Copyright © 2018 by Barney Rosenberg President, Ethics Line, LLC™ firstname.lastname@example.org It feels like I ought to have something profound to say now that we have come to the end of our ethics alphabet. I could quote Winston Churchill, during the German blitz of London during the Second World War: “This is not the end. Neither is it the beginning of the end. Rather it is the end of the beginning.” But I will resist that temptation! I think simple is better, so I will quote that great philosopher Barney Rosenberg who famously said: “If you love what you do and you admire the people you do it with, there ought to be a better word to describe it than work.” I hereby empower you to enjoy what you do. Be zealous about the mission. Be grateful for the opportunity to deploy your talents, skills, ambitions and vision in a shared set of purposes with other like-minded people. Be proud of all you are achieving, every day. People have often come to me and said: “I have good news and bad news.” My answer over time has evolved and I now respond: “Tell me the bad news and let’s fix it, together. We will have plenty of time later to celebrate our successes.” But remember to celebrate them! I am going to stop here. Our voyage on the stormy seas of business ethics will continue. These are shark infested waters. But our zeal will deliver us safely to the other shore. It has been fun sharing my reflections with you. Please keep those cards and letters (and texts and emails) coming. I don’t pretend to have all the answers but together we can paint a clearer picture than I can paint alone. Goodbye for now!
Copyright © 2018 by Barney Rosenberg President, Ethics Line, LLC™ email@example.com The easiest word to say in business is also one of the shortest in the English language: NO Did anyone ever get into trouble for saying “No, let’s not do that deal.” Or “No, legal says it’s illegal.” Or “No, those are not our kind of people. I don’t have a good feeling about this.” Or “No, this is not an investment we are prepared to make at this time.” The challenge we face is finding ways to get to YES without a jail sentence hanging over our heads and respecting the organization’s constituents: our customers, our suppliers, our regulators, the prosecutors, and our co-workers. It’s about conducting our business ethically while competing intensely. It’s about:
- Yes, we can
- Yes, we are
- Yes, we will
- Yes, of course
I have some ideas about how to get to YES. They involve doing things the right way by following what we know is the right path. We know it because there is an alternative definition of ethics that doesn’t come from the Greeks or the Romans. That definition is: “this is how we do things around here.” And it has served us well to do things this way, while remaining open to new approaches as business and the regulatory climate change. An early mentor in my career was fond of saying that the journey from A to Z may not be possible in a straight line. It may be necessary to tack from A to D to P to arrive safely at Z. There are often boulders in the path of progress. We need to be able to anticipate and navigate around them. We need to be able to look a little farther down the road to plan for our destination – how we will get there and what we will do when we arrive. I have never been one who believes it’s about the journey, not the destination. I don’t love 10-hour flights. I take them because I want to see Paris, or Athens or Rio de Janeiro. The back of the seat in front of me doesn’t hold a great deal of interest, even if that’s what I stare at to see a movie. In business, we take many steps to get to a profitable result. We have an idea; we sketch out what the finished product might look like; our engineers develop specifications and transition them to manufacturing; we have quality assurance involved at every step along the way; if we are good at what we do, we have customers who are willing and able to pay us for all the effort; we deliver the goods and stand behind them with warranties and customer service. Does that look like what you do? The process involves a lot of YESs along the way. But the destination is a happy customer. To get to YES involves a lot of the ABCs of Ethics. You know them. You have come this far with me on our journey and we are almost at the destination. Just one more letter to go: Z Stay tuned.
Copyright © 2018 by Barney Rosenberg President, Ethics Line, LLC™ firstname.lastname@example.org All right, true confessions. I have been dreading X in this series. But, with your support, let’s give X a try. We all remember solving for X from high school algebra. The unknown factor in an equation. So what is the unknown factor that makes an organization successful? What’s the mystery behind organizations that withstand the test of time, money and demanding stakeholders? Let’s try X as in setting an Xample or Xecute on commitments. Those are pretty good elements of a sound, effective ethics program. Maybe add in X as in X-ray for transparency. Also a good trait of successful leaders and entities. Maybe X is the sum total of all of our alphabet soup so far. It would contain elements of compliance, due diligence, integrity, kindness, openness, respect, and trust. That’s 7 letters of the alphabet. Maybe that would be X². Too much to ask? What do you think? Is X a person? The unity of many people? The vision of a few? We all know the –X element (minus X), when things are not going well. We audit, we search for metrics. Can’t catch a break! At a company I know, an engineer was hired away from a competitor. He brought with him an external hard drive containing every important project he worked on at the competitor. Everyone knew that was wrong but they did nothing about it until a customer noticed the competitor’s drawings in the company’s bid documents! Heads rolled. A lot of them! That’s what happens when all else fails. When we live up to commitments we develop a reputation for doing that. It’s called honesty and integrity. Reputation may actually be the X factor. There are web sites where people seem to feel empowered to tell you what it’s really like to work at a company…unvarnished and raw. We all know which side of that balancing act we want to be on. I have described an ethics program I helped implement from the ground up as being built on 3 guiding principles: honesty, integrity and respect for others. I still like that formulation and for me, they combine to give us the X factor we all need. It unifies all the policies, procedures and lofty statements of purpose. Let’s go with that. What do you think? Now’s the time to weigh in. We are getting to the end of the alphabet but not the end of the journey.
Copyright © 2018 by Barney Rosenberg President, Ethics Line, LLC™ email@example.com I am certainly not an expert on this subject. But I do hear a lot of chatter about Millennials and Gen-Xers and whatever groups come before or after them. It usually comes in the form of criticism and is often from Baby Boomers who are lamenting that things were so much better in the good old days…when we were young and starting our careers. We have written evidence from the ancient Romans that they thought the young folks were just not up to their standards. Rubbish! Surely they could rob, pillage and plunder with the best of them…until the Empire collapsed. Or maybe that’s why the Empire collapsed. Hmmm. One definition of work ethic is: “The principle that hard work is intrinsically virtuous or worthy of reward.” Another is that it is “a moral good.” Try this one courtesy of Wikipedia: “Work ethic is a belief that hard work and diligence have a moral benefit and an inherent ability, virtue or value to strengthen character.” Fair enough, if the opposite is slacking off as a life style or being born rich with a “silver spoon in your mouth.” When did different become bad? And hasn’t the nature of work changed over time? Hunters/gatherers. Farmers. The Industrial Revolution. The knowledge revolution. The computer age. How about universal education as a good thing? If only it were truly universal. How long should the work day be? 8 hours? 10? 24? What if I am able to do in 4 hours what you can only do in 8? Should I get ½ as much money as you? How about twice as much because I am better at my job than you are? What if I am a night owl and am most productive between midnight and 6AM. Should I have to drive into a factory or office during “normal business hours”? If it’s a factory job may. That might be the only place where I can do the job because of the equipment. What if I collaborate with colleagues halfway around the globe. During what hours should we do that? Whose time zone? It’s performance review time. Who is being reviewed and by whom? Which age category do they fit in? Does it make a difference? How are we supposed to measure performance and what standards should we apply? If I am a young, gifted, rising star and I manage a group of workers who are close to retirement, what do I tell them? You have a future in this company if you do A, B, and C? Help me out here. I have read that new entrants into the workforce will have 8 careers during their lifetime. Not 8 jobs. 8 careers. One of my children works for Google which didn’t exist when she was born. Neither did the technology and algorithms behind Google’s success. So what will “work ethic” mean when her two-year-old daughter enters the workforce? Any thoughts?
V is for Vision Copyright © 2018 by Barney Rosenberg President, Ethics Line, LLC™ firstname.lastname@example.org Are you getting tired of the ABCs? We’re almost done! Patience. This one is hard. The kind of vision checkup when we get our eyes examined is not what I am talking about here. This is about how leaders see into the future and the decisions they make about the direction their organizations should pursue. It’s the “visionary” quality of leadership that makes all the difference. Here are a couple of examples of leaders whose vision failed them at critical junctures. One story goes like this: Thomas J. Watson was the Chairman and CEO of IBM from 1914 to 1956. A brilliant salesman, he once opined that “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” The story may not be true (that he actually said that) but in 1943 the world looked quite different to him. Some others saw the future more clearly. Or were they just dreamers? Never one to be outdone, Ken Olsen, the founder of Digital Equipment Corporation (later acquired by Compaq and in 2002 merged into Hewlett-Packard) said in 1977 “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” Of course they wouldn’t when they could have more computing power in their mobile device than NASA had in its computers that landed humans on the moon and brought them home to Earth! Enough said! Try this sometime. Ask a business person what business they’re in. In my experience there will be a lot of sputtering and stammering. Not a lot of vision – near or far-sighted. They need coaching on their elevator speech! One of the best leaders I ever worked with used to start meetings by asking “What can I do better?” Over time, people trusted the sincerity of the question and told him. And to his credit, he followed through. I always thought that was exemplary, even if not visionary. He was visionary too in the way he crafted the future through that level of trust. He knew he alone would not succeed. If you can handle one more anecdote, try this: “The light bulb was not the result of the continuous improvement of the candle.” Visionaries like Thomas Edison were able to see further down the road and around a few more turns than mere mortals like me. A few other names to illustrate the point: Bill Gates. Steve Jobs. Not necessarily the easiest people to work for but visionaries for sure. I wish I had a formula for finding such people and developing their vision. Maybe that’s what investment bankers do. But I do know that they cannot execute on their vision by themselves. They need to enlist others in the cause and turn Vision into Values. They need to be able to communicate the vision and enlist the vigor of others. They have to be able to translate the vision across cultures and around the globe. Top-down works for a while. So does bullying. As I have written in other articles in this series, it’s the difference between “Do it right now!” and “Do it right, now!” That pesky comma makes all the difference. Shared vision and values are better over the long haul. Think about the visionary leaders in your organization. What stands out when you think about their skill sets? What do they do to enlist others in the cause? How do they succeed and how then does your organization succeed? Please share your experience with the rest of us. That’s what all of these articles are about.
THE EMOLUMENTS CLAUSE(S) AND PRESIDENT DONALD J. TRUMP Copyright © 2018 By Barney Rosenberg President, Ethics Line, LLC United States Federal District Judge Peter J. Messitte and I have been friends for more than 50 years. We served as Peace Corps volunteers together in Brazil in the 1960s, became law partners upon our return to the States, and have been the closest of friends ever since. I am delighted to have an opportunity to discuss the landmark case that he recently decided relative to possible corruption on the part of U.S. President Donald J. Trump. One Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the Foreign Emoluments Clause, provides that no person holding an office of profit or trust under the United States shall receive any present, emolument, office or title of any kind whatsoever from a foreign government, unless Congress approves. The Domestic Emoluments Clause, which refers to the federal and state (not foreign) governments, says specifically that the President’s salary shall not be increased by an emolument. Until the 52-page Opinion of Judge Messitte was written just a few weeks ago, neither of those Clauses had been interpreted by a Federal Court. It is well known that Donald Trump, a billionaire, has a far-flung business empire of hotels, restaurants, meeting spaces, and on and on, throughout the world. One of his prized properties is the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. which, during the short time of its existence, has brought in millions of dollars in revenue. Even before President Trump took office, many commentators were citing his likely violation of the Foreign Emoluments Clause by reason of ownership of these facilities, many of which specifically cater to patronage by foreign governments. Eventually the Attorneys General of the State of Maryland and the District of Columbia decided that the hotel and event space facilities in their jurisdictions were being unfairly disadvantaged by the glittery Trump International Hotel in the District of Columbia, so they undertook to file a lawsuit against the President based on the Emoluments Clauses. The President’s attorneys argued that the Clauses have no application to him because he is giving a service through his hotel and only getting fair payment in return. The Attorneys General, in contrast, argued that the word “emolument” in both Clauses referred not just to payments in addition to the President’s salary; it included any “profit,” “gain” or “advantage” that he might receive from a foreign, the federal, or state government, regardless of whether it was in connection with his office as President. The Plaintiffs pointed to the fact that a number of foreign governments had made statements to the press that they were staying in the Trump International Hotel expressly in order to curry favor with the President. The matter first came before Judge Messitte, who has been a Federal Trial Judge for 25 years (for 8 years before that a State Court Trial Judge), to decide whether the State of Maryland and the District of Columbia had “standing,” to pursue the claim. In an earlier Opinion, the Judge decided that they did. The issue then became, what did the word “emolument” mean? Very few Americans have ever used the word “emolument” in a sentence until now, and most have no idea what it means. As a true scholar, Judge Messitte enlightened us all. The Plaintiffs mustered a mountain of historical evidence including studies of hundreds of dictionaries from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries that defined the word “emolument” as any “profit,” “gain” or “advantage.” Only a few dictionaries of the same period tied the term directly to employment. And there were numerous other uses of the term by Founding Fathers, legal scholars, and others of the period (e.g. Adam Smith), that were fully in accord with the Plaintiffs’ view. The case was vigorously argued by both the Plaintiffs and the President’s attorneys. Six weeks after hearing oral argument from the attorneys, Judge Messitte issued his 52-page Opinion, adopting the Plaintiffs’ view. The word “emolument,” he concluded, means essentially any “profit, gain or advantage” so that, insofar as the President might be receiving revenues from foreign governments through the Trump International Hotel, Plaintiffs had stated viable claims of violation of the Foreign Emoluments Clause and, insofar as the President might be receiving revenues from State governments staying at the hotel, they had stated a viable claim of violation of the Domestic Emoluments Clause as well. The ruling was immediately hailed as historic and almost universally praised in the national press and other media. Undoubtedly titanic battles lie ahead. What will the defense of the President be? Will he attempt to delay the proceedings by filing an emergency interlocutory appeal? What kind of inquiry (i.e. discovery) will the Plaintiffs be allowed into the financial affairs of the President? He has been notoriously resistant to disclosing any private financial information, including his tax returns. Until President Trump, this sort of information had been invariably provided by all Presidents. These and other questions besides these remain. But it is fair to say that, since Judge Messitte’s ruling, the door has been opened to exploration of possible inappropriate financial activity on the part of the President who, we are reminded, as President Nixon was to learn the during Watergate scandal of the early 1970's, is clearly Not Above The Law.
Copyright © 2018 by Barney Rosenberg President, Ethics Line, LLC™ email@example.com A few years ago I boarded a flight in Los Angeles for a 14 hour flight to one of my company’s remote locations. I had been on the phone with a few of the employees there for a couple of weeks and they had supplemented the calls with emails/documents electronically. When I got there, late at night on whatever day it was, we met for dinner and a little more conversation about the awful state of affairs at the business site. We put faces to the names. We established what I hoped to achieve. And we agreed that the mission that brought me there was to get to the bottom of things and see if it was possible to repair the situation. This was a classic case of dis-unity! My plan of action was as follows:
- I would meet with the general manager who was a prime suspect!
- I would then bring together all of the site’s leaders and explain:
- That I would be meeting separately with each of them;
- That I was there because I had been asked to come. People were unhappy. They were worried about “The Other 4-letter F Word”, FEAR;
- Then I would bring all of us back together and tell them what I learned.
And I did all that. At my exit interview with them (before my return 14 hour flight) I told them that if they were in the Olympics and rowing in an 8-person crew, they would be going around in circles. They were clearly NOT pulling in the same direction.
- They didn’t like each other
- They didn’t trust each other and
- They would prefer not to work each other
In a separate feedback meeting with the general manager, I broke the news to him that his team was not a team and that they blamed him for most of the troubles. This was a man who thought of himself as “warm and cuddly” and a brilliant leader. I had to share with him that he was the only one who thought of him that way. This clashed with his self-image and truth be told, he teared up and cried. I thought that was progress. When I got home, I met with the President of the division and his Human Resources director. We agreed that the situation could be salvaged if we all stayed in touch with those Olympic rowers! And we did. We lost the Finance Director but she said she had always meant to move back home. She acknowledged that the others felt a little better and that they felt “supported” by my visit and approach. Modesty aside (and I am generally not particularly modest) any success was due to the team’s willingness to fight for a better future. To use some other “U” words, they re-committed themselves to greater UNITY in their sense of purpose, direction, and effort. And they expressed a sense of URGENCY. And the general manager, to his credit, DID make changes in the way he approached business. I had shared with him one of my abiding maxims: Business is easy. People are hard! He is still there and the boat is moving forward! Now, it’s your turn. If unity requires teamwork, how have you nurtured the necessary unity that business success requires?
T is for Trust Copyright © 2018 by Barney Rosenberg President, Ethics Line, LLC™ At the core, isn’t every ethics program about trust? And if trust is earned over time, does that mean we must begin from a place of distrust? It gets a little complicated. As someone who manages the calls to the hotline of a global, European based aerospace company, I can tell you that 80% of the calls to our hotline are HR related. And of those, the overwhelming number reflect a lack of trust in managers and colleagues. The complaints are often grounded in disrespect, a definite deal breaker in the trust department! So let’s take a closer look at what organizations do to generate, extend and sustain trust. First, we like to say that we hire the right people. Easy to say. OK, let’s assume that we have on-boarded the right folks for our culture. They have the right skill sets, the right education, the right inclination. But they do not and never will work alone. They will be part of a team or a department managed by someone who will be a world class manager. Or not! The great manager may move on. The bad manager may move up. The promising new employee may feel betrayed…a component of trust. The employees trust that we will give them all the tools they will need to succeed. Actual tools and supportive tools. They entrust their financial and professional future to the “organization”. Now that’s a disembodied concept: the organization, the company, the business. All of them are only as good as the people within them. They have aspirations and goals. They may have families that depend on them. We want them to succeed so that the rest of us can succeed. So, we provide training along the way. The right way and hopefully not the wrong way to manage work relationships. The respectful way! We have classroom training, on-line training and on-the-job training. We have remedial training when someone gets it wrong. We are all about the tools to get the job done. A wise man once observed that if the only tool in your tool box is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail! Trust is a bit like training for the Olympics. It’s really hard to get into shape and really easy to get out of shape. So we need to cultivate the muscle memory of our trust. The more we trust the better we get at doing it. As I said in an earlier article in this series about the ABCs of Business, “Trust but verify”. And so, we audit, we measure output and quality, we encourage and support. In the article “M is for Metrics” we looked at how hard it is to measure ethical behavior. Instead, it seemed much easier to spot unethical behavior and respond appropriately…up to and including termination of employment. If I had to summarize what trust is all about in the work setting, I would have to say it is a two way street. We get as much or as little trust as we give. At the risk of sounding preachy, I will offer this thought: take a chance on people. You selected them from the population of candidates for the job. Get out of their way and let them do what they are good at – making things, keeping more of the proceeds of the business, succeeding. And say “thank you” more often. Then sit back and feel the trust! Your turn. Is there enough trust in your organization? How did you generate it? How will you keep it?
Copyright © 2018 by Barney Rosenberg President, Ethics Line, LLC™ firstname.lastname@example.org
Most businesses rely on a network of sub-contractors for the materials and components that go into their final products. That network is often referred to as the supply chain. Years ago, on a long flight in a very large commercial jetliner, I found myself sitting next to an executive of the Boeing Company that called the 747 jetliner its own. The company I worked for at the time was a major supplier to Boeing and the conversation naturally turned to commercial aviation. At one point in the discussion, I asked him how he liked this Northrop plane. He said innocently enough “You mean Boeing plane.” I said “Well actually, Northrop makes the fuselage from the cockpit back to the tail. So which part is Boeing?” We both laughed. At the time, Boeing had 3000 suppliers for the 747! That’s a very long supply chain. In the aerospace world, highly sophisticated components, sub-components and raw materials go into the final product. They arrive at various stages of the manufacturing process, in various cities, countries and continents. I recently had the dazzling experience of a personal tour of the Airbus A380 final assembly plant in Toulouse, France. The plane is a massive industrial behemoth that in flight is quiet, comfortable and big enough to hold the equivalent of the population of a small village! I am 6 feet tall and can stand up inside the wing of an A380. The wings are floated on barges from Germany to France to be attached to the body of the plane. No matter how critical the components (and in some cases they are sole source, because nobody else can make them!) suppliers often feel like “second class citizens” because their name does not appear anywhere that passengers can see them…except for the engines, which is another story entirely. But the same can be said for automobile manufactures. They don’t make the windshield wipers, wheels and brakes, or the electronics that power everything that moves inside the car. Food companies rely on spice growers, farmers around the world, and even scent manufacturers. Packaging manufacturers protect the products until they get to us, the consumers. You get the point. And it’s even more complicated. While companies compete in the marketplace, if a prime contractor loses a bid, that contractor may become a supplier to the winning bidder. So one day you are the prime. The next day you are the sub. And various “teaming” arrangements are the norm. You may quote me on this: Everybody’s somebody’s supply chain! At a recent trade association meeting of aerospace companies, I was invited to give a talk to the major prime contractors that ran the association. My topic was the supply chain. My company was a supplier to all of them. The sense of the supply chain was (and still is?) that suppliers were necessary evils, but evil nonetheless. Example: most companies have robust ethics programs, codes of conduct, and related policies and enforcement mechanisms. The prime contractors, through their supply chain and contracts managers, were forever insisting that the subcontractors agree to all of the elements of the prime contractor’s ethics program. In the case of my company, and we were certainly not alone, that would mean hundreds of conflicting codes and policies. How in the world, literally, could we be expected to train our workforce? And any slight variance could mean termination of the contract for cause. And by the way, all of the companies in the room at the association meeting had subscribed to the identical statement of ethical standards. That was a pre-condition to membership in the association and attendance at the meeting. So what did I do? I began my talk with a song. I can’t carry a tune but Aretha Franklin sure can. And she has a fabulous song for this audience. It’s called “Chain of Fools”. One stanza goes like this: One of these morningsThe chain is gonna breakBut up until the dayI’m gonna take all I can take Then I asked the audience: “Is this what you are afraid of and is this why you treat your suppliers this way?” We agreed then and there that as long as we were members of the association in good standing then we could rely on our own ethics standards…and they could rely on us! It’s still a work in progress because the contracts managers and supply chain managers haven’t always gotten the message and they have their own set of boxes to check. But I will finish for now with the observation that when it comes to business ethics, the old maxim may serve us well. Trust but verify!
Copyright © 2018 by Barney Rosenberg President, Ethics Line, LLC™ Let’s spend a couple of sentences together pondering what “respect” means at work. Typical definitions speak to us in terms of “a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities or achievements.” OK. So what. Some of you who know me are aware that I am a big fan of Aretha Franklin. Yes, I admire her. But I love her music! And I have been known to quote from her songs in my ethics presentations and even to play her songs during my presentations. You’ll see another example in the next article in this series, “S is for Supply Chain”. For now, don’t tell me you have never heard Aretha sing “R_E_S_P_E_C_T, find out what it means to me!” If you haven’t already done it, stop reading and download it to your playlist…and listen to it, often! What respect means to me, in the business context, is less about how we “feel” and more about how we treat the people we come in contact with. In companies like most of ours, those people come from many countries, speak many languages, have different family experiences, different educational backgrounds, different skills and talents, different aspirations and ambitions. In fact, we might as well ask, what do we have in common? Well, one important thing is that we work for the same organization and have made a commitment to doing the right things the right ways. It’s called respect – for our customers, their customers and consumers, our suppliers, our regulators and for each other. In the State of California, in the USA, the government has mandated that we take 2 hours of training every two years, to learn/be reminded how to prevent harassment in the workplace. The training, generally on line, deals with the prevention of sexual harassment, gender bias, bullying and intimidation, to name a few of the subject areas. A company I know very well has written the concept of respect into its code of conduct. Every employee gets a printed copy and it’s posted on the public Internet for anyone to read. It says: “We treat each of our stakeholders with respect at all times. That includes respect for our co-workers and the communities in which we operate. We embrace the diversity of background, experience and family within our organisation (British spelling), ensuring that our company is a place where everyone has the opportunity to flourish. We treat others as we would like to be treated.” We might ask “What does a place that does not value respect look like?” Well, in my earlier article “F is for the other 4 letter F word” that other word is FEAR. Such places are characterized by a lack of trust and often high turnover is staff. At one such site I am familiar with, the general manager was a big time bully. And in the space of one day there were 9 complaints about him that came through the company hot line. Following a thorough investigation, the general manager was informed that his services were no longer required! So how about this. Send in some examples of your organization (American spelling) and the good ways people demonstrate respect. I will share them after sanitizing the company name, if that’s what you want me to do. Thank you!
Copyright © 2018 by Barney Rosenberg President, Ethics Line, LLC™ email@example.com As someone who spends a lot of time on airplanes, I try not to think about quality as being anything but absolute perfection. Someone said “Perfection is a direction, not a destination.“ I’m not buying it! When people who mean well ask me “How was your trip?” my typical, smart aleck, aerospace answer is “It was my favorite kind. The same number of takeoffs and landings!” Suppose your bank told you that they had a great business record. They were right about your account 98.5% of the time! Would you say “That’s great. Congratulations!” Or would you move your account to a different bank? So, as people who care about business ethics, how should we process the very notion of “defects per million”? How about the food we eat. What’s a little botulism or salmonella among friends? Most of the time the food in that restaurant’s salad bar is just fine. In the USA and many other countries, there are government agencies that inspect food, equipment, pharmaceuticals and many other products for safety and quality. Why do we need them if the manufacturer/merchant is responsible for the quality of what they sell us? I think quality is an essential element of integrity. It goes a long way to defining what kind of business we are and what we care about. By the way, the same applies to service industries like accountants, lawyers, dry cleaners, and yes, the medical profession. But don’t get me started on that. You are hereby invited to share with us your examples of medical malpractice. And while you’re at it, why is it called practicing medicine? Aren’t they supposed to have mastered the craft before they lay a hand, stethoscope or scalpel on us? OK, maybe that’s a little harsh but I am feeling a little hostility as I think about Q is for Quality! As I have said in earlier articles, the best managers can be blunt about the messages they deliver. It’s OK to say “Do it right, now!” It’s never OK to say “Do it right now!” What a difference a tiny comma makes. Another way to think about this is that nobody’s perfect. True. And nothing is perfect. But let’s at least make a serious commitment to doing everything we can think of to keep people safe. That means no “normalization of deviance.” No using old, out of date analog test equipment when the specifications call for digital equipment. And it means delivering the message in our policies, our procedures, our training and our communications to customers, suppliers, regulators, and each other that “This quality thing is important to us. It’s our badge of honor. And honor is an essential element of ETHICS.”
Copyright © 2018 by Barney Rosenberg President, Ethics Line, LLC™ firstname.lastname@example.org
We’re friends so I can tell you about the time I almost got arrested. It was a typical weekday morning. I was driving to my office with nothing in particular on my mind except getting there through the city traffic. It was about 6:15 AM when my mobile phone rang and a tentative voice said: “Um, Barney, where are you now?” I explained that I was heading to the office and asked, “What’s up?” The caller asked, “Is there any way you could swing by the factory first?” I assured him that I could and asked again, “what’s up?” I don’t remember if I pulled over and stopped or speeded up to get there faster because what he said had both effects on me. “Well, there are 60 armed Federal agents with a search warrant, all sorts of reporters, and 3 TV satellite trucks.” Over the pounding of my heart, I did hear myself say “I’ll be right there!” 15 minutes later I was. And I didn’t get home until 11:30 that night! Let me diverge for a minute and tell you that this is the “P is for Peril” part of the story! Only the P is for 3Ps. You see, I have always maintained that we are better at solving our problems than the 3 Ps: the Police, the Press, and the Prosecutors. But someone has to tell us there’s a problem! If they tell any of those 3, solutions become much harder. In this case, all 3 were involved. The 60 armed Federal agents were from at least 4 different law enforcement (investigative) agencies. The Press, obvious. Print and broadcast. And the Prosecutor, lurking in the background, had issued the search warrants. And the peril is: huge fines and penalties; suspension and debarment from future government business; long stretches of time wearing an orange jumpsuit in a federal prison (not a country club); oh yes, and your reputation? Forget about it. That’s why we fight so hard, especially when the accusations are false! When I got to the factory, I found a spot in the employee parking lot and made my way to the General Manager’s office as fast as I could. I found him and in my fakest, calm voice asked, “So where are they all?” He showed me the search warrant – a legalistic and totally intimidating document, signed by a Federal judge with the ability to lock people up who got in the way. Our GM explained what he thought was going on. And I said, “OK, show me.” Together, we walked out to the factory floor. But before we did, I made a short, important phone call. On our way to see the extent of the “damage” we walked past a small office where one of our supervisors was sitting with two rather large men. I had watched enough TV shows to know that they were cops. Only these cops were Feds. Side note: I live in Hollywood and there really is a company called “Central Casting”. FBI agents are all out of Central Casting. The men are 6’2” tall; invariably handsome; well-educated; smart; armed and dangerous! The female agents…maybe just a few inches shorter! I stuck my nose into that office and asked “What’s this about?” and to our supervisor I said, “Why aren’t you working?” At that moment, I could feel the testosterone level rise in the veins of the Feds, who took one look at me and in their nicest TV voices said: “Who the hell are you?” I calmly (yeah, right) said “I am this company’s Vice President of Litigation and Investigations. I know that you are here with a search warrant and I will help you with that. But you do not have the right to lock my colleague in this room and interrogate him. If you have a problem with that, call the United States Attorney downtown. I just got off the phone with him and he’s expecting your call!” And to my colleague I said, “Get back to work!”. I don’t know how high my blood pressure went as the Feds reached in the direction of the government issued side arms (handguns) but I was sure I would be in a jail cell shortly. I spoke up and said, “Gentlemen, shall we get started. I can help you with that search warrant now.” I didn’t go to jail. With some help, they did execute their search warrant but didn’t find what they thought they would find. The TV trucks lost interest and shut down the antennas. The reporters moved on to the next big story. The 60 armed agents vanished in time and order was restored. The headlines the next day were: “X is a bad company that does bad things!” You see someone told the Feds that we had failed to perform a critical test on key components of military hardware. Only nobody told them that the test was called out in an early draft of the specs but deleted as not required in the final, signed contract documents. And there never was a retraction saying “Apologies, X is a good company that makes great products to protect us all.” But those were tough times in our business. Bounty hunters could blow the whistle on their company and grab a share of the money the government recovered in the case. I could go on about qui tam litigation, but not here. A few years later, I found myself on a panel with two other lawyers experienced in the dark arts of “White collar criminal defense.” One of them was our Prosecutor of factory search warrant fame, an Assistant United States Attorney. He was not armed but was still dangerous. At one point in the panel discussion, he turned to me and asked, “Barney, I never understood, with all the cases we were looking into, why your company never pleaded guilty.” I turned to him and said in my most professional and only mildly pissed off voice “Did it ever occur to you that we didn’t because we weren’t?” Needless to say, it had never crossed his mind! There are many lessons here. The one I rely on most often is that we are better at solving our problems than the 3Ps, but we have to know about them. That’s why we have (or hope we have) the kind of managers people can talk to; and policies that protect people from retaliation when they raise their hands to voice questions or concerns; and hotlines when all else fails. That’s why you have heard me say “Ethics is a team sport. We are all in this together!”
Copyright © 2018 by Barney Rosenberg President, Ethics Line, LLC™ email@example.com
Organizations are set up in various ways. Partnerships, joint ventures, corporations, LLCs. Their operations follow formal structures with boards of directors, executives, officers with varying responsibilities, by-laws. Most organizations take their marching orders from government laws and regulations that impose a certain consistency across all similar organizations. It makes it easier for bureaucrats to keep track! All organizations develop ways of doing things that never show up in an org chart. It’s called “culture.” Deep in the last century, as a freshman at my university, I was enrolled in a sociology course. The professor offered this definition, which I carry with me all these decades later: “Culture is the extra-somatic continuum of symbol borne events.” Sorry. Just showing off. Roughly translated, culture is how we chose to demonstrate what we stand for. It’s not DNA. On a slightly different level, let me share an experience I had at a company’s USA manufacturing site. The leadership at the site was known to all (well, most!). There was a row of offices with doors that closed and varying amounts of glass in the walls and doors. There were organizational depictions of the lines of authority which we all know as org charts. But at this particular site, there was also a significant population in the workforce with family ties to the Philippines. When questions or concerns arose at the site, many people by-passed the formal reporting structures. Instead of going to their supervisor, they consulted the equivalent of the “village head man”. He would know what to do. That person was nowhere to be found on the org chart but, without him, the business was in big trouble. Everybody who did appear on the org chart knew about this informal organization and it suited them just fine. They knew the “head man” and trusted him. Likewise, some organizations are rigid and closed. Supervisors there may be described as bullies. They manage through intimidation. “It’s my way or the highway!” Get me out of there! Once, I started a new, very senior position at a company that I did not know well. And my large staff did not know me at all. A very wise Human Resources manager recommended the following exercise. At an all-hands meeting to introduce us to each other, the exercise went like this. In advance of the meeting, the staff was asked to prepare answers to 3 questions:
- What do you know about Barney?
- What do you want to know about Barney that you don’t know? And
- What do you want Barney to know about you?
How I fielded the questions might just determine my future success! The HR person advised Openness! Good advice. In a relatively short time all of us in the department learned enough to form the basis for a good start to important relationships. Try it sometime…and encourage others to try it. Most important in my opinion, talk to each other. Ask what we individually and as an organization can do to keep a good thing going and to make things better when they aren’t so good. There’s no need to give away state secrets or descend into gossip. Keep it professional. As managers, dare to be “vulnerable”. We don’t have to know all the answers. We do have to ask the right questions and encourage others to keep asking. When the formal and informal work hand in hand, that’s the recipe for a healthy culture! Ethics is a team sport!
Copyright © 2018 by Barney Rosenberg President, Ethics Line, LLC™ firstname.lastname@example.org
I am not even sure where to begin this brief journey through corporate missteps, the motivations behind them, and their consequences. It’s a little like my previous conversation with you in “M is for Metrics”. We’re good at measuring the failures. Not so good at rewarding the many daily successes. Here, the examples come with death and destruction. Earlier in my career, I was in charge of litigation and investigations at a Fortune 500 company. The company appeared on the front pages of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles times almost every day for what seemed like an eternity. It was a tough time in the aerospace industry. The standing joke at home, when the doorbell rang, went like this: “Is it the pizza delivery guy or another subpoena for Daddy? It was about 50-50!” In 1986, the American space program was in full swing, or should I say orbit? Then, In January of that year, the space shuttle Challenger blew up as it lifted off the launch pad, killing all 7 crewmembers. How could such a tragedy happen after so many successful flights? In her book The Challenger Launch Decision, Dr. Diane Vaughan describes a “…gradual process through which unacceptable practice or standards become acceptable. As the deviant behavior is repeated without catastrophic results, it becomes the social norm for the organization.” She calls it the normalization of deviance. The loss of the crew and the space shuttle were attributed a series of actions and inactions that, over time, led to events that were totally foreseeable. Once strict engineering specifications were ignored. NASA managers had known since 1977 that a particular component of the rocket’s engines contained a potentially catastrophic flaw. The rationale was that nothing bad has happened so we’re OK. Wrong! On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig belonging to BP exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. 11 workers were killed and 17 others were injured. The resulting oil spill and contamination were the worst in history. It took 5 months to cap the well during which time the oil continued to flow into the waters and onto the beaches of the Gulf. The safety equipment had been giving the workers readings that should have raised serious red flags. The readings were ignored. After all, nothing bad had happened. The systems must be over-spec’d. By the way, it’s bad enough to be in the headlines. You never want to have a movie made about your company! This one was called “Deepwater Horizon”. All-star cast! In September 2015, the Volkswagen emissions scandal erupted. So far it has cost the company more than $30 Billion. Careers have been ruined. A reputation for quality was…well, would you buy one? In a nutshell, environmental testing of diesel cars had been intentionally by-passed. The result was that more than 11 million cars that emitted excessive amounts of toxic pollutants were sold to unsuspecting customer around the world. Somebody (some bodies) thought that was a good idea. In an earlier conversation, I told you about the Quality Assurance technician who refused an order by his supervisor to test certain components using equipment that would show that the parts met the specifications when they did not. That technician was the kind of co-worker we all need. BP in the Gulf of Mexico; NASA and the space shuttle program; Volkswagen…not so much. The law has all sorts of definitions and consequences for “mere negligence” (think about that in the context of this discussion!); recklessness; and willful misconduct. Then there are actual criminal acts. In the examples above, all of these may have been involved. What have you seen in the course of your work? No names please. Which would you prefer as a hallmark of your corporate culture: A leader who says: “Do it right now!” or “Do it right, now!” What a difference a comma makes. Deviance is not a virtue. Normalization of deviance is against everything we corporate business ethics practitioners stand for. Case closed!
Copyright © 2018 by Barney Rosenberg
President, Ethics Line, LLC™
We measure everything! The height of our growing children on makeshift charts on the wall. We measure the amount of gas we pump into our car’s gas tank (OK, the machine measures it and we get to pay for it). Our fruit and vegetables are sold by the price per pound for apples or the number of bananas we buy. We know to the inch the distance from Earth to the Moon and we know exactly how long it takes for light to reach the Earth from the Sun. I think it’s 8 minutes. In the USA there’s even a government department of weights and measures.
The dirty little secret of the business ethics world is that we are not very good at measuring success! We can report on the number of people who have completed online training courses and how long it took each person to complete a training module. In one company I know, two relatively senior people simply clicked through the pages of the assigned, online ethics training and completed the mandatory, 1 hour, government required training in about 11 minutes! Their continued employment at the company was measured in days!
We are not very good at measuring whether the ethics message is taking hold. Are people adopting the values and virtues; applying them in their daily work; and conveying the importance of the commitment to ethical behavior to others. We are much better at punishment for breaches.
In early February 2018, about 120 of us attended the European Business Ethics Forum (EBEF) in Amsterdam. One of the speakers was Gabe Shawn Varges, a Senior Partner at HCM International, a prominent international consulting firm. Gabe is also a scholar and a lawyer. He is also a gifted speaker, given to making the complicated simple. My take away from his dazzling presentation (if you ever get the chance to learn from him, do it!) was that any attempt to tie compensation to ethical behavior is doomed to failure and frustration. The subject does not lend itself to the kind of measurement we routinely do on the factory floor e.g. # products shipped; failures per 1000 parts; cost of inventory. My words not his, it’s a fool’s errand.
So what are we to do? We spend small fortunes creating world-class ethics programs that satisfy our customers, regulators and suppliers. We target important messages to co-workers and the Board of Directors. But we really don’t have a clue if it’s working.
By contrast, we are much better at identifying and dealing with ethics infractions and failures. Policies I have written clearly state that “Failure to do X or doing Y can lead to disciplinary action up to and including termination from employment.” Yes, I am a lawyer.
What about those who do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do? Don’t we expect that kind of behavior? Isn’t it implicit in the job? Should we write into all job descriptions “Employee will be ethical at all times, in all things.” In annual performance reviews and goal setting, is there a way to set ethical objectives? It’s hard.
A few years ago, a senior Human Resources executive told me that he was thinking his site should take down the hotline posters which told people how they could raise questions or concerns. This executive thought that actively discouraging employees from calling the hotline would encourage them to raise those questions and concerns with leadership at their site. “That way, he said, they could solve the problems without involving Corporate.” I pulled rank and said “No. You won’t!” He didn’t.
Crime and punishment are easier to deal with than values and virtues. As I have written before, “What a difference a comma can make: Do it right now! conveys a particular message. Do it right, now! is a very different message.
Help me out. How do we/should we measure ethical behavior? Or should we just expect that people will behave that way and reward them for other things that can be measured more easily?
Copyright © 2018 by Barney Rosenberg President, Ethics Line, LLC™ email@example.com Leadership can be an elusive concept. Some leaders sit atop a power pyramid of sorts and rule by decree. Once, on a trip to Paris with my middle daughter, who was 10 years old at the time, we found ourselves in the Tuileries Garden, not far from the Louvre Museum. It was originally built for Catherine de Medici in the year 1564. Later, it was home to King Louis XVI of France and his wife, Marie Antoinette, she of “let them eat cake” fame. And yes, the French Revolution. In the garden today is a headless statue of a woman, identified as Marie Antoinette. I tried explaining to my daughter that Marie Antoinette had been married to the King of France when the royal family ended up headless, for real, and the revolution ended all that monarchy business. She asked in her innocent way, “How do you become a king?” My immediate response was “Well, you kill more people than anyone else and that you claim that you did it in the name of God.” In business, we hope that our leaders don’t emerge from that kind of “selection” process but some do leave a path of destruction to get to the top! Other leaders rise through the ranks of an organization, starting at the bottom in entry level jobs and proving their ability at every step along the way…or rung on the ladder. They know the organization better than anyone else. And then there are the recruiters or executive search firms. They are often hired by the Board of Directors to bring new blood and fresh ideas to organizations that need it. The old ways and personnel no longer serve the needs of an organization in a changing business environment. Sometimes (most of the time?) these new leaders lop off the heads (figuratively of course) of the old guard and bring in a new team (often of their trusted friends). I know of one executive who was promoted to the CEO job in a company where she had worked for years. She proceeded to get rid of everyone senior who had known her in a lesser role! Hail to the queen! The best leaders are different. They inspire and encourage. They invite others to give their best. I once worked with such a leader. He famously held an all hands meeting where he asked in all sincerity, “What can I do better?” Stunned silence in the room until people realized he actually was asking for their opinion and advice. He said once when presented with the choice between good news and bad news, “Give me the bad news. Let’s solve our problems first. There will be plenty of time to celebrate later.” I took that approach to heart in my career and have tried to follow his guidance. In the military, it is said that people salute the uniform. Until, that is, genuine respect is earned. Then they salute the person! How does that happen? I will surely get the attribution wrong so I won’t try, just know that what I am about to write is not original and others deserve the credit. I am just passing it along! There is a concept called MBWA. It stands for Management By Walking Around. The idea is that leaders can really only know what’s happening in their organization by getting up from their desks, getting out of their offices, and engaging with people where those people are getting the job done. I like it. I also have defined MBWA as Management By Walking Away. The concept is that you hire capable, good, qualified people and let them do their jobs. I like this even better. It improves even further when leaders take the time to say “Good job!” and “Thank you!” A final thought about leadership. More business leaders need to earn the salute rather than demand it.
Copyright © 2018 by Barney Rosenberg President, Ethics Line, LLC™ firstname.lastname@example.org
In previous articles I have written about fear in the workplace and the use of hotlines to address that and other pressing questions and concerns. This article falls in the category of an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure. Roughly 80% of calls to hotlines relate in one way or another to Human Resources issues. And most of those deal with a lack of respect in the workplace (the subject of a future article). Wouldn’t it be better to prevent the offenses in the first place? I am reminded of a call to a hotline that went like this. “My supervisor shouts at people and even uses profanity. I am a good, religious person and I am not used to being treated that way!” Companies often promote good individual performers to supervisory roles without any preparation for those roles. They are not prepared to manage the different ways people approach their jobs; their aspirations; their personal “calamities” that impact job performance; their strengths and areas for improvement. A wise person once counseled: “Remember the cube!” We all started out somewhere before some of us moved to the C-Suite, Mahogany Row, or even just a workspace with a door! How we treat those we supervise or manage is a reflection on who we are as people. Occasionally, we forget. We would never treat the spouse, son/daughter of our neighbor or friend that way. We would not want to be treated that way by our supervisors. It’s the Golden Rule, right! Maybe I can illustrate this Kindness thing with a couple of examples. I was once in a hotel room, settling in after a long trip and getting ready for the workday ahead. In the room next door was a couple (no idea what their domestic status was but it didn’t sound healthy!) At one point in their loud argument he shouted “You know what your problem is Andrea!) That is no way to begin a sentence if you really want Andrea to listen to you. I turned up the TV. Try this: You can always begin a sentence “I love you and….” Not such a good idea to begin that sentence “I love you but….” Or this example. Speaks volumes. It illustrates how tiny things can make a huge difference. It’s my favorite. Two almost identical sentences. What a difference a comma makes! “Do it right now!” or “Do it right, now!” Which would you rather hear from your boss? I don’t always get it right but I do try to remember the cube. I also think about Andrea from time to time. What has worked well for you? What small, simple acts of kindness would make all the difference where you work? Please share.
For some reason “J” is turning out to be a tough letter to organize around. I’m not sure why. So I’ll ask for your help. Maybe we can rewrite this together with your input and suggestions. Here’s what I have been thinking about. On a recent business trip to a small factory in the Mid-West United States, I was talking to one of the business leaders. I commented on the chocolate brownies sitting on a table near the entrance to the facility. He smiled and said “Every month, the folks here have a bake sale. They bring in homemade baked goods and sell them. All of the money is pooled and we donate it to a local children’s charity.” I marveled at the simplicity of the concept and the generosity of spirit. I also marveled at the fact that nobody else in the global high-tech company had any idea that it was going on! Just a quiet gesture of selflessness in an all-to-often greedy world. A couple of years ago I was invited to an event planned at a Southern California facility. I was told that I would be an honored guest…and that for the privilege, I was “expected” to make a financial pledge to finding a cure for cancer. I made the pledge and the donation, with pleasure. It turned out to be my first “Walk for the Cure”. Participants strolled around a track at their leisure, sometimes alone, sometimes with others. All of us worked for the same company and all of us had lost someone we loved to cancer. Factory workers next to C-suite inhabitants. HR next to engineering. Senior citizens (me) next to grandchildren walking and in strollers. There was food for sale. There were buttons and banners. Most important, there was a sense that we had joined together to make a small difference, where we could. Around the end-of-year holidays in the USA, we have something called Toys-for-Tots. It’s a nationwide effort organized by the United States Marine Corps to collect toys for kids who might not otherwise have a moment’s relief from the hardship their families were experiencing. Large cardboard containers are placed in the lobbies of offices around the country. People who are so inclined can bring new, unwrapped toys/games/sports gear and deposit it without fanfare. The Marines take care of the rest. Other groups do similar things. The spirit carries us far. Some companies I know have large, corporate foundations to which they donate a percentage of their profits and support major causes for good. I applaud those foundations. But even if our organizations cannot undertake corporate actions at that level, we as individuals can join together and make a difference. I have offered a few modest examples. Tell us yours!
Copyright © 2018 by Barney Rosenberg President, Ethics Line, LLC™ email@example.com
Let me begin with a short story that will provide a little context for our conversation about Integrity. Not too long ago I received an email from a co-worker. He was the senior executive on site at a manufacturing location. We had not met before but he was up-to-date on his ethics training and had a question. He had been surfing the Internet and came across a public web site belonging to one of our competitors. He decided to dive a little deeper on the site and to his great surprise he came across documents labeled “proprietary” and “confidential”. There were even manufacturing drawings with factory process drawings. Remember, this was information that was out there! Available to anybody. When the email arrived on my screen, outlining what I just told you, I called him. After brief exchanges of nice-to-finally-meet-you, he asked “Barney, what do you think I should do?” I knew what I wanted him to do but I asked “What do your instinct and experience tell you?” He said “I think I should contact them and tell them that their valuable information is exposed. I also want them to know that I did not make copies of anything I saw and would not use their information, at all.” I agreed. A couple of days later he sent me a letter. It was from the president of the competitor and said “I can’t thank you enough for bringing this situation to our attention. It’s one thing to compete fiercely for customers and business. It’s a whole other thing to do so with integrity and honesty. We have taken that information down. I only hope that someday I can do something like what you have done for somebody else. Sincerely….”
- One more story:
We had recently launched an online training course on the importance and sanctity of quality assurance “stamps” used on the shop floor. The stamps indicate that a QA technician has personally completed a testing step in the manufacturing process and that the part has passed the test. Only then can it move down the production line toward completion. A particular manufacturing drawing contained the customer’s requirement that a certain piece of digital test equipment be used for the testing. Well, the tech used the equipment and the part repeatedly failed. The tech contacted his supervisor who seemed quite annoyed with the tech and said “D..n it! Just use the old analog test gear. We know it will pass with that!” The tech declined the invitation. He took his duty seriously. His stamp on the “traveler” that moved down the production line with the part, meant something. He was a little afraid of the wrath of his supervisor, but he knew the right thing to do. He had also just completed that training course. He called me. I stuck my nose in it. I went to the site President and guess what. The tech was applauded for doing the right thing. The supervisor was NOT. And a small step in the manufacturing sequence was adjusted to meet the contract requirements. From then on, the parts cleared the digital test equipment. When you love what you do and you admire the people you do it with, there should be a better word than “work” to describe it. Please share your examples of Integrity.