Tag Archives: business ethics

Business Ethics: Integrity, Truth and Love

13 Dec

Image: dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Originally published in March 2009…but an evergreen topic.

Recent well-publicized excesses have clarified the strategic flaw in letting money be the sole driver for excellence. Success is not about ripping off investors (Elie Wiesel, for goodness’ sakes) as did Madoff. That’s failure…of strategy and execution. Of course, money is a welcome byproduct of hard work and successful follow-through, but it should not be the focus. Madoff’s decisions exhibit an epic deterioration of values.

Core values drive vision and mission, which come before strategy and tactics and should be the foundation for day-in, day-out, year-by-year business operations. Most people would say that a successful business person has to override their emotions and lead with their head. Is it so? I hope not. Being successful in business requires reading people—which means that some sense of emotion is incorporated into the mix. I’m not talking about a constant group hug or self-help group kind of business. What I mean is a basic appreciation for what’s right and wrong, which is based on some appreciation for others. Call it heart or call it mutual respect, in some sense value-driven business management includes love.

Think about it. Values are built upon what’s true, honest and right. They have some appreciation for natural order—not a religious backbone but a basic tenet that says, “These are the rules of the game. To not follow the rules in the world of business will give me a yellow card, then a red card.” Like the world’s most popular sport, football (soccer for Americans), the players so love the sport that they play by the rules. So it goes in business.

Business leaders are tasked with making the decisions no one else wants to make. Power brings a dash of glory and a ton of ugly responsibility. These days, here’s what that looks like: Who gets to stay? Who can’t we afford to keep? How can I navigate the uncertainty of the future for my business, with so many people dependent upon my ability to discern what is right or wrong? What should I think as I see family members’ and friends’ businesses failing, clearly because of the market? Shouldn’t I do whatever is necessary to get a competitive edge?

There’s plenty of gray area. That’s the problem. If we get lost in the shades of gray, we can lose track of what’s right and wrong. Staying grounded in core values is a necessity for today’s business leaders. These are the three cornerstones of business ethics staying power:

Integrity – This means, “Know thyself.” What’s staying true to your standards, and what is not? Simple as that.

Truth – Never, ever lie. Not to make yourself or someone else look good. Not to win. No need to say more or less.

Love – See the world through the eyes of your fellow human beings, be they colleagues, investors or employees. Your passion for innovation (in whatever profession) should never trample over another human being’s dignity. Can we compete on a level playing field? Yes. Is it productive to operate out of anger just to get ahead? No.

Some might debate the rationale for including “love” in this post about business ethics. I think that without it, there is no case to be made for core business values.

Inspired by Fr. Vinny of the Newman Center (3/8/09 homily, 12 noon).

The Two Sides of Steve Jobs

30 Nov

All four of my readers will remember my post-mortem post on Steve Jobs. This post is further reflection on his life and accomplishments.

I’ve been reading the new Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson and have some information to report back:

Steve Jobs was a genius and a nut.

He was emotionally immature, interpersonally inept, and an unbelievable hypocrite. When he didn’t get what he wanted in professional settings, he cried to manipulate people.  When he needed to encourage staff to take ideas to the next level, he tended to berate and belittle them instead. And despite the fact that he was himself given up for adoption by his mother and abandoned by his father, he refused to accept his own fatherhood for his oldest child until he was pretty much forced to after positive DNA testing.

This biography is not a tell-all, but Jobs wanted people to know the truth so wanted no censoring of content. I give him points for that. Isaacson conducted interviews with Jobs as well as hundreds of people Jobs knew–people with all kinds of opinions about what made him tick. It’s fascinating to read these insights into his process.

One of the things most intriguing to me is that, like George Harrison, Jobs sought spiritual enlightenment. I was surprised to find that he went to India to study Eastern philosophy and was a student of Buddhism. But unlike Harrison, Jobs did not seem to absorb any of the spiritual tenets around respect for other sentient beings. He used more of an end justifies the means type of approach to management,  putting people who worked for him on temporary pedestals to bolster their confidence one moment, while the very next telling them that what they created was “shit.” Apparently, he said this a lot. Jobs’ main takeaway from Buddhism, in particular Zen, seemed to be not the spirituality but the influence his  product design aesthetic: spartan, clean lines, and no fuss.

Another angle that Isaacson explores is the famous Jobs “reality distortion field.” If Steve Jobs believe that something was possible–even the impossible–he so strongly and passionately integrated this belief with his own worldview that for him and everyone around him it became reality. What that says to me is that he was so able to suspend his own disbelief that he had the power to persuade others to bend reality in very interesting ways…ways that beat deadlines and over-delivered on features.

All of this is interesting because it seems that the combination of these characteristics gave him the ability to manipulate his own and others’ thinking beyond the expected, giving us revolutionary products that are truly a pleasure to use. I’ve been wondering if all of the bad karma that Jobs created along the way of driving this technology to fruition outweighs the benefits of the products, and how they’ve impacted our lives in such positive ways. I think that you could argue it either way, and the answer is very subjective.

I’ve worked for people that I did not like at all interpersonally but whom I respected professionally, and who drove my thinking to the next level even though I despised their methods. I hated them for being so mean, but I still loved them for being geniuses. I’m a better professional for having worked with them, despite the pain. I think Steve Jobs left a slew of people behind with this very impression. He wasn’t good, he wasn’t bad. He was something in between: imperfect and himself.

Know Your Audience

7 Nov

Knowing your audience is a fine art. This is my favorite quote from Ron Alsop’s book The 18 Immutable Laws of Corporate Reputation, one that concisely sums up the spirit of being keenly aware of your audience, and their influencers:

“The stakeholder pyramid isn’t a static structure.”

What this means is that we’ve got to be constantly on top of the groups that are interpreting our image in the public space. They may or may not be customers. A good example Alsop provides is the Calvin Klein ads, noteworthy for those of us who first wore designer jeans in the 1980s. Although I looked nothing like Brooke Shields, I did love my Calvins. For the record, I had ONE pair. Lots of others loved their Calvins. They sent a message of youthful je ne sais quoi and corset-like zipped-upness.

imagesThe Calvin Klein ad campaign grew and developed into involvement of younger and younger models, which raised eyebrows for some. In the 90s, Klein’s underwear campaign became infamous for the heroin chic look of models like Kate Moss, known by her gaunt face and bag-of-bones body. At this point, the fashion popularity of Klein was very high, but his reputation began to suffer because of what older people—not his demographic—thought of the ad campaign.

For a long time, it was okay to push the envelope, with ads that were more and more risque, but that only has so much staying power. People pay attention, and they don’t put up having their intelligence be insulted.

The same type of phenomenon happened to Victoria’s Secret. When the company began, their brand promise went something like this: We make lingerie for real women, who are somewhat modest and have zero interest in tacky feather-laden teddies from Frederick’s of Hollywood. We will properly fit you for a brassiere that is uniquely for you, and will last for five years. But a couple of years ago, VS was selling Fredericks-esque teddies and trying to convince me that I needed to throw away perfectly good a year-old class of bras to buy Tyra Banks’ or Heidi Klum’s favorite because it was “just better bra technology.” Yeah, my foot.

What happened? How did they stray so far from their brand promise? VS did have very good success with its Pink line, for younger women, but they may have lost the market that has more money to spend: Women who are “of a certain age.”

Women who have daughters that are old enough to wear nice underwear…and want their daughters to buy nice underwear from a reputable, above-board shop. Yes, To Know Better is in that category, too. VS ended up with a tricky consumer with my demographic. I’m buying bras and panties from them, and my daughter is on the cusp of it. As a result, I am a proponent of VS keeping it clean. It’s only been recently that I have given VS another look, and it’s because they have started to get back to their brand promise. And I’ve wanted my daughter to have a better first bra-buying experience than my own, which involved my grandmother’s sudden bright idea of strapping on a training bra over top of my clothes in the middle of the Hart’s Department Store. For a 12-year-old girl, this was not a welcome experience.

So this is a good case in point for how much public perception matters. Even if Calvin Klein was not a proponent of heroin chic, or underage sex or people having to lay down on their beds to zip up their jeans, SOME people—influential people—in the investment community did believe so. And for Victoria’s Secret, their bread and butter consumer (yes, To Know Better and her friends) was not to be messed with.

Women with buying power are a force not to be manipulated. We stop spending when we get peeved. And even if a stakeholder group is not spending—like the investors that influenced Klein to get back on track with the basics—it is wise to monitor reputation with all key image-perceivers.

How Being Right Can Be So Wrong

27 Sep

Sometimes, you can be so right that you actually become wrong.

How is this so?

In business, time is money. Drucker’s The Effective Executive offers up some good advice on prioritizing time. In business and in life, time matters. Spending time doing things that don’t matter wastes time.

Drucker’s words ring so true:

Until we can manage time, we can manage nothing else.

Take for example:

  1. Belaboring the point when the point has already been made.
  2. Having the last word.
  3. Saying more than you need to and/or repeating yourself.
  4. Proving yourself right.

All of these things can at times be related, but it’s the last that’s my focus today. Spending time on proving myself right is so often both an exercise in futility as well as lost on deaf ears. Most people think they’re right anyway no matter how much energy you waste trying to convince them.

Really, what does it matter? I am saying this from personal experience, as an individual who HATES being wrong. But over the years I have either become:

A. Too old/lazy to care,

B. So full of my own Zen that it makes no difference to me, and/or

C. So right that I no longer need to make a point to people who will never get it anyway.

You decide which it is!

A, B, and/or C….my new middle-aged approach of no longer proving my “rightness” has freed up a lot of time for doing other things, like getting real work accomplished (while at work).

Another added benefit is not obsessing on work stuff while I’m away from work (i.e., compulsively checking email all of the time and being on alert so that I can be ever-responsive…I only do that some of the time these days—progress). And this gives me time to hang out with my family, play with the dog and learn righteous guitar solos.

Peter Drucker would be proud.

Shoes Can Change Lives

4 Jun

Really, they can. Literally and figuratively. Two cases in point.

Case 1: Shoes as Figurative Life-Savers

Me, at the Charlotte, NC airport. It’s 6 pm, and I’ve been wearing 3-inch heels since I left Columbus 12 hours ago for a business meeting here. I’ve got an hour to kill before my flight leaves to go back home. My feet hurt.

When I packed my bag for this trip, the thought occurred that it MIGHT be a good idea to bring my Birkenstocks for the hike through the airport to and from, but since it’s only a one-day trip I though I could tough it out and keep my bag light.

BAD IDEA! With such a long day under my belt, it would feel so good to slip on those Birkenstocks right about now. But sadly, they are at home on my shoe rack.

This airport has a Body Shop, various decent food options and the typical airport sundry shops. Is there a women’s shoe shop? No. They do, by the way, have a Johnston & Murphy — an upscale men’s shoe store. (NOTE: Some of their stores, including the online one, sell women’s shoes as well, but not this airport store.) I eyed some comfortable-looking men’s moccasins and flirted with the thought of buying them in a size for moi. Too expensive for this immediate need, although they look oh-so-soft.

Meanwhile, did I mention that my feet are killing me?

Question: What percentage of air travelers are female? I’d expect it to be slightly less than the population, so let’s say just shy of 50%. How many of these women, like me, travel for business (or pleasure) and make the unfortunate decision to wear heels? And what percentage of women like to buy shoes, anytime and anywhere? Do the math. I’d say that locating a women’s shoe store in a large airport would be a profitable decision.

Or, as my feet are still killing me, wouldn’t the comfort store Brookstone have a reasonably priced pair of memory foam-type flip-flops? No, the closest thing I can find is a $50 pair of slippers (no, too much to spend) or a $50 three-pair package of fluffy socks (again, too expensive…although at this point I’d consider wearing a pair of socks on the long walk to the gate, if I could buy some for less than $10).

Another thought: Maybe the sundry shops sell Dr. Scholl’s Fast Flats, cheap flats ($12.99) that you can find at drugstores like Walgreens. Brilliant! Thinking about this, my feet are starting to breathe a sigh of relief. But the sundry shops don’t have them. I looked in all five sundry shops, by the way.

So, long story short, no comfortable option for my heels. And now that I’ve walked all over the place in the airport, my feet feel even worse. But it’s time for the flight now.

End of this case and lesson learned: A better decision when I arrived would have been to park myself in one of those rocking chairs and stay put.

Case 2: Shoes as Literal Life-Savers

TOMS Shoes is a company developed on this premise:

For every pair of shoes you buy, they give a pair to a child in need. They call it their “One for One Movement.”

How can shoes save lives, literally? Because walking around without shoes damages feet and creates disease. Living without shoes also decreases children’s chances of getting to and from school, reducing their ability to get access to a longer life and greater livelihood for themselves and their families.

So, the next time you buy new shoes, consider TOMS. Their prices range from $50-80, typically. I just bought these $69 wedges and adore them. They are stylish, very comfortable and make me feel like I’m giving back to someone every time I wear them. Because I am.

The Union Debate

5 Apr

Today’s issue of The New York Times had an interesting editorial about “union-bashing” by governors in Wisconsin, Ohio, etc. Such a hotly political topic. People are on one side or the other. Is there an in between? Bear with me as I work through this.

I’ll admit that I’m outright conflicted on this issue. On the one hand, I’m the daughter of a union president. I believe that there are situations when unions have served a purpose and still do. My father’s union was for construction workers, guys that worked hard but didn’t have the inclination or communications expertise to independently negotiate their wages and benefits. So the union did it for them.

When my dad was president, he didn’t get any of the supposed perks of so-called union bosses. I used to work for someone who talked about the power of union leaders. This makes me laugh every time I remember it. I believe that my former employer spent too much time watching 1940s movies.

Not that there aren’t situations when union leaders don’t abuse power — I’m sure there are. Power can corrupt — we’ve seen plenty of cases in business as of late. But for the most part, union bosses are pretty regular guys. I grew up in a squarely lower middle-class family. We didn’t have a pool, fancy vacations or designer clothes. We lived in half-doubles for much of my growing up. We were neither rich nor poor. We had enough.

Because of my background, the merit of unions gets more foggy for me when the working situations are professional and not construction or old school trade-oriented. Additionally, I’ve had my own personal experiences with unions as a manager, having supervised union members working in state government. I’ve seen instances  where people pretty much did nothing or whatever they wanted because they knew their job was protected. So my “on the other hand” is that I can see the downsides to unions. But in all honesty my experience the downsides are more theoretical than actual.

It’s pretty clear that unions do have benefits that are beyond what most people could hope for. I can have a pretty spirited argument about the need to right-size health care and retirement packages. But it seems to me that unions have also been quite willing to negotiate with management on the thorny issues. There’ve been many concessions made since the recession.

In America, we are in a quandary. There’s a part of the American psyche that’s stubbornly individualistic. Those pointing to unions as communists in the early days of labor tapped into this uniquely American trait. If you organize, then you are part of a group and lose your individualism, says this logic. Kind of like the Borg.

Yet there’s another part of our American way that does barn-raising, community action, neighborhood watches, and the like. Grassroots, word-of-mouth and trending are all about group effort — and results. We’ve never been above this.

When individuals have money, they can use it to gain power. They do this through funding campaigns, paying lobbyists and launching public relations campaigns that shape opinion. What percentage of the population can pony up these resources?

When individuals don’t have big money — and face it, this is most of us — they can take action themselves because in America the playing field is probably more equal than anywhere in the world. Here, we are motivated and some of us have time to strive for change.

But let’s be realistic — the playing field is not entirely equal. So another practical thing to do, in the absence of money to gain power, is to form a group to make something happen. To represent ourselves, to lobby for fair working conditions and pay, and a standard of living that’s not rich but is respectable.

I’m not going to discuss any of the arguments around whether or not the unions are to blame for our budget issues, or whether the union-bashing is an effort to get rid of the Democratic party. Everyone has their own thoughts along these lines — and most of the time people just play back the rhetoric that they hear around them. Don’t get me started on that.

It seems to me that there’s a big difference between getting rid of unions altogether and disagreeing with the benefits they’ve negotiated for their members and the collective bargaining process. I have friends on both sides of the issue — friends I want to keep.

All I’ll say is that making tough decisions requires muddling through a certain level of complexity. Do we have the stomach, and the patience, for that? Is there time for that? Or is the supposed quick fix the way to get us to the future? We’ll see.

I’m still conflicted.

Working Motherhood

14 Nov

Today I was chatting with a friend who mentioned an interesting workplace concern:

Mothers who do not pull their own weight due to “kid commitments” — doctor appointments, school drop-offs, parent-teacher conferences and the list goes on.

In all honesty, I have very little patience with this rigmarole.

Walk in the shoes of a working mother or father for just a day. It ain’t pretty.

The juggling act of a parent with a professional position requiring anything beyond 40 hours a week of work is backbreaking. I’m not saying that those without kids don’t work hard. What I am saying is that those with children manage a high-wire act difficult to imagine unless personally experienced.

Spare time is nonexistent. With what little time there is in that grey margin of time just before and after work, the trade-offs are make-or-break:

  • Please a client by going the extra mile one evening by writing another op-ed or go to the ballet recital.
  • Make the boss happy by attending a client reception or be at home for dinner with the family.
  • Delegate to junior associates or do the work myself while my son is going to sleep.
  • Work on the weekend to catch up on the email and “thinking work” that I’m too busy to complete during workdays filled with meetings, or let it go and spend time just being a mom.
  • Have a tough conversation with my boss with the phone on mute while I am transporting my extremely loud and arguing kids to X evening activity, or set the limit that we’ll need to talk about work tomorrow.

Kids remember when we are not present. And so do coworkers, bosses and clients.

Being a parent and a professional are both serious business. Frankly, the only way I’ve found to do both is to do quite a bit of work while my children are sleeping or otherwise occupied on the weekend.

I often have the sense that I’m not paying enough attention to one or the other, but the simple fact is that I devote well beyond “full-time” to each. I know that most parents feel this way, too. Not all workplaces are sympathetic to working parents’ challenges. Children interrupt us at work, just as work interrupts us at home. It goes both ways. With the encroachment of technology and the stressors of the “new economy” — constantly feeling like we have to prove ourselves in order to stay ahead of the next layoff at work — it is often not fun.

For the most part, the policies of my employers have been open-minded to the situation of the working parent. I’ve been lucky in that regard.

What’s surprising is the attitudes of co-workers. Probably the most frustrating thing for me during my 14 years as a working mother has been the judgment of colleagues.

After my son was born, I took off nearly three months to be with him. Some thought this was too much time for someone in a leadership position like mine and let me know how they felt, but I don’t regret it to this day. You cannot get that time back.

Although I started working half-days before I returned, I still was not back at work full-time until my son was 12 weeks old. And when I was back, I took two 15-minute breaks and a 30-minute lunch every day. The breaks were to pump breast-milk that my husband could feed him while I was at work, and the half-hour-long lunch was so that I could be with him to feed him in person. I did this every day for about six months. And I worked more than 8 hours each day — usually something like 50-55 hours a week. Both the nursing and the work were priorities, and I did them both.

Because I took the breaks and the lunch on a regular schedule, often they interfered with other meetings that occurred at work. And that got noticed. I felt it. And there were one or two female colleagues without children who seemed resentful. It was stressful. I often felt rushed, running out of meetings to do the pumping or meet my husband in the parking lot with my son, so that we could sit in the car together for 30 minutes or so to nurse.

A few years ago, I was leaving work to attend a Girl Scout outing with my daughter — time that I made up after-hours. The following day, another working mom colleague shared with me that I needed to be careful about taking this time. She was subtly warning me that doing this was not generally acceptable at our workplace. I thanked her for the heads-up and took note. I also took note that people who left early to play golf did not seem to experience the same judgment.

Now that my kids are older, it’s not as stressful, but I often need to leave work right on time, or I arrive 15 minutes after our “official” start time. And I wonder whether it makes a difference or not that I am working well over full-time to make up the difference in the evenings. People can and do make uninformed judgments based upon what they see in the workplace.

The honest truth is that flex-time is over-rated. Because some of the time unfolds outside the regular work day, it’s easy to pass judgment that the time is “less than,” and thus the work itself and the commitment of the working parent are inferior.

I have no easy answer to this dilemma, for myself or for any other working parent. My own choice as a supervisor has been to support high-quality work and the people that do it, whenever and wherever they are able to complete that work.

There’s more to be learned here. I’m sure that I’ll get more clarity on this over time, but for now it’s just hard. It may sound like the easy way out, but I’m glad that I’m now counting down from nine years to the end of my time as a working mother of school-age kids.