thereby bonding members together. It could also serve to demonstrate an individual’s personal strengths, as well as the qualities of the people who can motivate such acts.

If it’s too easy to get into your organization and you’d like to incorporate an initiation, consider a few of these practices:

Start at the interview. Involve a few steps with a few people. Don’t hesitate from asking difficult questions and setting clear expectations.

Better orientation. The intricacies of your company cannot be taught in one day. Spread it out and, like the interview, involve many people from many departments.

Pubic displays. As they study the company, they need to share what they’re learning. Maybe include a few presentations to the department.

Group project. Get all the new hires together for a hands-on group project. This should be meaningful (no busy work) and inclusive of the team.

No bullying. This is about people being initiated, not threatened, coerced, or emotionally scarred.

Big ending. You’ve tested them, they’ve passed, it is time to celebrate. Make this a big deal. Involve the whole department and formally welcome them.

You take hiring seriously. You take performance seriously. You need to take your onboarding seriously. The way someone is welcomed sets the groundwork for their success. If you include an initiation passage, new hires can earn their way into your company through challenging tasks that expedite their learning curve and engrain them into the culture. Continue to be supportive, but they need to work for it. After all, your company is worth the effort.

Why Leaders Cannot Be Indifferent to the Truth: Part 4— 10 Ways to Create a Culture of Trust

Check out Part 1 of this series where we discuss the logical fallacy of believing you are entitled to your opinion, Part 2 involving the destruction nature of alternative facts (lies), and Part 3 about deceiving with the truth.

Now that we’ve covered false opinions, lying with the truth (paltering), and lying without the truth (alternative facts), it’s time to discuss what we can do about it. According to Stephen M. R. Covey in The Speed of Trust, trust is the most powerful form of motivation in organizations and is the ultimate source of influence. Therefore, to build and maintain a culture brimming with inspiration, engagement, and authenticity, we must embrace the truth.

It should seem easy to embrace truth, but how well is that message getting to those on your team? Are they sheltering you from the hard reality? Are they paltering to make it sound better then it is? Or are they lying by omission and commission because they are scared of the consequences associated with delivering bad news?

People are going to have to sit down and decide: Are we going to want to go over the moral consequences of telling an untruth? The mere fact of it being untrue? Or the fact that it’s bogus, baseless or groundless?—Geoffrey Nunberg, linguist professor at the University of California, Berkeley

Cultivating a truthful organization begins with us; we must lead with facts. To build up your level of trust through fact-based leadership, consider these ten ideas:

Pay Attention. You can’t define and confront reality if you don’t know what the team is feeling. Listen, show respect, and exhibit empathy for their opinions and emotions.

Lead with Questions. Instead of being the “answer guy/gal,” push, prod, and probe with questions. This Socratic style will enhance your understanding and provide a clear picture of reality and its implications.

Own Up.  The easiest way to build trust is the simple acknowledgement of what’s really happening. Don’t pretend things are better than they are, but to avoid spreading doom n’ gloom, back up the bad with what is being done to fix it.

Conduct Autopsies. When things go wrong, it’s easy to dissect until you know the person(s) responsible. Instead of blame, work on solving the problem. If you can do this consistently, your team is more likely to bring you the issues without fear of reprisals.

Avoid Loyalty Tests. Some employees believe that they’ll get ahead by agreeing with you, even when you’re wrong. If you can escape the ego trap, show the team that healthy dissent will be rewarded, whereas mindless obedience will not.

Drop the Two F’s. To reestablish trust, leaders may need to change the behaviors that have propagated the lack of trust. Fear and Force are a dangerous combination that squash the unpleasant truths. Control these behaviors and you’re halfway to Trustville.

Engage in Dialogue. If you want the truth, your go-to reaction cannot be defensiveness. Stifle your natural instinct to debate or argue so your team knows they are being heard.

Teach Debate. According to Deakin University philosophy professor Patrick Stokes, “You are not entitled to your opinion. You are only entitled to what you can argue for.” To maintain truth, we sometimes need to fight for it. Show your team how to construct and defend their argument so they can effectively battle those who spread falsehoods.

Build “Red Flag” Systems. Develop a process where people can disagree in a safe way—no restrictions, no repercussions, no risk of alienation. These red flags can be used to challenge the team or the leader, share a personal anecdote, respond to a co-worker, present an analysis, make a suggestion, or ask a question.

Live it. Like every other leadership tenet, you have to model it before others will follow.

An organization based on lies will not last. An alternative fact does not increase your accounts receivable. No one needs your “opinion” about the effectiveness of the latest marketing campaign. And paltering can only result in decisions based upon faulty, incomplete information. Lead with facts and accept nothing less from your team.

Truth: So innovatively simple.

 

The Why Leaders Cannot Be Indifferent to the Truth series:

Part 1—You are NOT Entitled to Your Opinion

Part 2—The Destructive Nature of Alternative Facts (i.e. Lies)

Part 3—Deceiving with Fact-based Lies

Part 4— 10 Ways to Create a Culture of Trust

Why Leaders Cannot Be Indifferent to the Truth: Part 1—You are NOT Entitled to Your Opinion

Remember that CEO I wrote about last month whose brilliant new project was derailed because she did not provide context? There was one more interaction from her launch party that bothered me. When she was defending the company changes via her charts, graphs and other quantifiable measures, an employee responded with a dismissive, “Well, I’m entitled to my opinion.” Is this a valid response or are we enabling ignorance? <spoiler alert: the answer is #2>

Let’s begin with the understanding that “I’m entitled to my opinion” is a logical fallacy. An opinion is a judgment that inherently involves a degree of uncertainty; therefore, using it as a defense only works in select situations. For instance, you can be entitled to your opinion if we’re discussing the latest Star Wars movie. Sure, critics, friends, and sheer sensibility will tell you it’s a fantastic flick, but there is no “right” answer about such a subjective thought.

You cannot, however, harbor a valid opinion when there is a provable, objective, verifiable fact contradicting your inaccurate thoughts. Going back to our Star Wars example, regardless of whether you enjoyed it, which you did, your opinion is irrelevant when discussing whether is was profitable. A simple internet search will tell you that this is a fact. As a result, you are not “entitled” to think otherwise.

Sometimes we can disagree with the facts.—Sean Spicer, White House Press Secretary

So this leads to the next point—what if you don’t know the truth? Guess what, you still aren’t entitled to your opinion. A factually-based question demands a factually-based answer. You’re entitled to learn the truth. You’re entitled to speak with an expert. You’re entitled to pick up your smartphone and look it up. But you are not entitled to purposely remain ignorant.

When you allow your team the option of being entitled to their opinions, you are propagating a culture where thinking is optional, where individuals can reject whatever facts they do not find to be convenient or beneficial. As Deakin University philosophy professor Patrick Stokes said in a recent interview, “the problem with ‘I’m entitled to my opinion’ is that, all too often, it’s used to shelter beliefs that should have been abandoned. It becomes shorthand for ‘I can say or think whatever I like’ and, by extension, continuing to argue is somehow disrespectful.”

Permitting your team to be entitled to their opinion creates a false equivalence between experts and non-experts, the enlightened and the naïve. In Part 2 of this series, we’ll discuss what happens when a false opinion is turned into an “alternative fact” and how that affects your organization.

 

The Why Leaders Cannot Be Indifferent to the Truth series:

Part 1—You are NOT Entitled to Your Opinion

Part 2—The Destructive Nature of Alternative Facts (i.e. Lies)

Part 3—Deceiving with Fact-based Lies

Part 4— 10 Ways to Create a Culture of Trust

The Business Case for Team-Based Incentives with Atlanta Falcon’s Owner Arthur Blank

You getting Super Bowl fever? As a perpetual supporter of the underdog (unless my Steelers are playing), I’ve been reading about Atlanta Falcon’s owner Arthur Blank. Even if you aren’t into football, you will appreciate that before purchasing the Falcons in 2002, Blank was co-founder of The Home Depot.

It may seem commonplace today, but when it was first introduced The Home Depot revolutionized the home improvement business with its one-stop shopping, warehouse concept. Blank then spent 19 years as its president before becoming CEO and co-chairman.

In learning about Blank, an interview last week exhibits one particularly admirable aspect of his leadership philosophy that gives strong hints as to why he has been as successful as he is. After the Falcons won their spot in the Super Bowl, Blank announced that he is flying all 500 Falcon employees to Houston for the game. When asked, “How big is that bill?” he responded:

It’s not about money. It’s about these associates, who were the ones that support our players, our coaches and our franchise… We are a family of businesses that share a set of values and we want to be able to celebrate this with everybody. All the Falcons associates are going because they’re all a part of what it takes to produce a winning team on the field.

This is motivating to the staff on two fronts. Monetarily, they are each receiving a one-in-a-lifetime experience that is far beyond most people’s budgets—between the flight, a ticket to the game (pricing starts at $3,500 per seat), hotel, and food it could easily cost $8,000 per employee.

More impactful, however, is the message of shared success that Blank is conveying. If the team does well, we all do well. These team-based incentives reinforce a company culture of collaboration and cooperation. As a result, team members are more likely to prioritize the shared goals and values of the organization over their personal agendas.

Not convinced? A 2010 study found that employees receiving team-based incentives are more willing to put extra effort into their tasks because they don’t want to let their teammates down. Armstrong and Ryden’s research found that companies with long-term, team-based incentive pay resulted in significantly lower than average employee turnover. And another study found productivity increases of 9-17% relative to companies with individual incentives.

If team-based incentives sound costly (and you aren’t able to send your team to the Super Bowl), don’t worry. Research shows that team-incentive schemes are 26-29% more cost effective than individual incentives. I’m no economists, but spending less and getting more for your money sounds like a competitive advantage.

As leaders, we need to make shared success a part of our culture. Impart the attitude that “we’re all in this together.” Make it a regular part of your communication and back it up with tangible incentives and rewards. The quicker you start, the quicker you’ll be on your way to your national championship.