1% better

We are what we repeatedly do.

My morning routine is a window into my personal philosophy.

I wake up early to enjoy an hour of silence and be free of distractions before the family wakes up. I meditate to be in the present moment and to learn how to stay this way throughout the day. I ready Stoic philosophy and decide where I will apply it during the coming day. I write in my journal to clarify my thoughts. I read success literature to eliminate waste in my life and to adopt better habits. Then, feeling well armed against the world, I read the news and try to understand it through the lenses built of my morning routine. When all this is done, I’ll attempt to write a post on this blog.

This routine prepares me for the real work of life: walking alongside others. My family, my friends, my colleagues, my community. None of it is easy. Despite this daily routine, I make daily mistakes. But the mistakes would be greater without this practice.

No two people will have the same routine. What works for me won’t work for anyone else. But all of us can build a practice that seeks to make us 1% better every day. Better for those we serve, both at home and at work.

Helping them out of the nest

Managers often overlook a key question during performance reviews: do you think you could contribute and grow more in a different company?

It’s a difficult question to ask. There needs to be a high level of trust in place. But if an employee feels that we have always wanted what was best for them, they will answer truthfully.

We can help most employees grow within our own organization, but some will only reach their full potential outside of it. “Losing” an employee this way should not be seen as a failure. In fact, it’s a grand gesture of faith and trust.

What are we aiming for?

When I was about 10 years old, a neighbor of mine had a picture of an overweight woman on her fridge, cut out from a magazine. She told me it served as a reminder not to overeat.

Some 20 years later, I read about a study that found that people who put pictures of lean and strong bodies on their fridge are healthier than those who look at overweight bodies. The first group can see that there is still work to be done and the fridge stays closed. The second group feels like they are not “as bad” as what they see on the picture, so surely they can have another helping.

Similar studies have shown the negative effects of companies repeatedly sharing with employees the wrongdoing of other employees. When the company newsletter features other employees cheating, lying and stealing, month after month, it has the effect of normalizing the behavior. And if the monthly examples are of a serious nature, employees considering lessor offenses almost feel good that they are not “as bad” as these other employees.

Meanwhile, when companies share stories of employees doing the right thing, they are showing everyone else what the expected behavior is, which often leads to a healthier company.

There is probably room for both types of stories. But just like happily married people extend 5 kind gestures to their spouse for every unkind one, I would recommend a healthy dose of good stories for every bad one.

The plank and the saw dust

Most people are inclined to think that they are always right and to view others suspiciously.

The ancient Stoics knew this and trained themselves to do the opposite. They learned to question their own motives and to assume positive intent in others. “Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself,” said Marcus Aurelius.

As difficult as assuming positive intent in others can be, questioning our own motives – seeing our unconscious biases – is ever harder. It requires constant vigilance, being ready to recognize the faintest taste of righteousness.

Someone will upset us today. It could be at home or at work or out in public. Let’s try not to react. Let’s assume positive intent. Then, let’s identify when we, ourselves, engaged in a similar, or worse, behavior in the past. And, finally, let’s ask ourselves what drove us to that behavior. What belief did we have? Where did that belief come from? What bias was at play?

Imagine 7 billion of us doing this just once today. What would tomorrow look like?

Sustainability is in the how

Leaders like Chase Jarvis and Seth Godin tell us that artists (and we are all artists) don’t work to make money. They make money so that they can keep doing their art.

So if you like to paint, you sell your paintings so that you can keep painting (and not for the money). If you like to cook food for others, you sell your food so you can keep cooking. If you like to create software that unleashes users’ creativity, you sell your software so you can keep coding.

None of us can create and sell our art by ourselves. We must work with colleagues, suppliers, customers, intermediaries. This is why how we create and sell matters just as much as what we create and sell. It cannot be enough to just want to cook food for other people. We must care about the entire value chain if we want it to be sustainable.

For it must be sustainable if we are to do it again tomorrow.

Peace and quiet

I was a senior in high school when the Challenger exploded.

I was in class at the time of the launch. I think it was chemistry. The teacher had rolled in a television set for all of us to watch. I remember how quiet the whole school got after the explosion. Not just my classroom; the whole school.

Allan McDonald never stayed quiet. McDonald was the engineer who refused to approve the Challenger launch. He knew that the O-rings at the booster rocket joints would likely fail in the unusually low temperatures of launch day. He spoke up before the launch but was overruled by his company’s executives.

Then, 12 days later, in a closed hearing of a presidential commission investigating the explosion, he spoke up again and corrected the record after a NASA official tried to suggest that McDonald had approved the launch. Embarrassed, his company demoted him in an effort to silence him. When the US Government heard of the demotion, it threatened to remove the company from all future NASA contracts. McDonald was promoted back and put in charge of redesigning the rocket joints.

After his retirement in 2001, he became an advocate of ethical decision-making to engineering students, to engineers and to managers, both in the private sector and in government agencies.

He never stayed quiet on the importance of doing the right thing.

McDonald passed away on Saturday.

He can rest in peace.

Documenting and FAQs

Ethics and compliance officers often share with me their struggle to communicate about the E&C program. “How many different ways can I tell them about our code of conduct, our policies and our training?”, they ask.

Two ways are often overlooked:

  • Documenting: Let’s say you are in the process of revising an existing policy. Share that with your employees. Tell them you are launching the revision process and why. Later, tell them how you partnered with HR to get feedback on the first draft. Once approved, share the questions that leadership asked before approving the policy. You can do that with any project you are working on. Documenting gives you a chance to stay in front of your employees, to tell a story (that’s how people truly learn), and to add transparency to your work (transparency promotes trust).
  • FAQs: If you don’t have a big project to document, then consider writing FAQs. You can easily write FAQs about your code, about each of your policies, about your training, investigations, controls, etc. All you have to do is collect the questions you get from employees and organize them. Once you have 3 or more on a given topic, you can publish the FAQ.

Of course, you can also document your creation of FAQs!

Don’t ignore lies

There is a lot of disinformation out there.

Good journalists are fighting it. Some social media outlets are fighting it. The new administration is fighting it.

What about your CEO? Other corporate leaders? Your supervisor? You? We all have a responsibility to curb disinformation and shine a light on truth. Find a daily opportunity to set the record straight. It can be during a private conversation, during a staff meeting, or in a company newsletter article.

Some conspiracy theories are cute. Don’t believe that the Earth is round? Fine. We didn’t land on the moon? Sure.

But other theories are downright dangerous. They have lead to wars, to holocausts, to civil unrest. They were powerful because the government and the press adopted them. Then businesses decided that it wasn’t their job to interfere; their job was to make money.

Let’s hope we know better now.

If you see a lie, speak up.