How to raise money for Ukraine at work

In workplaces around the world, employees are coming together to help the Ukrainian people, especially the refugees. It’s a beautiful thing to see amidst the horrors of war.

Before money and necessary items can be collected and shipped to the front lines, someone at work needs to ask for donations. And this is where it gets tricky. Who can ask, and how the requests should be made, is often regulated.

It’s regulated for two reasons. First, companies want to avoid abuse-of-power situations. When senior leaders, or even first-line supervisors, ask employees to donate to a cause, many feel obliged to donate amounts they can’t afford, to causes they don’t believe in, for fear of embarrassment or retaliation. Second, some companies block all forms of solicitation, even for charitable causes, because it opens the door to union-forming activities (we won’t get into that here).

Therefore, many employers prohibit all types of solicitation in the workplace. No Girl Scout cookie sales, no toy drives during the holidays, no blankets for refugees.

Is that the right answer? Do we need such drastic measures to prevent the posting of a union flyer in the cafeteria? Here are some guidelines that can help you do good in the world without giving angst to your employer or putting undue pressure on your colleagues:

  • Ask a front-line employee to make the donation request, not a manager or leader.
  • Avoid face-to-face or email requests. Put a flyer up in a common room inviting people drop items off in a box or to donate anonymously to a GoFundMe page.
  • Clearly state that all contributions are voluntary, and make it credible. Use language that acknowledge the fact that many employees have already donated to the same cause outside of the office. Mention that some employees may not be able to give at this time.
  • Run your campaign by your HR professional and ask for feedback. Do the same with your ethics professional if you have one.

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.

Beware public shaming

In this podcast, Julia Marcus of Harvard Medical School tells us that shaming people who don’t wear masks or keep their distance will not help solve the pandemic.

She explains that there is a difference between public shaming and the more gentle peer pressure of using social norms. Social norms are the positive side of “everybody’s doing it”, making people feel safe to follow the herd (and unsafe to leave it).

Explaining a social norm to a person is a powerful form of nudge. It’s something that we can do in our organizations to create the right culture. For example, if we want to change the behavior of those who wait until the last day to complete their online ethics training, we can share the fact that 90% of their colleagues complete their training 1 week or more before the deadline. This is more likely to have a positive effect than publicly shaming them for completing their training on the last day (perhaps by publishing their names on the intranet).

There is another danger to public shaming: we risk creating a new, undesirable social norm. When people see others having fun at the beach or at a bar, partying without a mask, they might want to do the same. When employees see that many of their colleagues wait until the last minute to complete their training, they might think “why not”?

Public shaming not only feels wrong, it can also prove to be counterproductive.

The forgotten sides of the fraud triangle


We have known about the fraud triangle for decades. Fun fact: it has three sides.

Yet, whenever we identify fraud in the organization, our automatic reaction is to work on reducing opportunity. Opportunity is easier to work on. If someone uses the company checkbook to write a check to themselves and embezzle money, we reduce the opportunity by requiring two signatures on checks going forward.

We’ve been working on opportunity (policies, rules, internal controls, audits) for a long time and yet employees still engage in wrongdoing.

Can someone please remind me of the definition of insanity?

I suggest it’s time to focus on pressure (both emotional and economic) and rationalization.

It’s time we re-think how we compensate our employees, how we weaponize data with scorecards that aim to shame our employees into performance, how we operationalize trust.

Addressing pressure and rationalization is a lot more difficult. But most compliance programs have reached the limit in terms of what additional controls can do. In fact, too many controls can add pressure and help rationalize bad behavior.

A good place to start on this new journey is outlined in a fantastic book titled Primed to Perform.

Look around. It’s clear that we need to start performing differently.

Are we here to help or to shame?

Dashboards and scorecards can help our business or hurt it.

If the purpose of the dashboard is to highlight pain points and deploy necessary resources to relieve the pain, then employees will gladly share the information we ask for.

If, on the other hand, the scorecard is perceived as a ploy to improve performance by shaming the few who don’t seem to keep up with the rest, then employees argue, cheat, and lie in attempts to withhold incriminating information. And performance won’t get better.

We must ask ourselves: why are we tracking the metrics that we have? And do our employees understand our purpose?

Self-inflicted wounds

We have known for a long time that the right amount of pressure – emotional and financial – can lead people to commit fraud (see fraud triangle).

Yet, organizations continue to use all kinds of scorecards and incentives to apply financial pressure and shame their employees.

And then, when something goes wrong, when someone breaks the rules, the organization says that a “bad apple” is responsible for this “isolated event”.

Every time.



Book report: Primed to Perform – The Fire Starters


Reading notes by Yan Tougas

Fire Starters are leaders who ignite total motivation in their teams and across entire organization.  The necessary leadership skills can be taught and learned.  Systems can be put in place to build leaders at every level.

There are 4 leadership styles:

Quid pro quo.  Leaders use indirect motivators only.  Good behavior is rewarded and bad behavior is punished.  This creates high levels of emotional and economic pressure.

Hands-off.  Leaders do not use any motivators.  They get involved only when there is a problem, not realizing that teams perform best when leaders build play, purpose, and potential in the work.

Enthusiasts.  Leaders use all motivators, including indirect motivators, which decrease performance.  These leaders score at about the same level as the hands-off leaders.

Fire starters.  Leaders encourage direct motives and discourage indirect motives.  They balance tactical and adaptive performance.  They maximize total motivation, primarily through 14 behaviors:

Play.  Inspires curiosity and encourages experimentation:

1.  Provides you with time, space, and encouragement to experiment and learn.

2.  Makes it clear what it means to be performing well.

3.  Challenges you to solve problems yourself.

Purpose.  Removes the blame bias by focussing on the purpose of the work:

4.  Helps you see that your work is important and meaningful.

5.  Role models and and expects you to live by positive, consistent values and a common sense of purpose.

6.  Puts the customer’s interests first.

Potential.  Shows you that investment in your work is an investment in yourself:

7.  Actively links the work with your personal goals

8.  Helps you to develop and focus your time on your strengths rather than your weaknesses.

9.  Provides you with more responsibility as your skills grow.

Emotional pressure.  Removes fear, shame, guilt, or peer pressure:

10.  Ensures targets and goals are fair and reasonable.

11.  Is fair, honest, and transparent.

12.  Enables friendships at work.

Economic pressure.  Avoids rewards or punishments:

13.  Ensures you are evaluated holistically.

Inertia.  Removes obstacles and makes sure the work has an impact:

14.  Makes it easy to get things done and ensures you don’t waste effort.

To become a fire starter, one should embed these behaviors and ToMo into every aspect of the rhythm of performance management.  Avoid “effort goals” and “tactical goals”, and replace them with adaptive goals  Tactical performance goals focus people on just the appearance of competence.  Adaptive goals focus people on becoming competent.

Once a week, (1) review tactical goals and think about how they can be translated into adaptive goals; (2) have a team huddle to discuss what was learned during the week, how we progressed against our goals, and what we need to learn next week.  For the team huddles, have a leader and a scribe, and rotate the roles every week.  The topics covered in team huddles allows you to cover all 14 behaviors.

Great organizations are deliberate about building leaders.  They have systems with two primary components:

Training.  Provide ToMo and leadership training to your employees.

Feedback.  Very few people are good leaders, in part because they don’t get feedback about how bad they are.  Conducting 360 reviews is critical.

Building a world-class culture starts with you.  Practice.  Then find a friend to join you.  Huddle with your team.  Develop training and feedback.  Get more people to join you on your journey.