Leadership Barometer 36 Organization Development

February 3, 2020

OD is short for Organization Development. This is not a new term. Behavioral scientists have been writing about Organization Development for over 40 years. The science has evolved into many different approaches all aimed at the same objective: to enable massive improvements in organizational performance through specific and planned interventions.

I have been involved with hundreds of OD efforts over the past decades. Some of these have resulted in the desired improvement. Some have not. In this article I will reveal some green lights, some caution (yellow lights), and some things to stop doing, or red lights.

Let’s review four major types of OD interventions (there are others, but they are usually variations or combinations of these four):

1. Action Search
2. Appreciative Inquiry
3. Future Search
4. Whole System Intervention

Although the objective of each of these techniques is the same, the viewpoint and methodology for each is different. I will give my personal views of the strengths and problems with each method from my experience. All of these methods can work. The trick is to match the leadership style and organization culture so that the one selected has the best chance of success in a particular case.

Most OD work is performed with the assistance of trained facilitators. They have the professional training to lead groups through the chaos of change to arrive at the objective. Managers who attempt a “do it yourself” approach to OD work often create more turmoil and make things worse. This is especially true if the leadership dynamic is part of the problem (which is usually the case).

OD work is tricky. It requires the skill of someone trained in this field. Headstrong managers who decide to undertake massive organization change without help are like critically ill patients trying to remove their own appendix. It is not a smart strategy. The flip side is that the effort needs to be owned by the manager rather than the consultant. Leaders who abdicate their responsibility to be the spiritual leader of the organization pay for it with lower trust.

Action Search

Most organizations contemplating an OD initiative, do so because they are not satisfied with how things are going. If the current trajectory of business is meeting or exceeding goals, there is little impetus for change. The Action Search approach takes on a somewhat negative spin from the outset. The idea is to determine what is wrong and fix it quickly.

The first stage is to gather data. What areas of the business are falling short? How can these be changed to perform better? Unfortunately, many efforts using this technique become “witch hunts” where management looks for scapegoats. The process becomes one of uncovering ugly issues, followed by defensive tactics by those in charge.

Most of us have participated in this type of intervention. It takes place on a regular basis in some companies. Ask yourself how successful these programs have been in your experience. Do they produce positive change, or simply mask more underlying issues while creating interpersonal chaos? My experience indicates this technique should be used only under very tight constraints with ground rules supporting solid values. That does not happen very often. Hence, using Action Research has a real potential to backfire if not managed extremely well.

Appreciative Inquiry

This approach is the mirror image of the “action research” technique. The process starts by asking what is working well. Groups focus on what is going right rather than what is going wrong. The idea is to find ways of doing more of the right stuff, thus providing less reinforcement for doing the wrong stuff.

This is a much more pleasant process. It feels good to focus on strengths. It also provides a benchmark for improvement. The danger is that groups who are failing miserably can deceive themselves into thinking all they need do is clone the few bright spots to succeed.

I witnessed an example of this, years ago, and it was ugly. One business unit was on the verge of extinction, so they did a three-day exercise in appreciative inquiry. By the end of the exercise, they were celebrating, dancing, and singing about their wonderful opportunities while they were actually going out of business. Six months after the crepe paper, helium balloons, high fives, and “jive dancing,” they were all looking for new jobs.

I believe appreciative inquiry can be much more powerful than action research, but it needs to be tempered by reality. A combination of both methods can avoid a kind of “Pollyanna” view of reality.

Future Search

In this process, the focus is on the vision rather than the current state. The idea is to get groups engaged in defining a compelling view of the future. When compared to the present, this allows clarification of the gaps between current practices and organizational goals. Outstanding vision is the most powerful force for all individuals and organizations. Here are some comments on vision from my book (Whipple, 2003, p27).

Without a well-defined vision, the organization has no true direction. It is like a ship without a rudder, sailing around at the mercy of the wind, hoping to find a safe port with little chance of reaching one. Creating vision is absolutely essential for any group because it gives a common direction and provides a focus for energy.

Not all vision statements are helpful. Some are relegated to plaques on the wall and ignored. This is a tragedy because an uninspiring vision breeds apathy and is worse than no vision at all. If people point to the vision statement on the wall and say, “that is where we are supposed to be going but they don’t act that way,” you are in trouble.

Getting a great vision is not a 15-minute exercise. Some groups spend months working on developing a good vision statement. The process can get convoluted and burdensome if not handled correctly. If you are adept at facilitating group discussions, you may conduct this yourself.

If not, a professional facilitator would be worth the investment. As the leader, even if you feel qualified to lead the discussion, you still may want to hire an outside person so you can become one of the people developing this material. The danger if you lead the discussion is that you could influence it too heavily.

In general, if a leader brings in a consultant to facilitate a discussion or to assist with a particular instrument or skill set, there is usually a high value.

If the consultant is brought in to get into the trenches and do the dirty work of leadership, it is often a disaster because the consultant can undermine the leader. The leader calls in a consultant and says, “Things are a mess around here and I’m under a lot of pressure. Performance is horrible recently and morale is way down. I haven’t time to fix the problem because I am overloaded just trying to run the business and I have to attend all these management meetings. I need you to assess what is wrong and recommend a program to get back on track. If my team buys into your recommendations, we will let you handle the program.”

This leader probably has lost the ability to lead the organization effectively. As the consultant mucks around trying to understand problems, significant negative energy is unearthed but the consultant doesn’t have the authority to fix these issues. Meanwhile, the leader is “busy running the business,” and being micro-managed by superiors. Morale and performance go down even further until, finally, the leader is simply forced out.

This is why it is important for the leader to be the driving force in creating a vision for the organization. It cannot be delegated to a consultant or even a high-ranking lieutenant. The leader is responsible for making sure the vision statement is clear, compelling, memorable, actionable, and real.

Key ideas for developing a good vision statement:

• Most importantly, make sure your vision tells everyone where the organization is going. A nice sounding phrase that doesn’t have pull makes a poor vision. For a football team “We will be number one in the league within 3 years” is a better vision than “We will improve our position in the rankings every year until we become the top team in the league.”
• Avoid grandiose sweeping statements that are too broad. “We will become the best in the world at computer technology” would be too general and vast for a good vision statement. A better example might be “Our superior microchips will gain 90% market share with computer manufacturers in 5 years.”
• Make sure people can connect their everyday activities to the vision. “Every interface is a chance to bestow great customer service” would allow everyone to view daily activities with customer service getting top billing.
• Keep it short and powerful. Avoid long lists of items that sound good but don’t create a picture. For example, being “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent” may be a good motto for the Boy Scouts, but it would make a terrible vision statement.
• Select colorful words that inspire rather than describe. “Our greeting cards melt the heart and transform the soul” would be superior to “Our greeting cards are better because they make people feel great.”
• Keep it short. The fewer words the better. “Absolutely, positively overnight” is better than “Our packages are guaranteed to arrive by the next day or your money back.”
• Use special words to emphasize your most significant point. “We will never, ever, run out of stock” is better than “We promise to keep our customers needs met by always having stock on hand.”
• Don’t try to be abstract or cute in order to grab attention. “We have the softest software in the nation” might be a slogan helpful on Madison Avenue, but it makes a lousy vision. Instead try “Software delivered on time, every time!”

The initial thoughts often contain the seeds of the eventual finished product. Craft these thoughts into words and images. Sometimes a picture or logo can be enough to communicate a vision, like the Rock of Gibraltar for Prudential Insurance. Other times, it can be a slogan, such as Wegmans Market’s “Every day you get our best” or General Electric’s “We bring good things to life.” The expression needs to have “pull”; it must provide forward momentum.
Communicate the organization’s values and vision to everyone in it. Do this well and often, as it forms the basis of everything to come. Frequently demonstrate your alignment with the vision by naturally working it into conversations. You might say, “Well, let’s call the customer and tell them about this situation. After all, our vision is to put the customer first.”

Whole System Intervention

This is a kind of zero-based approach to OD. In this case, the activities of the organization are viewed through a “systems” approach. The emphasis is on getting a critical mass within the organization to redefine the business. Processes become the focal point for redesign efforts. This is less threatening than the action research technique because of focuses on the “what” and “how” rather than the “who.”

The challenge with a systems approach is that can get pretty complicated. In systems thinking, we try to understand the interrelations between things. This is opposed to the usual linear way of thinking – If we do one thing it results in an effect. In systems thinking we need to understand not only the direct effect of actions but also the side effects. If leaders are unhappy with performance, they need to look at their system because it is perfectly designed to give exactly the result they are getting. Trying to untangle what is hurting the system and streamline the process for a better result can get convoluted.

The four OD interventions described in this article are the cornerstones for organizational improvement. They need to be applied with care and judgment to be effective. When OD activities go awry, the “cure” is often worse than the “disease.” With the health, or even survival, of the organization at stake, it is important to do this work carefully with the assistance of an expert.

The preceding information was adapted from the book The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, by Robert Whipple. It is available on http://www.leadergrow.com.

Robert Whipple is also the author of Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind and, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.


Body Language 38 Sour Face

July 26, 2019

There is a facial expression that we all know well. I call it the “sourface.” The look comes from a natural reaction to tasting something that is sour, like a lemon, or milk that has gone bad. We pucker up our mouth, wrinkle our nose, and close our eyes to indicate discomfort.

Children use this expression when they put sour candy in their mouth. It is an instinctual expression that comes naturally, and it is generally not culture specific.

Physically, when we have something unpleasant in our mouth, we would like to block the taste as much as possible. Taste is a function of breathing along with a chemical reaction on the taste buds. To block the taste, we instinctively try to stop the ability to breathe by crinkling our nose and closing the back of our nostrils.

The eyes close tightly as well, due to the extreme discomfort of tasting something sour. One might think the eyes would widen due to the surprise, but that is never the case. We pucker up our mouth, nose, and eyes at the same time.

In the professional world, we use a similar expression to indicate extreme displeasure. When someone says or does something that is totally offensive to the point of being intolerable, the same facial expression often can be observed. It is like we are saying “dealing with that offensive remark is nearly as impossible as eating a lemon without wincing.” In this case, the tasteless comment is not literal, but the figurative bodily reaction is the same.

When others make a sour face

If you see the expression used in a professional environment, take note of it. In the eyes of that person, what was just said or done went way beyond being wrong or bad: it went all the way to abhorrent.

Stop the conversation and try to understand why the person had such a strong reaction. It may have been revulsion at a tasteless joke someone just told. It may be because they witnessed someone playing favorites to a painful level. It could be that the person believes a decision will likely have catastrophic negative impacts on the culture.

Usually this expression is not a group activity. You will not see everyone on a team use this expression at the same time. It is a manifestation of rejection by the person most offended. The other people are left to deal with the fallout until things get back to normal.

A person who overuses the sourface expression will have a negative impact on any group. People get fed up with the overt attempt to reject most statements. If there a member of your team who uses the sourface gesture a lot, investigate what is behind it.

This individual may be easily offended or have a specific trust problem with one or more members of the team. Alternatively, he or she may not be in sync with the goals or values of the organization. When you see someone using the sourface, use it as a signal that something needs to be discussed with the individual or the team.

When you make a sour face

If you are a leader, remember that it is easy to put your thumb on the scale of group opinion. The sourface may be just an expression you use to signal your personal disapproval, but you are really trying to sway the opinion of the group. Do not use the expression unless it is your intention to communicate a totally intolerable situation.

The sourface is a helpful tool to highlight tent-pole issues that should be dealt with before further damage is done. Use it sparingly, and note carefully the reactions from your group. Recognize that the expression might have a negative impact on trust because it is the equivalent of cutting someone off in mid-sentence.

Conclusion

The sourface is an extreme gesture of displeasure when used in a business setting either by a leader or by people in the organization. It should be used only when the situation warrants such an overt signal. More subtle and gentle or verbal means of expressing displeasure normally should be used.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language.” The entire series can be viewed on https://www.leadergrow.com/articles/categories/35-body-language or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.TheTrust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 600 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.


The Link Between Trust and Motivation

March 19, 2019

How many times a week do you hear leaders say, “We’ve got to motivate our people?” Those words and the actions they generate seldom lead to a sustained improvement in motivation. The above phrase is one of the most common phrases leaders or managers use every day. So what’s wrong with it?

Lack of Understanding

The phrase shows a lack of understanding about what motivation is and how it is achieved. Leaders make a mistake when they use perks to increase motivation by making people happier, like handing out free candy. They put a manipulative spin on the subject of motivation that backfires for several reasons:

1. Historical Research

The notion that improving things in the workplace will somehow make people more motivated is flawed. Over 50 years ago, Frederick Herzberg taught us that increasing the so-called “hygiene factors”  (read that more candy) is a good way to reduce dissatisfaction in the workplace, but a poor way to increase motivation.

Why? – because things like picnics, pizza parties, hat days, bonuses, new furniture, etc. often help people become happier, but they do little to impact the reason they are motivated to do their best work. That impetus comes from a different source.

2. Less is More

It is imagined that heaping nice things on top of people it will improve their attitude leading to higher motivation. The only lasting way to improve attitude is to build a better culture.

3. Bribery is not Motivation

It is difficult to motivate another person. You can scare a person into compliance, but that’s not motivation, it is fear. You can bribe a person into feeling happy, but that’s not motivation it is temporary euphoria that is quickly replaced by a “what have you done for me lately” mentality.

4. Motivation is a Personal Choice

Individuals will gladly accept any kind of freebie the boss is willing to grant, but the reason they go the extra mile is a personal choice based on the level of motivational factors, not the size of the goodie bag.

5. Focus on a Better Culture

Smart leaders focus on the culture first. They seek to build an environment of TRUST and improve the motivating factors, such as authority, reinforcement, growth, and responsibility. With these precursors, motivation within people will grow. It will be enhanced if some nice perks are added, but the perks alone do not create motivation.

Why do I make this distinction? I believe motivation comes from within each of us. As a manager or leader, I do not believe you or anyone else can motivate other people. What you can do is create a process or culture whereby employees will decide to become motivated to perform at peak levels.

6. Don’t use the Word Motivate as a Verb

How can you tell when a leader has the wrong attitude about motivation? A clear signal is when the word “motivate” is used as a verb – for example, “Let’s see if we can motivate the team by offering a bonus.” It is as if “motivate” is something a leader can “do to” the workers.

If you seek to change other people’s attitude about their relationship to work with goodies, you are going to be disappointed frequently. Using the word “motivation” as a noun usually shows a better understanding – “Let’s increase the motivation in our workforce by giving the team more responsibility to make its own decisions.”

What an Environment of TRUST Feels Like

The way to create the best environment for personal motivation to grow is to create a culture of TRUST and affection within the organization. Doing this helps people become motivated because:

• They feel a part of a winning team and do not want to let the team down. Being a winner is fun.

• They feel both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards when they are doing their best work.

• They appreciate their co-workers and seek ways to help them physically and emotionally.

• They understand the goals of the organization and are personally committed to help as much as they can in the pursuit of the goals because they know that when the organization does better, they do better personally.

• They truly enjoy the social interactions with people they work with. They feel that going to work is a little like going bowling, except the physical work is different. They are distributing computers instead of rolling a ball at wooden pins.

• They deeply respect their leaders and want them to be successful.

• They feel like they are part owners of the company and want it to succeed. By doing so, they bring success to themselves and their friends at work.

• They feel recognized for their many contributions and feel wonderful about that. If there is a picnic or a cash bonus, that is just the icing on the cake – not the cake itself.

An organization where all people are pursuing a common vision in an environment of trust has a sustainable competitive advantage due to high employee motivation. How do you achieve that kind of culture?

Tips to Achieve higher Trust

Building a culture of high trust requires that leaders stop trying to manipulate people and build a real environment. Excellent leaders create a solid framework of values, vision, mission, behaviors, and strategy.

The key to building trust is to allow people to point out seemingly incongruent behavior on the part of the leader without fear of reprisal. This requires leaders to suppress their ego needs to be right all the time and acknowledge their fallibility.

When people are reinforced for voicing their truth, even if it is uncomfortable for the boss, trust will grow. The quote I use to emphasize this is “The absence of fear is the incubator of trust.”

With this approach you have a powerful correcting force when people believe things aren’t right. If something is out of line, they will tell you, enabling modification before much damage is done. Now you have an environment where honest feelings are shared and there are no large trust issues. People in your organization will instinctively choose to become more motivated because they are working in the right kind of atmosphere.

Achieving a state where all people are fully engaged is a large undertaking. It requires tremendous focus and leadership to achieve. It cannot be something you do on Tuesday afternoons when you have special meetings, or by holding employee picnics. Consistently build higher trust by reinforcing people when they express themselves and you will experience higher and sustained motivation.

 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 600 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.  For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 98 Know Your Purpose

October 21, 2018

It is essential for you to have a purpose for your work other than to put food on the table. We tend to lose sight of the meaning of life if we cannot articulate a clear purpose.

Let me clarify the difference between an individual’s purpose, values, mission and vision so you can appreciate the role that purpose plays for your life.

Purpose tells you WHY you are here

The formal definition of purpose is “something set up as an object to be obtained: intention.” Purpose represents a personal commitment for the highest calling of your being. Without a firm understanding of your purpose, your work loses relevance. The reason you get up and go to work each day is to fulfill your purpose.

It is important to be very specific and concrete with your purpose statement. Try to boil it down into the fewest number of words, so you can communicate it to others succinctly. If possible, I like to think in terms on one article (usually “To”) followed by one verb and one noun.

For my business, my purpose is “To grow leaders.” I believe that is why God put me on this earth and gave me the capabilities that I have.

Values form the FOUNDATION for everything you do

Values allow us to test the rightness of an action or thought. These important concepts about what life is supposed to be like were programmed into us long before we were able to walk and talk. Usually values come from our parents, but they are also shaped over time by other influences such as school, friends, church, experiences and other events that happen early in life.

For most of us, the set of values we obtained in our youth will remain with us the rest of our life. It is difficult to change a deep-seated value, and most people would not want to do so.

Our values form the LENS through which we view everything around us. Values are also highly culturally specific. For example, to bribe another person is not acceptable in some cultures and perfectly fine in others.

It is important to have your values clearly visible to you. Write them down and refer to them often. For best results, repeat daily.

Mission tells you WHAT you are doing now

Mission is important because you need to know exactly what you are trying to do now. It is similar to purpose, but more specific. Think about walking into your place of work and picturing exactly what you are trying to accomplish today. That is your mission. I believe that mission statements should be short and memorable. Let me share what I consider a good mission statement and then share one that is not so good.

Wegmans is a grocery chain that is based in Rochester, N.Y., where I live. Their mission is “Every day you get our best.” That makes a great mission because it tells all of the employees exactly what they are trying to accomplish on a daily basis.

Here is a mission statement that doesn’t work for me. “To establish beneficial business relationships with diverse suppliers who share our commitment to customer service, quality and competitive pricing.” The statement is so general that is gives the reader no idea what industry is involved, let alone the specific company. Actually, that is the mission statement for Denny’s. What? Where is the food?

Vision tells you WHERE you are going

The vision statement is strictly about where you are going in the future. It describes accurately the end state or objective you are working toward. A good vision pulls you in the direction you wish to go. Without a good vision there is little impetus to improve on the status quo.

Some people believe that a vision that has the possibility of not happening sometime in the future is a poor one. I disagree. Consider the early Federal Express Vision: “Absolutely positively overnight.” It is easy to see that there were some times when acts of God would prevent the company from doing this, but that did not make it a bad vision. They made a lasting organization around that compelling image.

Make sure you have these four concepts well documented for your life and your organization too. You will go much farther than you would go otherwise.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 88 Better Team Building

August 11, 2018

Much has been written about the various Team Building methods. Different consultants have their favorite exercises for helping groups of people work better together.

A common technique is to take a group off their normal site to do some outdoor experiential activities, like rock climbing or zip lining. These event-based team building exercises do get the attention of people, but I believe there is a better experiential activity that does a better job of knitting a team together.

Carve out some time to work on a strategic framework as a team. I had a whole section in my first book, “The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals,” where I described the process of taking a group of people through a strategy process so everyone on the team had a hand in designing the future.

For this short blog article, I will not describe the entire process, but I will outline and define the major parts of a strategy process and give some tips I have learned from facilitating numerous groups through the process of developing a strategy. Note, the order of the parts is important. The exercise has a kind of flow to it that helps the team bond.

Values – Start the process by documenting a set of values for the group. Everyone can suggest a few key values, so use an affinity process to distill down a list of 4-6 key values for the entire group.

Vision – Identify where the group intends to end up. As Stephen Covey stated, you need to begin with the end in mind to have a workable plan.

Mission – This is a short and very specific statement of what the group is trying to achieve right now. Avoid long lists of items, or management speak; keep it to the central idea of the group.

Behaviors – This step is frequently left out, and that is a big mistake. Identify specific behaviors that the team agrees to abide by. This helps when holding people accountable if they fail to live by the behaviors. Two examples of team behaviors might be 1) We will act like adults at all times, and 2) When we disagree, we will do it without being disagreeable.

SWOT – Brainstorm a list of the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats for the group. The first two items are like looking at the group through a microscope, and the last two are like looking at the environment the group is operating in through a telescope.

Identify Needed Changes – What must change in order for the group to actually achieve the vision?

Identify the Strategies – How is the group going to achieve the needed changes in a timely manner? Here it is important to avoid having too many strategies. I believe five strategies at any one time is optimal. What you are doing is trying to focus the effort of the group on a few key drivers.

Specify the Tactics – Identify the specific actions that are required to accomplish the strategies. Who is going to do what and by when? Make sure the tactics are reasonable so people are not overloaded.

Identify measures – How is the group going to identify progress toward the vision? The measures must be expressed as SMART Goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time-bound.

It is critical to get this work done quickly or the team will become frustrated by a long, drawn-out process over a number of months. I like to facilitate groups to develop their strategic plan in less than 8 hours duration. That may seem unrealistic, but I have developed a process that is actually quite doable with the proper preparation done ahead of time.

Creating a solid Strategic Framework is the best team building activity a team can do, because it engages everyone in creating an exciting future for the group.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 38 Maintaining the Ethical Edge

August 6, 2017

I spend a great deal of my time working to help organizations understand the benefits of running an ethical culture. Believe it or not, there are many highly placed leaders who believe that making ethical decisions means lowering the organization’s performance numbers.

The truth has been revealed in numerous books and articles that organizations that make the ethical choices, even though they may be difficult or costly in the short term, outperform unethical organizations by a factor of at least 1.5, often 2, or even more.

Producing an annotated bibliography is not the purpose of this article; if you want to read up on the topic, look up “Business Ethics” on Wikipedia. There are over 200 references listed.

As a “CliffsNotes” approach for this blog, I will refer you to the work of Raj Sisodia from his book “Firms of Endearment,” which is one data point among dozens that all point to the same conclusion: organizations that do the right thing, even though it is difficult at times, end up thriving.

I serve on the Board of Directors of the Rochester Business Ethics Foundation (RABEF), where we seek to celebrate local organizations that are running their businesses with high ethics and are benefitting from that practice. Rather than gripe about corner-cutting operations that sacrifice the long term health for short term gains, RABEF seeks to champion those organizations that are doing business the right way and gaining huge sustainable benefits, including higher trust for all stakeholders.

You may ask what has this to do with being a supervisor? Well, it has a lot to do with it. I will grant that the ethical tone of an organization starts at levels far above the supervisor, but dealing with ethical dilemmas occurs at all levels, and supervisors are not exempt from the pressures that sometimes lead to ill-advised decisions.

If you are a supervisor, I guarantee that you have to make many ethical decisions every day. You may not recognize them as such, but you are routinely confronted with the opportunity to make choices that support or undermine the ethical standards that are espoused by your organization.

The first, and most important, consideration is how you can tell if you are facing an ethical dilemma. Nobody is going to sneak up behind you, tap you on the shoulder, and whisper into your ear, “Pay attention Bub, this is an ethical choice you are making here.”

The answer is disarmingly simple: you are facing an ethical dilemma if it is unclear to you what the “right” decision is. There are positive and negative consequences for every course of action you might take. Think of it this way: if the “right” thing to do is evident, then you have no problem making an ethical decision.

Once you are aware that you have an ethical decision on your hands, you have arrived at the moment of truth. You can rationalize the situation and make the “easy” or “most popular” decision regardless of the ethical considerations and be done with it.

That action leads to a kind of dry rot within the group where you may actually be putting the larger organization on a slippery slope in terms of lost trust. Small unethical decisions often lead to larger ones, and at different levels, so the reasons why get obscured in the thinking process, and standards get lowered across the board.

Here are some suggested approaches that can protect you from making unethical decisions.

1. Clarify your values and make sure people know what they are

Values written on a chart on the wall are useless unless you follow them, even when it is difficult to do. By compromising on a core value when it makes you swallow hard to follow it, you show that the entire list is a sham, so not only do the values lack power, they actually reveal an hypocrisy that tells people we follow our values only when it is convenient to do so.

2. Consider the context and all stakeholders

Before wrestling with what the “right” approach is, you need to get the facts. Difficult ethical choices are contextual. For example, we would all agree that taking someone else’s property is an ethical violation, but if you find an interesting book someone left in a recycle bin, it would not be a violation to take it. Consider all of the stakeholders when gathering the facts around an issue.

3. Don’t deal with the decision in a vacuum

If you go through the logical calculation alone, you can often talk yourself into the expedient or less than ethical way out. That process ultimately leads to the need to explain your actions to others who can take pot shots at your judgment.

Once you recognize the “right” thing to do is hard to identify, get some help from others who might be able to add different perspectives to the discussion. This approach has the additional advantage of gaining buy-in of the decisions from others.

4. Look at the issue through different lenses

In ethics classes, we teach a whole array of methods to analyze ethical dilemmas. I will briefly outline just four of the more popular methods here, and you can look up about a dozen other ways in any ethics text.

o Utilitarian – Do the greatest good for the greatest number – Consider the whole population and do that which provides the highest value for most of the people.

o Limited Egoism – Attempt to help others and do not violate their rights – This method comes from your attitude in making a decision. You attempt to assist other people and do so with a sense of fairness.

o Kantian – All correct behavior must be reversible or reciprocal, i.e. follow the Golden Rule. If I take an action that impacts another person, would I be willing to have that action taken on me if the roles were reversed?

o Consistency – is a form of moral reasoning that employs counter examples. Explore some analysis of what would happen if conditions were different. For example, you might ask “would I make this decision if I was starving”?

Your decision could go one way when looking at the problem from a Kantian perspective but a different way if you focus on Utilitarianism. Having more than one perspective adds work and potentially confusion, but it does help with the depth of your analysis.

5. Make a concrete decision based on the logic you are using

Often supervisors will equivocate and postpone making a decision because of the difficulty. This is a trap. Kicking the can down the road to next month or delegating the decision upward because you cannot make a call are ways of procrastinating, but they lack commitment.

Make your decision once you have thought the problem through and consulted with others who might have alternate views.

6. Communicate your decision widely

Don’t just tell people what your decision was, but lead them through the logic you went through to make the call. It is usually good to go all the way back to one of your values, and then describe how your decision was based on adherence to that value.

You can share that other decisions were possible, but you feel, based on your analysis, that the one you made is the best long term course of action.

Leaders are faced with ethical dilemmas on a routine basis. It is how you react and deal with these decisions that will govern how well you do personally and how much trust your organization generates with all stakeholders. That increased trust is the basis for the productivity and profitability advantage of running an ethical organization.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 22 – Foundations to Build Trust

April 16, 2017

We are all aware of things we can do that build higher trust. In my seminars on trust, I ask groups to name some things that build trust, and they quickly create a list of dozens of behaviors in just a few minutes.

For example, here are a few of the things typically named that will help to build trust:

• Operate with integrity
• Do what you say
• Use the Golden Rule
• Be respectful of others at all times
• Admit mistakes
• Be as transparent as possible

These actions and hundreds of others like them are needed to build and maintain trust at all levels of management. Each level has a different focus on why these things are important, and at the supervisor level employees look for these behaviors constantly.

Because of the span of control, supervisors must be alert to applying these behaviors in a consistent manner to avoid the perception of playing favorites, which is a major trust buster, especially among first level employees.

The conundrum is that while we know numerous things that will build trust within an organization, in most organizations there is still a serious lack of trust.

I believe the reason is that there are four conditions that form a foundation on which all of the other trust-building behaviors rest that makes them work. These four conditions provide a deep understanding of the nature of trust in an organization, so they act like the concrete blocks upon which we ultimately construct a lasting building.

This article will name these four conditions and describe why I believe having this foundation underneath the common behaviors gives them much more power to build trust. Then I will explain why these concepts are just as important at the supervisory level as they are at higher management levels.

Condition 1 – The First Law of Trust

Trust is reciprocal. You trust every person you know at some level, and that person also trusts you at some level. The levels are not always the same, and they fluctuate based on the transactions between you and the other person.

Any communication between the two of you will impact the trust level for both people. It may be face to face conversation, a phone call, e-mail or texting, or even body language at a meeting that impacts trust either positively or negatively.

Trust may go up in one direction but down in the other direction from the same transaction. It is a highly dynamic system.

When you extend more trust to another person, he or she will instinctively respond by showing more trust in you. This “First Law of Trust,” as I call it, is not true 100% of the time, but it is directionally right with such high frequency that it makes a pretty good law of nature.

If you want more trust with another person, find ways to show more trust first.

Condition 2 – Values-based Behaviors

When I begin work with new clients, I always ask if they operate from a set of values. Normally the senior leader is able to produce a list of some values that the group has adopted. Sometimes the values are on a plaque on the wall, and other times they are buried somewhere in a desk drawer.

I then ask the senior leaders point blank if they always follow the values, even when it means making a difficult decision.

The question is usually followed by a pregnant pause and finally someone says, “Well we try to follow the values at all times, but sometimes it is impossible.” While the answer is an honest one, it really signals a kind of hypocrisy that leads to organizational dry rot of trust.

The correct answer must be “yes” at all times in order to preserve trust.

When leaders adopt values they cannot abide by in all circumstances, they set themselves up for failure. That is why one tempting value: “People are our most important asset” is a dangerous one.

If people are really our most important asset, then when there is a downturn in business, we will keep the workforce and sell buildings or other assets to survive. Few companies actually do that, so it is unwise to adopt that phrase as a core value. You simply must abide by the values you advertise or trust becomes a casualty.

The specific values adopted at the supervisor level must mirror the values set at higher levels. There may be some different phrasing to make it apply to first line employees, but the intent needs to add up to the same conclusion or the organization will not be aligned.

Condition 3 – Balanced Accountability

The word “accountability” has become more popular in recent years. It is a shame that in most organizations accountability takes the form of a “gotcha” mentality where all accountability discussions are negative.

My observation is that most people on most days go to work intent on doing the right things for the right reasons. They need to be held accountable in a positive way for the things they are doing right and in a corrective way for the things that did not get done correctly or on time.

If the accountability discussions were not always focused on missed opportunities, then people would not get the impression that the only time they hear from supervision is when they mess up.

I invented the phrase “hold people procountable,” which means that we need to feedback performance that is directionally right as well as the corrective feedback. The nature of the feedback needs to be proportional to the holistic nature of the performance.

This philosophy should be spread across the entire organization, but it is particularly important for the supervisor, who is working at the critical junction between management and the workers. Negative accountability discussions are often the downfall of an inexperienced supervisor.

Condition 4 – Reinforce Candor

This fourth condition I believe has more power to create trust than any other leadership behavior. That is why it is one of the foundational conditions. It consists of creating an environment of low fear where people believe it is a good thing to point out areas where the behavior of higher managers is monitored for consistency.

If something appears to be inconsistent with our values or ethical standards, employees know they will be rewarded rather than punished for bringing it up.

I believe “the absence of fear is the incubator of trust,” and the logic holds at all levels of the organization.

Supervisors can improve the level of trust by making sure all employees know their observations are valued and appreciated. In practice it is not easy to reward someone who points out that some of your behaviors appear to be hypocritical.

Make a special effort to make sure when an employee questions a decision or action on your part that the employee walks away glad that he brought it up.

If the preceding four elements are in place, then I believe the foundation is laid where all the other things that create higher trust will be highly effective.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763