July 2009 Archives

I read this short blog by Michael Josephson yesterday, called Don't Let the Bad Guys Win. I completely agree with him that often unethical, illegal, immoral and just plain bad behavior is ignored while managers look the other way. I don't agree at all with co-workers who witness wrong behavior and say,
 "It's not my job to do something about it. That's the manager's job."

Personally, I think it is everyone's job, but that is a blog of another day. Let's say you ARE the manager.

"What's your excuse?"

There are three reasons managers don't do anything about the "bad guys" under their control.

1. Lack of courage - You can call it anything you want but it is plain cowardice. It gets excused any number of ways. That could be a game - name all the excuses for not doing anything about bad people at work.
  • We all need to get along.
  • It will hurt the morale at work. If I fire him, other people will feel less safe about their jobs. I'm just thinking about the whole team.
  • Joe just needs more training. That's why he didn't get that report done on time.
  • I am just a traditional person. I believe in being generous and giving people a lot of chances.

No, actually, you are a coward. You know that Joe doesn't come to work until 11 but writes down on his time card that he starts at 9. You know that Joe lied about having accounting experience. You know that Joe kept asking Bernice in the office next door to go out with him and when Bernice complained about it you made jokes about how easy some women were offended. Deep down, you know why you really did that is that you are afraid of Joe. He yells and threatens people when he is angry. You're afraid he might take a swing at you one day. You're afraid he might complain about you to his friends on the council. You're afraid he might tell his friends and relatives not to support you in your job or not to hire you for that next job. You took his side against Bernice because you knew she probably would not go out and try to organize people against you, talking behind your back. You knew she would be angry but just go back and do her job. She wouldn't shout at you, because she thinks it's unprofessional. You weren't afraid of her. You let the bad guy win.

2. You're not honest. How dare  I say that when I don't even know you? Obviously, you don't know me too well if you ask that! How do I know that everything you said isn't true? Well, if you really, truly were concerned about morale, the team, people feeling as if they are going to have a second chance, let me give you the opportunity to listen inside Susie's  and Joe's brains.  (For those new to this blog and the Tribal Leaders Institute, you can click here to learn more about Susie Sainte and Joe the Tribal Worker - not now! Finish reading the blog first.)

Susie: 'Just how stupid does the manager think I am? What if I was in Joe's position wouldn't I want a second chance? Let's see, I would only be in Joe's position if I had lied about my experience, didn't come to work on Fridays and harassed my co-workers. Not going to happen.'

Joe: 'One more time and this is your last chance. Yessir, yessir really sorry boss-man. I hope he quits talking soon. I have a pool game to go to. I thought he was going to do something after that Bernice squealed on me but it looks like I dodged the bullet again. Yes, yes, I understand, never do it again. As soon as he leaves I am off to the bar to meet Stan. I hope they didn't start without me.'

Josephson's article was short but it brought up a couple of good points. One of those was that by letting the bad guys win we let down all the good people who are counting on us.

Meet Fred. While Susie was created as a combination of the most ethical people we know, and Joe is a combination of the most unethical, self-serving individuals we have met in organizations, Fred is just a regular guy.

Fred comes to work, does his job, tries to get it all together to pay his bills on time, take care of his kids, get along with his co-workers. He wants a fair shake. A job where everyone does his share, where he doesn't have to work extra to make up for 'ghost workers' getting paid for days they don't work.

There aren't a lot of people out there as one-sided or the other as Joe and Susie. There are a whole lot of Freds, though, who work for you, or who depend on your services. Every time you let the good guys win, you're letting all the Freds of the world down. Think about them the next time you ask what's the harm in it?

What is Fred thinking while all this is going on?

"Things never change. Making an effort to do a good job here or get services is really a waste of time. I may as well not bother."

What is the third reason? I will explain (and demonstrate) it in my next blog. 

Them's Fightin' Words

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Erich and I were discussing the loss of the value of courage in modern America. Part of this may be due to a failure of honesty, to call people out for a lack of courage. Here is a true story with details changed to protect the cowardly,

Recently, I was involved in the attempt to replace one board with another. The board had done the worst of all of the problems discussed in the Tribal Leaders Institute, spent funds intended for programs on their own salaries and travel, and not just a little bit but hundreds of thousands of dollars. They had board members who had embezzled money, sexually harassed employees, been abusive to clients and employees. For years, employees had been complaining with no one listening. Sam, a former employee, known for his competence and ethical values, was one of the loudest critics. A number of courageous individuals spent hours documenting all this misuse of funds and abuse. When they went to Sam and stated that they were ready to approach the funding agency with their formal complaint he said,

"Well, I don't know if that is such a good idea. There could be negative repercussions for those people who sign letters of complaint."

I was stunned for a minute and then said, slowly,

"You know, Sam, you need to man up. If these people don't have the courage to stand up for themselves, why should anyone stand up for them?"

He stared at me, a little shocked that I would say that, and said,
"You need to understand business. This is these people's livelihoods."

I told him,
"No, I don't need to understand. It is like that old joke about the man who asked a woman who would sleep with him for a million dollars. When she said yes, he asked her, 'How about for twenty bucks?' She said, 'What do you think I am, a whore?' and he answered, 'We've already established that, now we are negotiating price.'

You're like that. You and your colleagues only have courage when it doesn't cost you anything. That's not courage

Erich suggested that the value of courage has declined since the days of the "Old West" and that maybe that is because we no longer call out people for lack of courage. We say things like, 'Joe is indecisive' instead of 'Joe is too cowardly to make a decision.'

He told this story from the movie, The Outlaw Josie Wales,
"Josie is face to face with a man who is hunting him and he says, 'You know, you don't have to do this. You could just walk out the door and pretend you never saw me.'  He walked out the door, and then, a little while later, he came back in and he said, 'You know, I DO have to do this.' Josie said, 'I know.' And they drew guns and Josie killed him. That's how it was back then. Having courage was important. It was preferable to die than to live being known as a coward."

Now, somehow it is acceptable to be known as a coward. We say things like, 'You just don't understand politics' or 'You just don't understand business.' or 'I don't deal in right and wrong, I'm a lawyer.'

Here is what I say. All of those are excuses for a failure to show courage to do what is right. Yes, it might cost you. It might cost you votes. It might cost you business. You might lose a lawsuit. If you only show courage when it has no cost then you really are a coward and you are just negotiating price.

Your Personal Ethics

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Ethics is personal.

I asked Erich today,
 "Is it possible to be too ethical? Can companies use ethics training to exploit workers? For example, you talk a lot in the courses about working the hours you're paid too work, not taking sick leave unless you are really sick, not running errands during the hours you are supposed to be working. Could employers use that to try to convince workers to come in when they are sick, to work unpaid overtime?"

Erich answered,
"If you are exploiting people, then you're not being ethical. The important point we may have overlooked to this point is creating your personal code of ethics. Sometimes what you may be considering being 'overly ethical' isn't that, it's just being obsessed. For example, some people become obsessed with 'doing the right thing' and following every rule, policy and procedure. I wouldn't call them ethical. I'd just call them obsessed."

So, what does it mean to have a personal code of ethics? We came to a couple of conclusions.
Someone who has a personal code decides what is ethical based on his or her own knowledge of what is right or wrong. If you are going into work even when you are sick because you are afraid of your boss thinking you are not a hard worker, that isn't personal ethics.

People we might think of as 'overly ethical' are not doing the best for themselves or the organization. If you are going in to work out of guilt when you feel sick you may think you're putting in 8 hours of work but if you are under the weather they may be getting only six hours worth of work from you. Ethics includes being generous with yourself as well as others. People who give more than a day's work, in the sense of working while sick, never taking vacations, hours of unpaid overtime - those people often burn out. They can't stay in the profession because they are just too tired. They feel unappreciated, too. 'Look what I did. I worked all of those vacation days while the other teachers didn't come in, I bought kids Christmas presents out of my own paycheck."

Whatever it is, you decided to do that. Don't give everything to the organization, you need to give to yourself.

Having a personal code of ethics is tied to healthy self-esteem. If you have high self-esteem, you won't lie on your timecard, steal office supplies or equipment from your employer. If you have high self-esteem, you will persevere in your efforts to be a good employee, a good manager, you will be generous with both yourself and your fellow employees. You'll do all of these things even when no one is watching you.

If you have high self-esteem, you will take the vacation and holiday time that you have earned, you will take sick leave when you are sick rather than dragging yourself into work. You'll be generous with yourself. You'll have the courage and honesty to admit when you need other people to assist you at work, rather than trying to do everything on your own. You'll do all of these things even when people are watching.

That is what a personal code of ethics is all about, doing what you personally know is right.

For more on self-esteem and ethics, check out the July Miniwakan News.