Tag Archives: relationships

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.

Lesson from a Business Enterprise Day

Yesterday I visited a local secondary school to help with a business enterprise day for their Year 9 students (aged 13/14). 

The group I helped with comprised 4 teams with between 4 and 7 students per team.  Their task throughout the day was to create a business that designs and manufactures paper ducks for selling to potential buyers’.  Materials were provided, including paper for making the ducks and a range of extras for decorating and enhancing the finished product.

Meeting and observing the students was fascinating.  Some were confident, some felt they’d a lot to offer, some were team leaders and some were just bossy! 

However, there was another group that caught my eye.  These were the students who were shy, lacked confidence, were easily distracted and retreated into their own worlds, could so easily be overlooked or had been identified with special needs.  On the face of it, there wasn’t a lot they could offer in the face of more boisterous and confident competition. 

In reality, they were some of the most significant contributors to the day’s activities once they were engaged. 

The groups who included these students in their discussions and activities benefitted from a whole range of skills and insights that may otherwise have been overlooked or lost: 

  • Organisational skills
  • Sorting skills
  • Creative skills
  • The ability to single-mindedly apply themselves to the task they’d been given
  • People skills (an unexpected one this)
  • The ability to think wider than the problem
  • The ability to see different kinds of solutions

I was very interested that the winning group was ‘organised’ by a student who does not have a reputation for shining in lessons.  She organised, steered, encouraged and to quote the girl giving feedback, ” … was the boss!” 

From that same group came one of the most insightful comments of the day. 

As part of their ‘selling’ exercise, each group had to state why their particular products should be chosen.  Again, a ‘special needs’ student stated quite simply,

“Because ours are made with love!” 

What a beautifully simple selling point.  Their paper ducks weren’t just ordinary ducks, put together on some production line, each one a replica of the other; they were special because they were each made with love.  Care, attention and a bit of the maker had been invested in these little paper creations.  That won it for me!

Ability is far more than getting answers right or doing lessons well in class.  There are so many people who have skills that get lost in the crowd, or lost in the noise and activity of others around them. 

Diamonds rarely just appear on the surface; they must sought after, discovered and often mined from great depths in the earths crust.

I have been reminded  to spend more time looking for those gems that, once found, stand out from those around them, and to invest time and effort in encouraging them to use their talents and gifts.

Independence or Interdependence?

Independence breeds suspicion; interdependence cultivates trust and success … but dare we take the risk?

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.