Tag Archives: integrity

Ethics & Integrity

How we deal with people is crucial to our success (and theirs) in all areas of life.

Life without integrity is like a lighthouse without a light: everything’s fine until darkness falls or the storms break.

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Service or Ripped-Off?

So goes that start of a conversation I overheard today whilst out shopping at our local Market.

What a damning inditement on all those free offers we are continually bombarded with in order to grab our business; offers which, in reality, have nothing free in them.  They are a hook to get us to buy and clearly in the mind of individual concerned they had been forgotten:  it was the financial transactions that had been remembered, not his free gifts (if they had actually ever received any).

This set me thinking … again … about how we sell ourselves daily:  in business and in our own lives.  We used to have a saying at work;

‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch!’ 

 i.e., You don’t get something for nothing; everything costs.

To some point I agree.  But where that cost lies is the divider between something being perceived as an offer of service and being taken for a ride.

If we make our customers pay, they see it as being taken for a ride and their trust is often shattered.  If we take the cost, our customers see it as a service, as a favour, and it builds trust … and if we do make a mistake in the future they are far more to help us solve it than make demands.
This is a simple division, but one which businesses and individuals ignore at their peril …  every day.  We promise but don’t deliver.  We offer something for free … but there’s a catch!

Perhaps we need to think more carefully before we advertise our next free offer because if we fail to deliver on that offer, we make our customers (and friends) ever more cynical and thick-skinned: we turn them off rather than turning them on to what we really have to offer.  In reality, we turn them off to us because we fail to deliver on what we’ve promised.  It is ourselves that we are selling short and it is ourselves that get the bad publicity.  We gain the label ‘Can’t be trusted’.

The idea of personal integrity is getting ever more lost amidst spin and short-term fire-fighting.  High profile figures expect us to believe their words, even though we see they are contrary to their actions (the cover up).  However, for those who are prepared to match words with actions, the opportunities are huge.  There is a saying I like to use for personal encouragement:

‘Where the darkness is darkest, the faintest light shines brightest’

I’m not on my own when I say that by being honest and open, yes, even admitting our mistakes, we build an opportunity for growth and success; for competitive advantage.  Despite what the macho businessmen (many of whom are scared witless of failing) may say, customers like attention and they like vulnerability because that makes us just like them, complete with faults and failings, and they can relate to that.

HR: A waste of Time?

How many Human Resources departments contain people whose ability to communicate on a human level is close to or less than zero?

I have friends who see themselves as leaders of people and therefore, the ideal material for a career in HR, when they would be better suited as guards in a prison camp.

Just recently a local school was in need of help from the Local Education Authority due to problems that have arisen through poor leadership.   When things came to a head, the messenger of doom from the LEA HR Department advised the staff that the problem was in hand but they were no means out of the muck so they’d better not rest on their laurels.

Excellent! Why not just say, “You bunch of incompetents!  You need our help and we are going to be watching every move you make.”  Like Boris in Golden Eye, “We are invincible!

Had the problem arisen through shortcomings by the very experienced staff who taught at the school, fine; but they weren’t!  They were the result of rules  imposed by a rather single-minded head, who had little regarded for advice by teachers, parents or the LEA and who ruled with an iron rod in a velvet sack.

Separating out the issues from the emotion, this situation did not need a social incompetent from the LEA HR department to exercise their authority.   It needed and still needs someone to say, “You know what?  This is a pretty sticky situation you’re in but you have the experience, we have the expertise so let’s work together and we’ll sort it out.

HR departments are no different to any other.   They are run by people and need (perhaps more than ever, because of the weight of authority they carry, good, basic, grunt level human interactive and social skills.

(As a quick aside … Why do they deny this authority?  In case of legal comeback?  Smoke and mirrors?  Deceit?  I can still remember being told by one HR Commandant that they can only advise and not tell … hmmm!)

It’s not about power (though I think for many it is about getting a kick/security from being in control and influencing others; not necessarily for good).   It’s about empowering; giving people the tools and support they need to achieve the tasks and overcome the threats, barriers, hurdles they face.  Poor leadership says much more about the leaders than those they lead.

There is a flip side to this …

There is a saying that “where the darkness is darkest, the light shines brightest.”   I want to thank those seemingly increasingly few members of HR departments who really do stand out as being people who fit the job like a silk glove (rather than a boxing glove).  Those who

  • Are a source of inspiration, support and common sense in a quagmire of ego
  • Really are the personal side of a department that purports to be about people
  • See themselves as having a personnel role rather than just a project manager

Those people who prove daily that HR does not stand for Human Remains.

Surely, if HR is going to be effective they have to communicate and interact effectively with the people for whom they have responsibility/oversight.

If they do, great.

If not, then they are potentially rather a waste of time!

What Does It Take To Change?

Yesterday, as I was sat discussing business plans with an advisor, I was asked, ‘What do you think makes it possible to bring about change?’  My mind was racing!

I won’t go into the details of the discussions that followed but I will mention one or two observations that we both made and some thoughts that came to mind:

  • Is change always necessary to achieve our goals? Too often we want change for the sake of change, not because it is the best way forward or the best way to achieve our objective.  No! Change isn’t always necessary.
  • If do we need to change, is it easy? The answer here is No:  Change is rarely easy. In order to change we need to disturb the status-quo, how it’s always been done and bring a bout a shift that not only provides a plan of how to do it, but also the inspiration and motivation to achieve it.  We need the right people to drive the process and bring about the changes, not with a whip of chords but by personal example and commitment.
  • How do we bring about change? The person driving the process needs to believe that it will work and then persuade and take others with them through to completion.   I was talking to a friend whose boss thought that a particular activity would be ‘good for staff morale.’   However, when asked if they would be taking part, the immediate answer was, ‘On no! Not me.’   At that point a great idea lost credibility, not because the person perceiving the idea wasn’t taking part, but because they had no intention of taking part.   Sometimes we have great ideas that we can give to others to execute because we don’t have the necessary skills etc, but we believe in the idea and our passion motivates those who execute it on our behalf.   Demonstrating that we have little or no personal belief in our idea a) is immediatelyperceived by those carrying it out and b) immediately raises doubts and drains energy.  The plan may be  executed, but by firing squad rather than enthusiasm.   The result is negative not positive.

Too many books make change sound essential and easy.

I believe change is good when it’s necessary and is easier when the people behind the change can champion it effectively and get the ‘buy-in’ from those who have to make the adjustments.

I think there’s too much hype around the subject leading us to believe that unless we change we can’t hope to be successful or even survive as businesses and as people.  I also believe that many of the changes implemented relate less to what’s needed and more to an individual or group of individuals who want to put their mark on something, what I would call ‘ego-driven change‘ rather than ‘purpose-driven change.’

Here is a very contemporary example of ego-driven change

This is the exam season here in the UK.   One of the people responsible for setting-up exam rooms told me of a recent event where an exam was stopped by an invigilator, not because of an irregularity in the paper, or a fire alarm but because the sign outside the exam hall, asking passing students to ‘Be Quiet Please, Exams in Progress‘ was written in red ink on a white background rather than black ink on a white background.   The exam was suspended until the offending sign had been changed.   Who instigated such mind-numbing stupidity?  I suspect someone who was wanting to put their stamp on the education policy.  Who benefitted from this? The students taking the exam?  Definitely not!  Their thought flow was disrupted and they were  extremely hacked-off.  The person making the sign or the college?  No. Time and materials required to effect the change cost money.  I’m very sure that such change did result in making a difference.  However, I’m too polite to write down my views on exactly what difference the change made!!

Integrity, Expenses & Me

Like me, you’re probably getting tired of all the current revelations surrounding the exploits of our politicians and their ‘accounting errors.’  I feel sorry for those politicians whose names have not been in the headlines because they have actually been honest (but not for those that simply haven’t been caught yet!). 

I have also been amazed at the naivity of those concerned to think that they can use a few weasel-words to cover-up what were quite clearly blatant attempts to defraud …

I am humiliated by my error of judgement” … But it obviously didn’t feel too humiliating when making the initial fraudulent claims,  before being found out.

I overlooked this accounting error” … No!  You made a fraudulent claim and failed to declare it.

I have paid back the expenses I shouldn’t have claimed” … Okay, but how long has it been going on?  What haven’t you told us about?

I made an error of judgement” … About the expenses or the risk of being caught?

Do the government bodies e.g., HMRC, allow us to say, “Sorry! That non-payment of tax was a small accounting error.  I’ve admitted it now so no need to worry about it further.”   I think not.  Argue with the taxman and court beckons.  In fact they are one of the few groups of people who can expect us to pay them back for their mistakes (sometimes large sums of money if we’ve not noticed an erroneous tax calculation … which is interestingly our fault for not noticing the error in the first place.  Sorry.  Have I missed something?).

In the past  I have commented to friends about the various activities of politicians outside of Parliament, only to be told, “Oh! That’s their private life. You shouldn’t worry about that; they wouldn’t do that in Parliament.”

I would argue that if an individual can knowingly act dishonestly in one area of their life, they can act dishonestly in any area of their life.  

We are what we are.

Trust and integrity are keys for success in any area of our life. Unfortunately, too many people want to be trusted without having to be responsible for their actions … and when we let people down through deliberate deceit, it takes a long time to rebuild the trust we’ve shattered.

Our politicians are human beings who, because of their public visibility (and the thirst of the media for ‘news’) are easy targets for the snipers.  In no way can I condone what has happened.  I am probably as annoyed by the deceit as the next man.

BUT it does challenge me re-examine what I do and ensure that my dealings with others, in business and everyday life, build trust; not destroy it.  

We all make mistakes.

What I am concerned with here is that those are genuine mistakes or misjudgements, rather than a clever manipulation of the English language to cover deceit and polish a turd!

Teamwork Suffering in Downturn

I have just read a very disturbing, yet unsurprising article reporting that 12% of workers admit to having become more insular during the recession. 

At the very time when companies need greater interaction and greater interdependency (teamwork), individuals are seeking to protect their own workloads and projects and around some 27% admit to working longer hours.

The report quotes Mike Bourne, professor of business performance at Cranfield University School of Management as saying,

“Team collaboration and knowledge sharing is essential to help businesses chart a way through the current climate. However, while some employees are understandably worried about job security, firms with business processes to automate teamwork are able to reconcile both workforce productivity and personal performance.”

See report here.

I’m not sure whether it is part of British DNA or culture, but we seem to really struggle with the concept of working together to achieve a common goal.  Perhaps we’ve had experiences where we’ve been betrayed by those whom we have trusted, or had others leapfrog over us as they take our ideas and use them for personal gain and promotion. 

Unfortunately, these sad characters will always be with us. 

But teamwork is exactly the forum that will help to expose these individuals and it provides the team with a level of security impossible to achieve on an individual level.  Who in their right mind (if they are that way inclined) will take on a group of people, a group which is likely to include members of the management team?

But teamwork isn’t really about sinking these rogue battleships; it’s about achieving an objective more quickly, efficiently and completely than is possible when we work alone.

The proof is in the marketplace.  Look at the most successful companies and see how many of these use teams and creative approaches to problem solving and company direction.  A recent survey suggested that in business cultures which engender trust and co-operation, productivity is around 269% greater than where it is absent.

I guess it’s up to us whether we choose to believe the statistics and give it a go … or continue as we are.  Only time, and possibly company solvency will tell.

What I Do or Who I Am?

I have recently been enjoying Cuban music, in particular that of the Buena Vista Social Club and its members.

For those of you who are not familiar with this group of musicians, the story is a modern-day fairytale …

Cuban music has for decades been the envy and shining star of the World (especially Latin) music scene. Many of the stars who put it on the map had retired or had to find an alternative living to make ends meet: selling lottery tickets or shining shoes in the street, or selling tobacco.

In 1996 Juan de Marcos González, a young Cuban bandleader and arranger was fascinated with the old stars of Cuban music traditions such as Son, Guajira, Son Montuno, Rumba and Bolero. He set out to see how many of them were still living (many had been stars in the 1940’s, 1950’ and 1960’s). To his amazement he was able to contact a large number of these national treasures of Cuba’s musical heritage; the list was impressive:

  • Don Rubén González – legendary pianist and pioneer of the mambo
  • Orlando ‘Cachaito’ López – third generation bassist
  • Ibrahim Ferrer, Piya Leyva, Raúl Planas, Manuel ‘Puntillita’ Licea and Omara Portuondo – legendary singers
  • Compay Segundo and Eliades Ochoa – tres player and guitarists
  • Amadito Valdéz – percussionist
  • Barbarito Torres – Laoud player extraordinaire
  • Manuel ‘Guajiro’ Mirabal – Cuban legend, trumpet
  • … plus more

In order to understand the stature of this group, each one of these names was at the very top of their profession, many having had a significant impact on the history and direction of Cuban music. Each one of these musicians (plus other top calibre musicians) performed together, in the same room at the same time to record the largest selling Latin album ever (over 8 million copies sold). Everyone enjoyed working and performing on the album and no-one was interested in where their name went on the list of credits. Music was being made for the love of the music and no thought was given to any potential financial gain (though this was eventually considerable).

Live performances in Amsterdam followed release of the CD, and the jewel in the crown was when this group of Cuban musicians were able to play a sell-out concert at Carnegie Hall, New York in 1998, captured on film and CD. When you read the album notes and DVD booklet or watch the performances, the joy and emotion of making music together is clear.

This fairytale ending to the story was that these humble people found a new lease of life as they achieved global recognition and ‘stardom’ when many of us would think of taking it easy: most were in their 70’s or 80’s (Compay Segundo was in his 90’s).

By 2005 many of these great characters had passed on and only recently (Feb 2009) the great Cachaito also died … but their legacy continues.

Why have I taken the time to mention all of these people?

Well, imagine a group of top name Rock n’Roll stars gathering to record an album, or business ‘icons’ producing a new book. Now think about the ego problems; who they would work; who they wouldn’t work with; who would want their name at the top of the list?

For me, the great power and impact of these Cuban recordings is the enjoyment, passion and love of the musicians for their music that shines through so clearly. Everyone is in it for everyone else, making the whole band look great. It’s even recalled that at one stage, Ibrahim Ferrer had a bad throat and was struggling to sing and suggested that perhaps someone else should finish the album! That’s a bit like Eric Clapton suggesting someone else should finish off his guitar solo. This level of humility is rarely seem today in a world of get what we can, when we can, however we can.

This excursion into Cuban music has taught me a lot more than just the notes and beats. Engaging with characters of history (and today) who are prepared to make everyone else look good by playing their part has re-challenged me to ask myself, “Is that the sort of character I am? Do people use me in for who I am as well as what I can bring.”

I read many stories today where the key to a ‘successful’ career isn’t so much what you can do, but what you a as a person bring to a particular situation. I also read that our output usually reflects our personality.

All I can say is that I hope some of my ‘performances’ haven’t really let people know what I was feeling on the day!!

I know that rediscovering my love of Latin music through encountering these characters has re-challenged me to be a person that other people want to know, rather than a person whose talents are admired. It has also reminded me that I cannot try to project and hide behind a different ‘persona’. Just as music is too transparent for that, so too is our daily walk. If we are not consistent, the cracks and inconsistencies will soon show!

I guess my priority is consistency as a person and as a business professional.