Saturday, July 2, 2011

A Code for the Workplace

B-Daddy here. Let's face it, no matter what else we have going on, those of us fortunate enough to have a full time job in these tough times, spend a big chunk of our lives at work. Yet little is written about conduct in the work place and how to deal with the inevitable stresses of working with other people. I will say right up front, my perspective is that of a manager. I have had some sort of management responsibility for almost 30 years. But I believe my observations are universal.

My views on work place behavior derive from my Christian belief. The other book that influenced me, and which I believe conforms to those principles is The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Jesus said, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." This forms the basis of the how one should approach colleagues, subordinates, superiors, customers and suppliers in the work place. What about when they behave badly, one might ask. Let me be clear.
The rules of right conduct are too important to make exceptions for the bad behavior of others.
So what does this mean in practice? I will give you some personal examples and hope that those I am referring to don't read this blog.

You have a colleague who is always bringing up some short coming of yours or your team whenever you have a staff meeting with the boss. It is intended to make you look bad, so he will look good. How do you respond? If you get defensive and start to argue, how does that help your boss? Does she want to be a referee? So you politely ask more specifics of the issue, tease out the extent to which you may in fact have responsibility and deal with it. When the same behavior occurs week after week, month after month, your boss eventually understands who is the real problem. If she doesn't, then you should probably be looking for other work. (The best time to get a job, is when you already have a job.) Ultimately, you want to work in an organization that rewards your performance fairly.

You have a subordinate who didn't like the fact that you were brought in from the outside to manage the group. Early on, you feel obligated to issue him a letter of caution for his failure to deal with a festering personnel matter. His response is to publicly question your competence and authority and complain about you to his own subordinates. How do you respond? You answer any real issues he may have head on, and explain your vision for the team. After a while, you privately ask him to be more respectful in public. In the evaluation cycle, you are fair. You note where he has done well and where not. When his performance improves, you note it. Five years later, when a reorganization removes him from your direct reporting chain, he complains long and loud to senior leaders who will listen that he is being unfairly treated because you will no longer be his supervisor.

Your supervisor's boss and indeed all the senior management in your organization seem to have only a vague understanding of the key principles needed to run the business effectively. They are always changing strategic direction and can't seem to settle on a fixed vision for your business model. You might quit and look for other work, and indeed, self-preservation might so dictate. Alternately, you could review the methods and tools used for strategic decision making and propose improvements. Because you care deeply about the success of the organization, not just your own, you put your personal reputation on the line to show what best practices exist in other similar firms. You proceed indirectly, so that you are not attacking their lack of strategic direction directly. By focusing them on the requirements for strategic decision making, you are getting their attention focused more appropriately. They can't help but have to be more clear about their decision making processes. If successful, you have changed the whole organization.

Author Jim Collins, who wrote Good to Great, talks about "level 5" leadership. A level 4 leader is someone like Jack Welch, an intellectual superstar whose personal talent drives his company's success. From the linked article:
We eventually came to call these remarkable people "Level 5 leaders."The term "Level 5" refers to a five-level hierarchy. Level 1 relates to individual capability, Level 2 to team skills, Level 3 to managerial competence, and Level 4 to leadership as traditionally conceived. Level 5 leaders possess the skills of levels 1 to 4 but also have an "extra dimension": a paradoxical blend of personal humility ("I never stopped trying to become qualified for the job") and professional will ("sell the mills"). They are somewhat self-effacing individuals who deflect adulation, yet who have an almost stoic resolve to do absolutely whatever it takes to make the company great, channeling their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company. It's not that Level 5 leaders have no ego or self-interest. Indeed, they are incredibly ambitious—but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution and its greatness, not for themselves
Look how closely this mirrors what Paul says in Philippians Chapter 2:
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
While Paul is discussing the church, and Collins is discussing one's company, both are saying that true greatness accrues to putting the good of the larger group first, indeed with great purposefulness. This is at the core of right conduct in the work place; applying one's full intellect and effort to good of those around you and the organization itself, is the best path to true success.


  1. very insightful, I will keep this in mind as I move forward in business

  2. With all due respect, this comes with alot of maturity and huevos. Good to pass along, but the younger mind has more testosterone and less experience. Were you this wise and kind twenty years ago?....hmmm? But these are words of wisdom regardess, and I am proud you are putting them down for others to see. You have become a great dad and husband!


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