Silver linings

We all hope that this year will be better than last year.

But every year comes with its occasional dark, stormy clouds. The key is to look for the silver linings.

Some suppliers will cheat. Some customers will lie. Some employees will steal. We can choose to see them as bad apples and do nothing, or we can look at each event as an opportunity to improve an element of our systems (code, policy, training, control, audit, investigation).

2021 will be better than 2020 only if we look for opportunities to make it so.

Developing an ethical culture in 2021

I have a personal project that is in motion right now.

I say in motion because I’m not truly taking any action. I’m researching, I’m planning, I’m preparing but I’m not pulling the trigger on any action that would provide me vital feedback on the viability of my project.

And that’s because humans are very good at avoiding criticism and delaying failure. That fear of failure is linked to our fear of being an outcast, which, for the longest time, threatened our survival. So even today, if we are not good at doing something or simply don’t know if we will be good at it, we avoid doing it. We don’t want to risk being criticized or made fun of.

That same fear prevents many managers from addressing ethical dilemmas at work. They have little or no practice discussing ethical issues. Their boss doesn’t do it. It wasn’t part of their classes in college – or it was a stand-alone class that seemed unrelated to the core topics. What if they start an ethical conversation and no one on their team jumps in? Or worse, their boss disagrees with their stand?

Like any habit, getting comfortable with uncomfortable conversations takes practice. An easy way to start practicing is to simply ask your team “What do you think about X?” See what they have to say. Don’t push too hard because, like you, they will be uncomfortable. They have the same fears. Just listen. At some point, they will probably turn the question over to you: “What do you think?” If you are not sure, it’s OK to say “I’m not sure. That’s why I wanted to hear from you. I’ll give it some thought and we can revisit next week. Thank you for sharing.”

Start a conversation about business ethics each week and by this time next year you will have practiced over 50 times. And by then, you will be more comfortable, you will be better at it, and when anyone on your team notices something that doesn’t seem quite right, they will bring it up during your weekly meeting.

And then, just like that, you will have planted the seeds of an ethical culture.

Best wishes for 2021.

All eyes on you

A few decades ago you could only learn about organizational culture in academic papers that no one read.

Then professors and writers like Ariely, Covey, Grant and Pink wrote best-selling books that made the academic papers more accessible.

Today you can find daily articles about corporate culture in Forbes magazine and the Wall Street Journal.

With today’s wide availability of messages on the importance of culture, which message is the most important for your employees to hear?


Leadership habit

I am currently reading Atomic Habits by James Clear.

Clear explains that the best way to start a new habit is to associate the desired behavior with a specific time and place (it’s called implementation intention). Essentially, telling yourself that you will do 10 push-ups a day is not as effective as deciding that you will do 10 push-ups in your bedroom, before dinner, right after changing out of your work clothes.

There is a lesson here for all of us aspiring ethical leaders. Instead of telling ourselves that we will speak more often to our teams about the importance of doing the right thing (a good habit), we should instead decide to share, during the first staff meeting of each month, a recent ethical decision that we’ve made (much more specific). Or, instead of simply committing to improving our team’s culture in 2021, we could commit to reading one chapter of Connect First each Friday afternoon before leaving work (the book has 52 short chapters).

We all want to be better ethical leaders. We know that we are what we repeatedly do. So why not create habits of ethical leadership?

What habits will you create in 2021?

If you think compliance is expensive…

A few years ago we suffered serious water damage at my house. Not wanting to hire some Joe Blow contractor to do the repairs, my wife and I turned to a Big Box home renovation store. We soon found out that their standard practice is to subcontract to Joe Blow contractors.

So it’s not surprising to read about Home Depot getting in trouble for this practice (we didn’t hire Home Depot, by the way). They tried to save $100 here, $200 there, putting their customer’s health at risk, and now they must pay a $21,000,000 penalty and implement a compliance program. Had they created a compliance program from the get go, it would have been cheaper and it would have been the right thing to do for their customers, their shareholders and for the industry.

As they say, if you think compliance is expensive, try non-compliance.

My Top 5 Ethics and Compliance Influencers for 2020

Every workday, I aim to write a post on this blog.

My process is simple. I read, then I write. I read about current events and I read what others have written on ethics and compliance.

The world’s news often offers a good idea for a post. When that fails, I can rely on other writers for inspiration, people who think deeply about what it means to be human, to fail and to strive always to do better.

This post will highlight 4 individuals and one organization who most inspired my writing this year. Of course, there are many others, too many to list here. But these 5 were with me all year as we all tried to navigate an uncomfortable world.

I encourage you to follow them*.

Richard Bistrong. Before becoming an advisor on corruption risks, Richard was an international sales executive. At some point along the way, he stepped on the proverbial slippery slope and was eventually sentenced to federal prison for corruption. Richard doesn’t blame anyone for the choices he made. By sharing his story (in person and online), Richard helps others identify and avoid risky situations. He teaches by being transparent and vulnerable.

Carsten Tams. Carsten doesn’t blog just anywhere; his posts are featured on two separate blogs of Forbes Magazine. After over 15 years in various roles linked to ethics and culture in a global media company, Carsten now helps clients solve organizational challenges by using the latest findings of behavioral science. He reads broadly, thinks deeply and write clearly.

The Ethics & Compliance Initiative. This organization is dedicated to helping its members create and sustain high-quality ethics and compliance programs**. It does so by providing research that doesn’t aim to sell you a product or a service, but rather helps you understand what truly drives behavior in an organization. With its daily email briefings, monthly stats and annual surveys, the ECI helps me bring value to both my organization and my readers.

Ricardo Pellafone. Ricardo changed how I look at compliance training. I now understand the difference between risk-based training – the kind that’s great for lawyers – and task-based training – the kind that’s perfect for employees trying their darn best to do their job compliantly without having to spend eons learning about compliance. Ricardo and his team at Broadcat write sharp, no-nonsense posts on their blog, often spiked with funny GIFs and videos.

Seth Godin. Seth is not an E&C professional. He is a writer and a marketer. A marketer is not the same as an advertiser; advertisers try to make you buy stuff. Seth tries to make you see the world as it is and urges you to make a difference. He does so with short, daily blog posts (he hasn’t missed a day in over 10 years). Seth often write about the importance of trust in business, which often inspires my writing.

* As with all posts, my views are not expressed on behalf of or at the request of my employer.

** Full disclosure: I am a board member of this organization.

A safe WFH workplace

Companies have a duty to provide a safe working environment to their employees.

Before the pandemic, this meant that companies ensured their facilities were safe. It also meant that the odd employees who worked from home (WFH) where often on their own.

What does it mean now for companies that have tens, thousands or even tens of thousands of employees working from home? What is the corporate responsibility when we see a surge in physical threats to executives and rank-in-file employees alike, usually for taking a stand on social issues (or for not taking a stand)?

Some companies started to offer ergo-perks to their WFH employees, like office chairs and monitors. Should they also offer alarm system installation and security patrols?

The answer may be case-specific, but the question is worth asking.

Looking back, looking forward

Go to your “Sent” folder and search for 2020 emails containing the word “ethics”.

How many are they? What’s the average per week? Did you send them to your direct reports, your peers or your supervisor? Were you praising a good outcome, raising a concern or simply reminding people to complete their online training?

2020 offered us plenty of opportunities to demonstrate ethical leadership. Did we grab them?

Can we do better in 2021?

Click here to see what your employees are searching for.

The cost of a wrong cultural turn

The bagger at the grocery store is fixing a problem. Most of us have been hired to fix a problem.

Once we are hired, new problems show up. If we are lucky, our boss gives us the freedom to fix those problems too.

How do we choose the best solution to a problem? It depends on what matters to us, to our boss and to the organization. Too many leaders care about time and money, so a solution is often a function of how long it will take and now much it will cost.

One thing is certain: every possible solution creates a different cultural outcome. Yet, how often do you hear a leader ask “What will be the cultural impact of this fix?”

Those who ask that question understand that taking a wrong cultural turn now will cost a lot of time and money down the road.