Ethics and ambition will be in conflict with each other if a leader is not the master of his ambition. There are two kinds of leaders; one kind keeps his/her integrity intact, and the other type of leader does not.
The one who does keeps it close and guards it. It is OK if it is a little tattered around the edges and maybe holding a patch or two, but it is essentially all there.
The one who does not keep his integrity intact sheds pieces along the way so that when that leader reaches the position he or she holds, there is a real question as to whether or not they can conduct themselves in an ethical manner.
How can you be sure you are doing everything you can to be one of those who holds his integrity intact? I think the verdict is clear. Just in the past five years you can find real life examples of corporate leaders who failed in spectacular fashion.
And the seeds of their destruction was rooted in the absence of ethical conduct. They chose the easy path instead because it looked like the fastest way out of a dilemma. Yet solutions that often appear to be a way out of a dilemma create opportunities for inappropriate behavior.
It leads to policies that, instead of creating innovation and growth, function as a shield allowing directors and managers to engage in behavior that is self-serving and unethical.
How many of you have heard the phrase honest to a fault?
All us deal with a lot of noise in popular culture. With great sound and fury we demand that our leaders must be as close to perfect as possible.
Yet, even the best of us lead imperfect lives, and the successful leader is one who catches his/her mistake and quickly corrects it. Good leaders do not allow gaps to form between the error and the action to correct the mistake.
Review the absence of the word “morality” in the business environment. This is not about forming judgements or replacing standards of behavior. It is about the moral dimensions of what they are doing.
Interpersonal Communicationsis more than just speaking with the people with whom you interact.Many pre-pandemic office practices were well established in that they integrated multiple communication processes in the existing work environments that aided employee conversation and feedback in the workplace. Procedures were in place, personnel was comfortable with them and they were easily utilized when necessary.
The Pandemic now has more management and staff working from home.
This has led to far less personal interaction and a far less structured procedure to report and have action taken on a variety of important issues, both work and personal wellbeing related.
To appreciate why interpersonal communications are now more challenging than many realize, the following graphic offers an insight into the difficulties a great many companies now face.
For many, company policy & procedure manuals, and a wide range of best practices guidelines in effect prior to the pandemic were codified to the point that management, staff, and other employees knew where they could go and with whom they could speak comfortably and securely about potentially uncomfortable issues.
Then came the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown and “Working Norms” drastically changed, as shown by the adjacent survey.These reconfigurations of the “workplace” environment put a whole new complexion on these issues.When 67% of employers are actively embracing “work at home” protocols and 36% are actively encouraging employees to work from home, you know there are going to be some major changes in these companies’ corporate culture” going forward.
Here are some of the issues having to be addressed”
These major “Workplace” redefinitions and protocol changes are putting previously unseen strains on employees and adding new ones in the process.
This chart shows some of the major issues found in a recently conducted survey. While all of these struggles are important, the balance between “At Home” Loneliness (19%) and “In Office” Collaborating (17%) have to be factored in with Distractions at Home (10%) to assure a continued (or perhaps even enhanced) level of productivity.
Concurrent with this is the potential need to re-define a company’s remote/flexible workplace policies, which before this event, were narrowly focused.For instance, most of these policies, in their current iteration, address short term situations such as weather emergencies or sick family members.
In the post-Covid world, companies are having to take a long-term approach and re-evaluate which previously classified “Office Only Jobs” can now be reclassified and function as “Work at Home” positions. In addition, all the elements of a company’s team-oriented culture are undergoing rapid change, and the impacts are stilled not fully known.
Here are some steps companies and organizations may want to take as they reconfigure and codify their “Remote Workers” policies and procedures
Establish an information command center and chief communicator. Now, more than ever, employees need information. As an employer, you need someone who’s focused on working with disbursed groups.You want to pick someone who can both talk about and helps reduce employee fears, as well as deal with their logistical concerns.
Change your productivity mindset. While focusing on keeping everyone safe and healthy, look at maintaining or even increasing as much productivity as possible.
Work with what you have. Organizations with a long history of teleworking spent years developing policies and procedures to meet the demands of this unique regimen. Companies, courtesy Covid-19, that must now make decisions quickly about how to handle e-mail, other remote data security, interpersonal interactions and lack thereof should “leverage the cloud,” and avoid “reinventing the wheel.”
Be secure. It’s never too late to update virus protections and remind employees about safe remote work processes, especially if they’re using their personal laptops for official business. It’s imperative to keep an IT staffer on hand and on-call to help workers with their security and other technical issues.
Apply policies consistently and fairly. Above all, be mindful that telework policies that have a negative or disparate impact on legally protected groups, such as women or racial minorities, can increase your exposure to a discrimination claim. Many states are asking employers to allow telework as much as possible and, in some instances, are requiring businesses to reduce capacity and the number of employees in the workplace.
It is an employer’s prerogative to decide which jobs lend themselves to remote work while others don’t, and employers making a call about who gets to work from home are running to catch up with the new reality. Data shows that some are doing a better job than others, but all will need to learn how to maneuver in this new environment. Many of the existing rules and regulations are not going to provide much help.
Remember the good old days when your bank paid you money for the privilege of holding your money?They took the money you deposited with them, and provided credit to other customers in the form of business loans, mortgages, auto loans, and the like.Upon repayment by those customers of the money they borrowed, the bank provided you, the depositor, a modest interest payment, because, after all, it was your money they used in for those loans.
Today, for the privilege of using your money to make money, the bank now charges you a fee for keeping your money for you.People can be forgiven if they’ve come to see their bank as something like a cartoonish character holding you upside down to catch the change that falls out of your pockets.
Many banks, especially large cap banks such as Chase or Well Fargo appear to treat ethical failures as minor setbacks, a cost of doing business that is glossed over and minimized. It should be no surprise the average retail consumer of bank services feels he or she is not treated well or respected by the institutions that receive and use their money.
At one time the average bank had few, if any, fees. Now the bank is required by law to list all the fees they charge, and the list is over half a page. I recently asked an acquaintance of mine, a man a good deal younger than I, what he remember about his first experience with a bank. He said he was fifteen when he opened his first bank account, and that he opened both a checking and savings account.
He remembered that he received a folding camp-style folding chair, a complimentary coffee cup, and he could not recall what the third item was.He recalled that they made it clear he had to maintain a minimum balance, or he would be charge a fee. They did not tell him about other fees that he only learned about later.
What does this have to do with ethics? Many banking practices are the result of law and regulation. What is disclosed and not disclosed is defined by these outside agents, and the simple truth is that what is lawful is not necessarily ethical.
Transparency should not be legislated. It should be a natural by-product of an honest commercial relationship. This forced transparency is at the heart of much of the disquiet many have when they engage in transactions with their bank of choice. For many, the bank they ultimately choose, is one where they feel least put upon, and the situation is not likely to get better anytime soon.
The environment created by this latest pandemic will drive banking to become even more impersonal with less human to human contact. It will hasten the transition to a mostly mechanical/electronic environment, and it will have a negative impact on transparency.
It is unarguable that banks tread close to what is ethical and what is not, and all of us who rely on our bank of choice need to become more vigilant about how our bank’s practices impact our ability to see what they are doing with our money.
We see stories about ethical and integrity failures among the world’s largest companies more often than one might think. The number of cases is growing each year as is the drama surrounding the details once they are released. The U.S. reached a settlement with Sweden’s telecom giant Ericsson Telecom.
The settlement was in two parts where damages in an amount just over $500 million were assessed against the telecom company for bribery, falsifying records, and other misdeeds prohibit by laws such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. In addition, another $500 Million was extracted through “disgorgement”.
Assessing damages for wrongdoing is a well-established legal doctrine, and though the amount agreed as representative of the damages caused, is surprisingly large; it is hard to argue against given the length of time the unethical practices existed.
Forcing the company to cough up an equal amount as punishment raises legal questions that I will leave to those more qualified to talk about. What I can say is that a line can easily be crossed between what is necessary to correct the misdeeds of individuals and companies and extortion. As the details of this settlement become more widely known, the astonishing Billion dollar settlement may be justified.
Yet, I cannot but conclude that you do one or the other. One either can make the case for damages consistent with the laws that were broken, or you are able to determine the specific amounts illegally gained and by force of law demand the individual or company return those ill-gotten gains.
It is all too easy to forget that just as companies can behave in an unethical manner, so can those acting as an agent of the government. Is disgorgement on top of damages unethical? It is a question that needs discussion.
These dramatic events are easy to see and follow once they become known. What is much more difficult to see is the impact of unethical conduct by government bureaucrats in the issuing of regulations. Many times small business owners are the ones that suffer the most from regulations, and often they don’t learn about these pending consequences in time to mitigate the adverse impacts.
I recently read a report in The Wall Street Journal’s about something called the Ultimate Beneficial Ownership (UBO) Registry, and a movement in Congress to make participation compulsory. Apparently, when I created my LLC through the State of Texas and filled out all of the necessary forms, that is no longer enough. Unbeknownst to me, this is an ongoing debate that’s been around for a while, driven by the fact that bad guys create shell companies to hide what they are doing.
On its face, the idea of identifying who benefits from the operations of a shady company is a good thing. Law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and elsewhere have a pressing need more tools to ferret out corruption.
What sounds good in theory or in a carefully worded press release by some mid-level staffer in a government agency is one thing, drilling down into the details in something else. When you do drill down, you find the burden for making this process work will fall on the owners of the companies required to input their data into the registry and maintain its accuracy, and they will suffer legal consequences if they don’t.
So, the small business owner now may have to contend with a database that law-abiding business owners must participate in and provide information already available to law enforcement; where they must bear the costs of maintenance and no assurance of privacy can be offered or guaranteed.
Should this useless exercise come to pass, it will not drive anyone out of business, but it will represent a layer of costs that provide no value to the business owner and will create increased risk across areas not yet defined.
Larger businesses rarely take time to learn about or meet with the owners of small businesses. Yet, opportunities do exist where leaders of large and small companies can meet and understand the many things they have in common.
One of those opportunities is provided each year by the Services Cooperative Association. SCA is a co-operative comprised of business owners that have a purpose that hasn’t varied in 36 years. Through its processes, it assists business ownersin Market Expansion, Business Development, Entrepreneurial and Intrapreneurial Education and Professional Growth. It is a set of processes that has led numerous companies to succeed where they might otherwise have failed.
Each year the Services Cooperative Association hosts its Annual Economic Forecast, and on Wednesday, January 8, 2020, the association will host its 37th Economic Forecast. Each year the City Controller, or his or her representative, presents the city’s view of the Houston economy, and Houston Community College provides an overview for the State of Texas.
Mr. Chris Brown, Controller for the city of Houston, has once again accepted the invitation to be SCA’s keynote speaker at this event, and Professor of Economics, Ms. Sophie Haci accepted on behalf of HCC.
As Chairman of the Board for the Services Cooperative Association, I cordially invite those of you reading this who live in the greater Houston Area to mark your calendars and take the time to attend this annual event, meet other small business owners, and gain a fresh perspective on the many issues that impact our fellow Houstonians.
I invite you to visit the website here, and learn more about the event, and while there take a moment to check out some of the other resources available through SCA.
It is now the first few hours of the New Year, and as I sit at the edge of the year 2020, I continue to think about three words and two phrases that occupied my mind over the past 30 plus days. In the days and weeks leading up to Christmas, I received many notes, some electronic and some in the more traditional form, wishing me and my family a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
I sent out similar good wishes to friends, acquaintances, and people I’ve done business with, and each time I thought about those three words and two phrases. I came to the conclusion I needed to take specific actions this year to more actively live into the call to action that lies in those words. This may sound to some like a New Year’s resolution, and to some extent, it may be.
Yet, this is not about losing weight, exercising more, or keeping up with the household chores better. These are important in their own way and lead to being a better person. I’ve come to the conclusion that so many of those more obvious goals don’t get carried out in a sustained way because the virtues have not been put in place first.
This time of year and the messages associated with this season reminds me that we cannot do anything for ourselves without first looking beyond ourselves. Conversations about virtue are rarely held outside the home because too many people are afraid to have that conversation, or simply don’t know how to start one. For me, the start of any conversation such as this, is what am I called to do about something?
The three Great Virtues are called Faith, Hope, and Charity, and each one is a call to action. People in business use a lot of action based phrases; to the point, it is often a catchphrase. For Christians these words are much more than a simple call to action, and yet, each of these words speaks to anyone who wants to make things better, and once understood in that context, the obligation to act becomes clear.
Having the belief that you can effect positive change is a universal trait. Holding to the expectation that you will succeed, and being able to act with unselfish motives are also universal.
Two phrases also make an appearance at this time of year; Peace on Earth and Goodwill towards Men. I see these words as an expression of the four Cardinal Virtues written about with great eloquence by philosophers such as Plato and Cicero.
It was Cicero who wrote….” Virtue may be defined as a habit of mind (animi) in harmony with reason and the order of nature. It has four parts: wisdom (prudentiam), justice, courage, temperance.”
As we all enter this new year 2020, I invite those who read my letter each month to dedicate yourselves to a new level of action, a higher level of commitment, and the promise to yourself that small steps matter as much as the larger steps.
As noted in several recent letters, I again invite you to join me next Wednesday, January 8, 2020, at Gallery Furniture at their North Freeway (I-45) address for the 37th Annual Economic Forecast hosted by the Services Cooperative Association
SCA is a co-operative comprised of business owners that have a mission, a purpose that hasn’t varied in 36 years. Through its processes, it assists business ownersin Market Expansion, Business Development, Entrepreneurial and Intrapreneurial Education and Professional Growth. It is a set of processes that has led numerous companies to succeed where they might otherwise have failed.
A relative of mine once made a comment that actions are the mirror that
reflects intent. That phrase comes back to me from time to time when I come
across something in the news or on television. Generally speaking, I wait to
avoid reacting to things I read about or hear, because early disclosures rarely
provide enough truth to assess what is really going on.
Over the past several weeks I’ve thought about the kerfuffle over
Chick-fil-A’s decision to re-direct its corporate giving, and more to the
point, announcing it would no longer give emphasis to faith based charities
such as The Salvation Army. Why announce this change? Who to donate to, how
much, where, and when are matters largely discussed and decided internally by
the company’s management. These decisions rarely make headlines because they
are rarely discussed outside the boardroom.
I have to conclude the decision by Chick-fil-A to announce the new focus of
its corporate giving programs is one more example of a company walking into the minefield
that is the modern American culture. It is one more company that made a
decision based on surveys which, more often than not, began from the wrong
premise. This false starting point reflects a failure of critical thinking; a
necessary discipline in understanding the relationship between a company’s
purpose and its intent.
Intent and purpose have clearly different meanings, and yet,
they are also linked. It is the relationship between these two ideas that
define a company’s culture. Chick-fil-A’s failure to understand this linkage
led it to the inevitable either/or position from which there is no good
outcome. Either they continue to operate a company built on faith based values,
or jettison many of those values in order to put themselves in a better light
in an increasingly secular world.
Integrity is impossible without ethics, and
ethics is impossible without a moral foundation. Chick-fil-A may come through
this period of controversy positioned to expand and grow; that remains to be
seen. The current leadership asserts
publicly that the company remains committed to Christian values.
Yet, because of the public announcements, overtones of appeasement echo as
a result of these recent actions, and almost any answer they give for their
decisions will smack of moralizing. Just as there is a difference between
intent and purpose, so too is there a difference between moral reasoning and
moralizing. Understanding that difference also requires critical thinking.
What is missing in all of this is a transparent motive that is separate and
apart from the desire to do more business in heretofore unfriendly parts of the
country. It may become clearer in the future, but in the short term, I think
the company will continue to struggle with the conflict between intent and
Small businesses and companies escape many of these dilemmas.
I think it is because the owners and leaders of smaller business entities live
closer to the action. The decisions they make, good or bad, provide almost
instant feedback; especially if those actions disappoint the client.
Given the bad rap that business owners and leaders get in
the media, entertainment, and across large segments of the government, they do
the right thing with more consistency than is generally known. To them
integrity is fundamental to who they are and they don’t compromise their
fundamental sense of doing what is right.
Exceptions exist in this as in all things. Yet, I am no
longer surprised by the fact that, at the small business level, owners and
leaders are comfortable talking about ethics and integrity as being key aspects
of their way of doing business and, taken as a whole, do not act in ways that
compromise those pillars of their business.
Larger business rarely take time to learn about or meet with
the owners of small businesses. Yet, opportunities do exist where leaders of
large and small companies can meet and understand the many things they have in
One of those
opportunities is provided each year by the Services Cooperative Association. SCA
is a co-operative comprised of business owners that has a purpose that hasn’t
varied in 36 years. Through its processes, it assists business ownersin Market Expansion, Business Development, Entrepreneurial and
Intrapreneurial Education and Professional Growth. It is a set of processes
that has led numerous companies to succeed where they might otherwise have
Each year the Services Cooperative Association hosts its Annual Economic
Forecast, and on Wednesday, January 8, 2020 the association will host its 37th
Economic Forecast. Each year the City Controller, or his or her representative,
presents the city’s view of the Houston economy, and Houston Community College
provides an overview for the State of Texas.
Mr. Chris Brown, Controller for the city of Houston, has once again
accepted the invitation to be SCA’s keynote speaker at this event, and
Professor of Economics, Ms. Sophie Haci accepted on behalf of HCC.
As Chairman of the Board for the Services Cooperative Association, I
cordially invite those of you reading this who live in the greater Houston Area
to mark your calendars and take the time to attend this annual event, meet
other small business owners, and gain a fresh perspective on the many issues
that impact our fellow Houstonians.
People often ignore factors or circumstances that surround disagreements, and when they do, disagreements escalate into conflict. Delay resolution too long and the conflict becomes intractable. Once this happens, a successful outcome is harder to reach.
These kinds of conflict leave emotional scars. In an article some years ago I wrote about the emotions that are connected to most conflicts, and how these can interfere with both a timely solution and one that satisfies the interests and needs of those most directly involved in the conflict. The reason why it is so difficult at that point is surprisingly simple.
You cannot overcome an emotional investment on the part of someone without taking the time to separate the person (i.e. his/her feelings) from the issue. Once someone invests his or her emotions in a particular point of view or position, changing that person’s mind becomes very challenging.
A quick look at what we see playing out in our communities and in the country more broadly provides ample evidence of how hard that process can be. We also can look more narrowly and focus on the business world and see conflicts that haven’t been successfully resolved, and the reasons almost always reflect a failure to overcome the emotional investment of the parties in the issue in dispute.
It is easy to point out some of the more typical kinds of unresolved conflicts such as labor strikes in various companies and industries. We know mergers are fraught with conflict because careers and people’s livelihood are on the line. While these kinds of conflicts make the news, they are not even the tip of the iceberg.
Look around your own company or department and, if you pay attention, you will notice that things are not running as smoothly as you initially think. The signs are there, but most people aren’t trained to recognize them for what they are.
Are the other employees in the department competitive in an obvious way? Just about everyone is taught that competition is a good thing, but there is a fundamental truth in the old adage that too much of a good thing is harmful. When employees in a group or department become too competitive, it is a symptom of something much larger. In a highly charged environment where employees become excessively competitive, teamwork collapses. This, in turn, introduces another group of behaviors that are mostly negative.
Are you uncertain of your management team, and as a consequence, are you trying to “fly under the radar”? This defense mechanism is not uncommon when employees find themselves working for managers that are never around, or who are known to excessively criticize an employee’s work.
In an environment where conflict percolates beneath the surface and goes unresolved, a series of behaviors can build up and continue almost unnoticed that force people in that department to adjust here, bend there, and make other kinds of compromises to get things done.
And when you go home at the end of the day, you take with you a lingering sense that the day did not go as well as you wanted. That sense of dissatisfaction builds up and eventually impacts your performance, your dedication, and your commitment.
Unresolved conflict erodes group cohesion, damages professional relationships, and can even damage the organization. People’s emotions sustain conflict, and once you recognize that, you can begin the process of unwinding the issues that created the conflict in the first place.
In my work, I talk about this unwinding process in terms of a triangle. Some of you who’ve read my newsletter over the years know I talk about this from time to time. I try not to repeat myself, and look at different ways of making these essential points. For those of you reading this for the first time, the three-point of the triangle are: Separate, Explain, and Criteria.
Successful conflict resolution almost always begins by getting each sides’ assumptions out into the open. The emotional investment that I talk about in this letter is, more often than not, supported by assumptions; mostly about the other parties in the dispute. Bringing those assumptions out into the open is the first step in separating fact from fiction, and separating the person from the emotions.
The manager or the person facilitating the process can then present a set of questions that allow the people involved to explain their issues in detail. The explanation process introduces clarity, and this produces understanding. This is not a step where one party agrees or accepts what the other party wants. It is the point where each side understands the other. The foundation for conversation is built.
The third corner is what I call the criteria step. Once the foundation for dialogue is built, potential solutions require clearly identified criteria that will allow the solutions to advance in a manner the people can see and evaluate objectively.
This is the crux of the process. The triangle has to be more than a drawing on a page or whiteboard. The process requires that the parties to the conflict take action in a controlled way that leads to a successful resolution of the conflict. This action has key components, including, but not necessarily limited to:
Jointly developing a written plan where everyone involved in the conflict agrees with the plan. (consensus over compromise)
The basis for measuring results is built into the plan
Key decision-makers are identified early and their roles are equally clear
Ownership of outcomes is a commitment established at the beginning
Work environments damaged by conflict can be healed, and the integrity of the organization restored. Those directly involved in the conflict, and those brought in to assist need to recognize that this process is not without consequences. In my work with clients I keep two concepts in mind; equity and prudence.
I emphasize these two concepts because, in today’s environment, people accept the idea of collateral damage far too easily. I have an immense distaste for solutions that clear the field without any thought to innocent bystanders.
Food for Thought: In order to develop a complex argument it is necessary to ask what, how, and why questions. These questions will lead from observation to exploration and from there to an argument (from the Penguin Handbook).
Do you have questions about how to grow your business? CDC Integrated Services Supports the Services Cooperative Association. Learn more about them at: www.servicesca.org.
Each month I send out a newsletter. The title of this publication is Putting It in Context. My readers know that, while the subjects I cover may touch on a range of issues, they all center on the core themes of my books, speeches, training modules, and the other core services of my business.
I will occasionally take a risk and tackle a subject I don’t normally talk about, such as leadership, but I do so in the context of a specific subject or issue; otherwise, it’s like tossing a pail of water into the ocean.
Also, regardless of that month’s subject, I always tie the idea in the letter with my closing thought. Each letter ends with my “Food for Thought” statement. This closing is either something I want people to think about, or I connect it to something someone else said that is particularly relevant to the month’s topic.
Yesterday’s letter was about perceptions and misperceptions as it relates to conflict in the workplace, and how many people think that what works in one set of circumstances should work elsewhere. One of the subjects I touched on was that negotiations and mediations are not the same. The processes and techniques of each may overlap occasionally, but to assume they do so in most circumstances is a recipe for failure.
In my closing I reminded readers that “A successful negotiation requires compromise, but successful conflict resolution requires consensus. Sometimes the two meet in the middle, and sometimes they don’t”.
Experienced leaders and senior managers know the difference between the two, and avoid mixing the two concepts. Further down the chain managers and supervisors frequently do get it wrong in that they try to direct parties in conflict to compromise.
The parties may yield to that pressure in the near term, but it will re-surface at a most undesirable moment. In a conflict situation it is not the agreement that matters, but the consensus on which the agreement rests.
So keep reading my letters, and I invite anyone to call who simply has a question unrelated to a specific problem. No one will try to sell you anything. If you have a concern about something specific, then I invite you to call me at your earliest convenience. During the month of August the first ½ hour is free.
We can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, or at (C) 832-452-8537; (O) 346-561-0612.
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