Business is war

“We must undergo a hard winter training and not rush into things for which we haven’t prepared.”

Epictetus, Discourses, 1.2.32

Back in the days when war was a series of summertime raids, soldiers spent their winters in training. Every day of the winter.

Today’s employee is like a soldier. When at the front lines, she is interacting with colleagues, dealing with a supplier, negotiating with a customers, or meeting with a government official. Ethical bullets are fired at her and compliance grenades lobbed at her. The key to winning each raid is in the training she received previously.

In too many companies, the training is provided once, during a kind of boot camp after enlistment. In other companies, the training is repeated but once-a-year. Rare are the companies that prepare their soldiers for battle every winter day by embedding their values in every act and every communication.

Which is why so many soldiers are wounded or die in battle, and why so many companies lose wars.

Same words, different meaning

I read The Daily Stoic every morning.

I have been doing so for the last 4 years. The daily meditation I read this morning is the same one I read on August 20th the 3 previous years. It is familiar by now. But because I am not the same person I was one year ago, that meditation offers something new.

Your employees feel the same effect when they hear you speak of the company values. Do not assume that because they’ve heard you speak of their importance in the past that there is no point in repeating the exercise. Your employees are not the same people they were before the pandemic or before witnessing the murder of George Floyd. When you speak of safety and respect today, they don’t hear what they heard last year.

Make it impossible to un-learn

My friends at Vega Factor teach motivation and performance using unforgettable stories, like the one of bounties for dead snakes in Delhi.

And my friends at Broadcat teach compliance with visual aids that cannot be unseen, like the poster that reads “Found gum on the ground? Don’t put it in your mouth. Found a USB on the ground? Don’t put it in your computer.”

What ethics or compliance problem are you facing today? What could you do or say about it that would be memorable and instantly change you employees’ perspective?

Frequent and short

Some scientists believe that we should start using COVID-19 tests that are far less sensitive but fast and cheap. They argue that if the low cost and speed of the test allows us to screen a person every few days, we will be better off than screening that person only once each month with a more accurate test.

This idea reminded me of the value of short and frequent messages about the importance of ethics and compliance in an organization. With every message, a manager is inviting her team to ask a question or raise a concern. An annual ethics stand-down day, complete with speakers and videos and games, can certainly send a strong message. But these events will catch most employees on a day when they don’t have a concern to raise, and leave the others unsure about whether they should speak up. How serious can a company be about ethics if they only discuss it once a year?

In almost everything we do at work, every day, there is an opportunity to cheat, steal or lie. You know that, your employees know that. Make it easy for them to ask question and raise concerns. And do so every day.