Tag Archives: Rules and Ethics

Re-writing Unwritten Rules – Is this the change we want?

Sports as a metaphor for business fits well for me, so imagine my delight at Chris MacDonald using the Odor/Bautista brouhaha as a starting point for a discussion on unwritten rules. He was equating the competitiveness of sport with competitiveness in the market economy. The parallels are endearing, and he also presents the necessity for self-regulation (according to “the code”), as well as some imposed regulation (from the umpiring squad or regulator). This balance often gets lost in the sports-meets-business mash-up and we are left feeling that some external force (e.g. referees or “the Government”) is supposed to curtail undesirable actions or that “the market” will keep us in check.

In baseball, there is a complex series of “you do this; we do this.” Predictably, people’s interpretation of the Odor/Bautista event is heavily coloured by allegiances: whether you love/hate the Jays, love/hate Texas, love/hate “old school baseball,” etc. Beyond the superficial barbs, what appears to be noteworthy is the first punch by Odor. In baseball’s full unwritten ledger of “this warrants that,” there is no “this” for which the “that” is “”punch opposing player in the face.” When it comes to the retaliatory punch, we are into another rule book where, presumably, equal retaliation is deemed acceptable. (But he punched me first!)

Call it a “code” or “unwritten rules” or “norms” or whatever, in sport and business there is a rich interplay between the enforced formal rules and the understood informal rules. In both cases, the very worst kind of rule making is in reaction to a specific incident. Sports tends to enshrine the original offender in the rule: the Utley rule in baseball, the Avery rule in hockey. Hopefully we don’t see an Odor rule emerge from this because reactive rule alters the essence of a game played between competitors who abide by a similar set of beliefs. Do we want to shift from the shared understanding that “we don’t fight in baseball” to crafting a rule that delineates a “scrap” or a “tussle” from a “fight” in order to assign the correct fair punishment to each (e.g. if the hand stays unclenched, it is at most a tussle)?

When he took over as global CEO of Unilever, Paul Polman countered a conventional unwritten rule by refusing to report quarterly to the analysts who so craved the latest information. Unilever’s stock price hit a low in March 2009 with the first missed quarterly report. Was this a metaphoric “punch” to the information hungry analysts and the short-term profit seekers they serve? Seven years out, Polman is still CEO and the stock sits at almost 3x what it was at the end of Q1 2009. This metaphoric punch has been described a courageous, which could not be more different than the words by some to describe Odor real-live punch.

For baseball, one big question is whether Odor has tapped into something that changes the fabric of the game. In the ebb and flow of sport, we now have professional golfers sporting beards and “joggers,” both of which can be hailed a step into the 21st century for a game weighed down by elitist traditions. Is baseball due for a similar shift?

Whether from the sport or business perspective,, the question of “what kind of game do we want?” can help shape if and how we challenge the status quo. An Odor/Polman punch can be the catalyst to shake things up, or be the action that begs our response. The change to the written rule can be swift, but changes to the code can be a slower burn. Both can have lingering effects on “the game we get,” which may not be the one we want.

 

 

The rules by which we roll

Let’s describe “an organization” as a collection of people with some degree of shared purpose (what we are doing) interacting within norms of some similarity (how we do things).

The “how we do things” can be dictated by formal policies, guiding language and/or understood norms. Each workplace context, in my experience, is different, so a brilliant element from one context does not guarantee success in another. So questions like “what if Disney ran your hospital?” make me cringe, as would an efforts to replicate Google’s success by adopting its famed policy of mandating one day per week to work on things unrelated to your job.

By their very nature, “rules” tend to have “exceptions,” which brings additional complexity, as does the ability and willingness to enforce the rules. There are also predictable negative responses to overt rules and guidelines. For illustrative purposes, and to take a break from conceptual discussions, let’s look at a tangible example of one “rule” and its impact: the off-leash dog park. If this environment were a workplace, the misalignment between this stated rule and the observed behaviours would create a poisonous culture.IMG_20160417_114450

NOTE: At the risk of stating the obvious, the “off-leash” part of these particular parks suggests that it is OK to have your dog “off leash” in this area, and “against the rules” to have dogs “off leash” in other areas.

1 – “There are so many rules; no one follows them all.”

If there is a rule that no one follows, let’s call it a bad rule. Well meaning people don’t follow “bad rules” because it is nonsensical and enforcement is sporadic at best. (e.g. keep the dog on leash when the bylaw officer is around). The logic of some rules can conger up Jerry Seinfeld’s comedic questioning of the California motorcycle helmet law intended to protect a brain whose judgement was so poor as to ride at high speeds with no protection whatsoever.

So, if the “off-leash” rule is a good rule, let’s explain some of the underlying logic: this creates designated space creates where people can’t complain about the dogs being off leash. If you don’t like being around dogs that are off leash, don’t go in there. As both a dog owner and a parkland runner, that is the exact reason why I choose not to run in the off leash areas. Make sense?

In a workplace context, efforts to demonstrate compliance can create vast numbers of rules and regulations. In the practice of collaboration, an over-developed need to reduce culpability risk can take away from the positive effect of good rules. If you have a good rule, it would be a useful practice to provide the rationale and/or be ready to answer “why?” should it arise. (On the latter point, the guidance “Ask Why?” has been forever sullied by its association with Enron.)

2 – “I am aware of the rule, but it doesn’t apply to me.”

There are competing ways to explain this one with differing levels of empathy toward the infractor. Aaron James, in his book “Assholes: A theory” suggests that one quick way to identify his study subject is to listen for “do you know who I am?” as a response to any assertion of rules and norms. The quip implies that if you did know, you would know that I constitute an exception to the rule. I have witnessed interactions on December 26th taking place across a counter with bold signage, “No Returns on Boxing Day.” To my chagrin, as one who appreciates good rules, the manager made “an exception” further reinforcing the attitude that the rule applies to those who don’t have the nerve (or lack of shame) to push back.

There is a less entitled mindset that, in the context of the off-leash park, will say, “Those off-leash parks are for dogs who are poorly behaved when they are off leash. My dog is fine to be off leash anywhere because he/she/it would never misbehave and hurt or startle someone.”

So back to the underlying logic: can we say that, in general, we don’t want dogs hurting or startling other people? Hurting is after the fact, which makes it tough and invokes another set of rules for dogs who have bitten. Startling can be in the eye of the beholder (e.g. don’t worry, he’s friendly offers little assurance), so, if you are easily startled, don’t go in off-leash area. Does that make sense?

3 – “I understand the rule. I just don’t like being told what to do.”

Even good rules have an uphill battle. David Rock’s SCARF model reveals that we have an uncontrolled neuro-biological resistance to anything that threatens out Autonomy (e.g. my ability to determine what is right for me). External rules are a direct assault on this, which makes any attempt to provide constraints on behaviour an uphill battle. We all have different levels of self-imposed guidelines of what we will and will not do, so if we are shaping our own behaviour, this resistance can be reduced.

Some nuanced discussion can align some underlying self-regulators with external constraints. So, the speed limit on the highway is not about a number, it is about driving safely. The sign on the post of the off-leash area is not about a boundary, but about what people can expect in different public spaces. Shoring up this space also takes the pressure off enforcement because you are doing the “right thing” for your own reasons.

If there were short take-aways from this discussion, how about these:

  • If you can impact the “rules” in your organization, shine a light on good rules and stamp out bad ones.
  • In drawing distinctions between good and bad rules, try to look at the underlying logic of what we are trying to encourage, discourage or prevent.
  • If you are stuck with bad rules (especially if they are sporadically enforced), find the underlying self-regulator and use that as your own rule. If you are “called out,” at least you are prepared for your side of the “why?” conversation.
All the best creating and shaping the rules by which you roll.

Diversity Boxes – ticking and talking

The Schumpeter column of The Economist took a run at diversity this week with the hypothesis that fatigue is big part of the problem. This fatigue appears to take different forms:

  • We hear about it far too much (Enough already!)
  • We hear about it but nothing changes (Not enough yet!)
  • We hear about it but what does it really mean (When is enough enough?!)

A look at the article’s comments section (which is always a dangerous move), reveals everything you need to know about the multitude of issues attached to the surprisingly complex word. Doubts and critiques expose some deep philosophical questions, as well as some statements that one is surprised to see in a written format (or not surprised, if you tend to read the comments section of publications).

A couple of things are clear about diversity:

  1. This idea has been getting attention of late. (I recall a similar trend bubbled up around the multi-generational workforce in the last decade or so. Maybe this, too, will pass or linger.)
  2. The word has many different interpretations and understandings
  3. Consistent with 2, ideas vary on whether an organization needs it and, if so, how best to get it.

One of the ideas that the article attacks is diversity as a “tick-the-box activity. Fittingly, differing narratives surrounding “diversity” brings one critique that states the box-ticking organizations actually deserve credit because at least they are doing something!

Is it reasonable to say that the merits of box-ticking depends on the contents of the box?

There may be some consensus that filling the ranks with “the token [insert statistically under represented group member]” probably doesn’t work for anyone. (But I can imagine being challenged on that statement.) So, we should stay away from those kind of boxes.

Similarly, awareness building (especially when the topic is on heavy rotation in media) can also wear thin. So, maybe it’s not enough to “tick the box” on the Diversity Lunch & Learns.

If we are trying to prevent an over-reliance on predictable cognitive biases in important decisions, maybe we can tick the box on the presence of such initiatives as:

  • panel interviews for new hires
  • formal meetings of the senior leadership team to discuss and determine merit bonuses for employees above a certain level
  • determining tangible indicators to test the connection between our idea of diversity and our idea of performance

This is by no means an exhaustive list, nor is it a collection of best practices. Well-intended efforts to “do the right thing” can quickly get lost in the contentious world-view debates that risks making the situation worse. We are convinced in the merits of digging into an idea like diversity to understand how it fits into the business and find some clear ways to track the progress of distinct efforts even if that means ticking some boxes… but only the good boxes.

Do the Right Thing – Sorry Spike, it’s not that easy…

Long before Spike Lee’s movie, the concept of “do the right thing” was familiar to people both in the workplace and in other facets of life. The simplicity of this message is endearing, yet the complexity of work situations makes it impossible for managers to prescribe and predict the “thing” to “do” that would be “right” in all situations.

Sometimes “right” can be conveyed as a mindset rather than a set of actions. So, can we just ask people to “think the right thing” instead?DO_THE_RIGHT_THING

Note: A frequent frustration that I hear from managers and directors is that some of their reports need to be told what to do. Prescribing “what to think” rather than “what to do” can function as a countermeasure to such a dynamic.

I was recently working with a director in a health-care facility who found it both frustration and exhausting to try to list all the things that care aids should not do when they are in a resident’s room. (e.g. Do I really have to be telling them not to leave their gym bag in a resident’s room?!) Potentially, the more efficient communication would be “imagine that you are a guest in their house and act accordingly.” This provides a somewhat shared set of criteria to discuss the appropriateness of a behaviour (e.g. “If you were going to leave a bag in someone else’s house, you would ask first, no?”) Bringing that narrative frame could trigger a whole slew of behaviours that are consistent with “right” in that context.

People use this all the time for customer service:

  • The Dean of a business school briefs new faculty by saying: “In the class, treat your students as students. Outside the class, treat them as clients.”
  • An orthodontist conveys that she will treat your kids like they were hers.
  • A garage mechanics routinely says “if this was my car, I’d do it.”

Even when it comes to “the right thing,” I think there is a natural defensive reaction we all have to being told what to do and not to do. Imploring someone to adopt the “right mindset” may get beyond some of that psychological resistance and free people up to use their own judgement.

⇒ WARNING ⇐ Tread carefully in the “mindset” realm because such ideas can be powerful and pervasive. I recall being asked to deliver training on handling conflict that emerged from an unintended “mindset” consequence. Several internal teams in a hospital were given training in “customer service,” and unfortunately everyone appeared to leave the sessions thinking that they were the customer. (e.g. quick to point out deficiencies in getting what they wanted rather than focussed on meeting the expectations of others.) There is always a wrong end to the mindset stick.

Thirteen Days – The Measure of Success Review

“..You just don’t get it Admiral, do you?.” (Defense Secretary Robert McNamara to Admiral George Madsen)

  • Finding new protocols
  • Negotiating without dealing directly
  • Remembering what is really important

Background:

This movie relives the 13 days that transpired in the fall of 1962 when President JFK was dealing with the discovery of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba. There is a great deal of fascinating political history surrounding this story, but I will over simplify the situation by identifying a few key dynamics of the day:

  1. The newly elected Kennedy administration (not quite 2 years into his first term), did not have full support of Congress and the leadership in the Pentagon. (Some feared too much appeasement.)
  2. Earlier in the administration, the botched Bay of Pigs invasion caused some in the military to feel the need to bolster or repair their image.
  3. The Cold War was in full swing.

This unfolding story is a textbook case study in multi-party negotiations. Kennedy has an inner circle that includes his brother Bobby and long-time friend and advisory, Kenny O’Donnell. Through the political drama that is playing out on international and intra-government levels, they have to calculate what moves to make (and which not to) in order to keep on track and, more importantly, send the correct signals to stakeholders to protect and not sour/strain important relationships.

Spoiler Alert: They avoid starting WWIII (but you knew that).

Direction:

There are a million different agendas at play in this movie, including those mentioned above that stem from embarrassment and outrage following the very public failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion. There is a natural reaction for people want to prove themselves again or create situations to further expose the weaknesses of others. It is safe to say that not everyone wants JFK to succeed in this situation or, to be more nuanced, to be seen to have succeeded.

The one area that absolutely everyone can get behind is “avoid a nuclear war.” This is powerful and comes up again and again, sometimes as a threat (e.g. if you do that, you will force us/them into a war) and sometimes as a shared interest (e.g. none of us wants that to happen, right?).

It is hard to understand “how we are doing” when it comes to global peace, but the metaphoric journey is to advance the political agenda without triggering an international crisis. In the workplace, the downside may be less steep, but this provides a good lesson in dealing with “enemies” who share a common overarching goal of ours.

Set-up – Rules and Constraints:

One of the most interesting exchanges for me was that about the interpretation of the “rules of engagement” when a Soviet warship had breached the “blockade” (which was actually called a “quarantine” because technically a “blockade” is an “act of war”). The historic escalation protocol according to the Navy rules of engagement would have been to hail the ship, then fire blanks across the bow, then fire real artillery to disable the rudder before finally boarding the enemy ship.

JFK’s specific instruction of “no firing” without Presidential consent created some confusion as to whether or not firing a blank was actually “firing.” Conversations over specificity of wording to this level tend to try my patience, but this is a legitimate distinction to draw. The exchange between the Defense Secretary and the highest ranking naval officer is a fascinating look at how overt conflict is part of the fabric in navigating the waters of collaboration. (Pun intended, BTW.)

Set-up – Measures and Metrics:

The “result” that seems to define success in this context is: “have we started a nuclear war yet?” We are often in situations where the only obvious indicators are events or occurrences. This tends to be part of the territory for anyone operating with a “prevention” agenda. Have we been audited? Have we had a bad safety incident? Have key employees quit yet? Have we gone out of business yet?

A level down from that ultimate measure are two overt examples that fit in this area:

  • Were we fired on? In an effort to quell an overly reactive orientation from the military, JFK’s top aide persuades a pilot to hide the fact that they were indeed fired on. Hiding this evidence helps stay true to the “no war” objective while dodging the “retaliate when fired upon” rule that appears to be in place.
  • Have we cut any deals? As the situation intensifies, one creative solution that emerges is to trade the Soviet removal of missiles in Cuba for the US removal of missiles in Turkey. The quid pro quo of this is endearing, but if it were to happen, it can’t be seen to have been a deal, especially under threat.

In Sum:

Although the international diplomacy and threat of mass devastation may not be part of your regular workplace collaborations, there is a lot to be learned here about flexing some of the areas of the system (e.g. assumed “rules” and indicators) to keep focussed on the success that everyone can get behind. “World peace” can rank pretty high on the noble cause scale, but reminding people of a larger agenda can be very effective in enabling creativity and managing unavoidable conflict.

Early warning signs

Corporate culture is at once pervasive and invisible. Anyone who has worked in more than one organization (or suffered through a merger) can attest to palpable differences between how/if we celebrate birthdays, how/if we deal with poor performers and a million other particularities in the given context, all of which are clearly understood to all involved. Itemizing such particularities could be work for another day, but let’s focus on what is “good” and “desired” in a corporate culture.

Such discussions always involve some disagreements.

As an example to illustrate the type of disagreement, let me share the following:

I once had a colleague from L.A. and we got to chatting, as people do, about the weather. Having spent most of my life in the stretch of Canada that runs from Montréal to Toronto, I have had my dose of harsh winters (and they seem to be worse as I get older). A Canadian seeing the weather in southern California is like a municipal links golfer looking through the fence at Augusta National. How shocking to hear her proclaim that the weather in her native land was “… boring. It’s just the same all the time, day after day.”

This same variance in personal preference will be found in any commentary on preferred work environments. Too much conflict/not enough conflict; too many rules/not enough clarity; too much bureaucracy/not enough rigour; too formal/too informal; too unforgiving/too lenient, etc.

Some of these oversimplified critiques help to illustrate important areas that need to be balanced; two of these relate to conflict and ambiguity. I have recently had my drawn attention to “signage,” whose role should be to reduce ambiguity (by stating a practice) and, by logical connection, to reduce conflict (because the rule is now clear).

Have look at this one on “Fridge Etiquette” (click to enlarge):

IMG_20150417_083010

Can such a sign be an indication of an underlying corporate culture or work environment? Here is a quick analysis of the “rules” depicted:

  • Rules 1 & 2: Doubtless that an unclaimed mouldy sandwich brought this issue to the forefront.
  • Rule 3: How many late-comers to the fridge encountered insufficient capacity before this was enacted? (“Look at all those lunch bags taking up all that room! This isn’t right and something has to be done!”)
  • Rule 4: Ah yes, stockpiling. My guess is that someone went to Costco on the way to work and tried to put 48 single serve yoghurts in the fridge (maybe only for a few hours).
  • Rule 5: How many spills were left unattended and for how long?
  • Rule 6: What was the extent of the lunch thievery or was this a preventative measure?

Rules can be fantastic at reducing ambiguity, but only if everyone follows them. Compliance necessitates a dance between the practicality of the rule and its enforcement. For example, one might question the practicality of asking people to disassemble a packed lunch bag and remove only the items that will pose a Health and Safety threat if left unrefridgerated for 3 hours.

Diagnosing a corporate culture takes time and perspective. This can make it hard to do from the inside. A look at “signage” can be a quick place to start to get the pulse of how as a group we use this means to try to reduce ambiguity and conflict.

To fully unleash the power of the Internet, I offer a standing invite to share signs you have seen or look at everyday. Good, bad, ugly, etc.

Leadership and decision-making

Earlier this winter I had the good fortune to spend 2 days with a group involved in development and education on Leadership as part of the professional certification offered by the Supply Chain Management Association of Canada. Any discussion of Leadership brings forward a philosophy, whether spoken or unspoken, and the approach in this context was “leadership can come from anywhere in the organization.” This orientation is fitting because this program includes people at many different career stages. Through the program, we spend time gaining a better understanding of characteristics of leadership and, as a follow-up assignment, participants determine the characteristics that are most important to them, and use these to build a personal development plan.

Grading can be one of the more tedious activities for any educator, but these are often extremely interesting and insightful. Some commonalities in these papers struck me. Many selected “communication” as a core component of leadership and went on to identify that as an area for improvement. As a rule, I think we often admire the gifts of speech making and communication exhibited by leadership role models who speak eloquently, exude confidence, and excel at getting ‘buy-in” from important constituencies. Another grouping of characteristic that garnered attention were those attached to “honesty,” “integrity,” and “authenticity.” By contrast, none chose this as an area of development and several offered this up as a personal strength. (In addition to causing me to ponder, I had a laugh-out-loud as one paper listed “humility” among key attributes, going on to self assess this at 10/10.)

I will confess to having difficulty with the stark distinction between making the decision (with integrity, etc.) and communicating that decision. A disingenuous leadership metaphor would be “putting lipstick on a pig,” but is it not equally disingenuous to allow a bad situation to continue because we are “picking out battles” or “not rocking the boat” or in some other way rationalizing a decision to let something slide?

This is not my areas of expertise, but the realms of critical thinking and ethics would, I believe, provide some guidance as to how to make decisions. Many situations faced by leaders are ambiguous and they may not even know what to believe. Outwardly, they must convey confidence, but determining if that confidence is warranted is a different issue. I will lay a great deal of responsibility in this area on leadership to not only communicate, but also engage in the thinking that deserves trust.

As a further comment on the connection between “the decision” and “the support of that decision,” I spoke with a colleague of mine regarding the subjectivity of some business courses (e.g. mine in management) compared to others (e.g hers in corporate finance). We concluded that Finance’s rigourous and specific tools bring a common language to “make the case” to various constituencies so as to predict future scenarios and be ready with contingencies if things fail to go as planned. We must have faith in leadership (or decision makers) that the original decision is indeed sound. I can’t help but think that this misses a very important moment in leadership when you decide what you are going to do, especially if you have (1) the authority, (2) the personal communication gifts to sell anything and (3) a team of financial experts ready to make your case.

Using “No” to shape your culture

When it comes to a corporate culture, a simple “No” can be defining. Descriptors of a culture can range from “awesome” to “toxic” on the “what is it like?” continuum (public examples of the former would include the “culture of fear” reported at Toronto’s school board). From my experiences, I think you could make an argument for another continuum from “distinctive” to “yet to settle in.”

Like the famous “I know it when I see it” description of obscenity by US Supreme Court Justice Potter, a desired workplace culture can be difficult to describe. Cultures define how people act, and a more cohesive culture has people acting in similar ways, especially around the important issues. This can be a good thing, but can also be disastrous.

If you have not seen the movie Lars and the Real Girl, it is worth a watch. One memorable scene takes place in a church basement, where a community group wrestles with a complicated problem. (Note: going into more detail would risk spoiling your viewing experience, so I will stop there.) As the discussion reaches a point where some action is imminent, the priest starts to answer the unspoken question of “what do we do now?” He begins stating that “the question” is always the same. Pausing dramatically, he continues, predictably, to state that question: “What would Jesus do?

The moment of his pause is well worth considering. Many times, I have been in situations where someone tries to provide an overarching consideration for a complicated situation. In management speak, this is may be termed “framing the problem.” Such questions could include:

  • what is our duty as… Board members? Executives? Managers? Corporate Citizens?
  • what works best for… our customers? our suppliers? our employees? our investors? us?
  • where do we stand to be… most competitive? most profitable? most innovative?

In a less charitable light, one might assume that the pause-breaking question be:

  • What can we reasonably get away with?
  • What is going to make this problem go away?
  • How can we avoid short-term conflicts?

Such questions may be useful, but a shortcut to cultural insights comes through clarifying “what we can’t” or “what we won’t do.” Saying “No” seems to be more active than not saying “No,” which tends to imply that something is OK (e.g. silence is consent). These “Nos” and “Don’ts” are very telling in clarifying unstated criteria that drive action and inaction. Hiding things from leadership (or having leadership turn a blind eye) is a sure path toward the “toxic” work environment. Progression down this path will vary, but in the journey that lead to the TDSB’s current woes, we likely will find significant doses of both deception of leadership and willful ignorance by them.

So to set (or reset) a positive cultural path, consider saying “No” more publicly and maybe more often.  Such “Nos” shine a special light on what is really important.

  • A culture that pays attention to employee retention, will say “No” to a client who routinely bullies their account managers. (We don’t have to fire the client, but there will be action to stop the behaviour.)
  • A culture that is serious about innovation and risk-taking, will say “No” to attempts to punish failure and mistakes. (This is not to say that we encourage recklessness, but we will take time to discuss and understand risks, as well as plan to mitigate the consequences of attempts that fail.)
  • A culture that embraces work-life balance will say “No” to initiatives the needlessly restrict work-from-home initiatives. (This may mean that we look to different means of accountability than simply “hours worked” or time in the office.)

If you are a leader in your environment, your “No” will speak volumes. Others can bring items to leaderships attention, and ask them to make such calls, which are part of their role in leading, shaping and clarifying a positive culture.

Aligning for Performance – Where to start

The Lululemon stories coming out this week illustrate, if nothing else, that running a successful business is a complicated endeavour. There are a number of interests to balance, and something always has to give. Determining what exactly what should “give” and how exactly to implement that decision introduces an interplay between three dimensions of an organization:

  1. Overall Direction
  2. Measures and Metrics
  3. Rules and Norms

To have a serious look at “performance,” each of these is necessary though no one dimension logically prevails. The result of the interplay is very tangible to those operating in and around the environment. Employees actually live it, and investors, suppliers and other stakeholders are deeply affected by it.

From an organizational development perspective, these dimensions offer distinctly different lenses through which to analyze and evaluate performance. They can also inform opportunities for on-course corrections that can pre-empt a larger “realignment” or “change project.” Here is a quick explanation of what you could see through each lens.

Dimension #1 – Overall Direction (balancing inspiration with reality; clarity with rigidity)

Done well
  • There is alignment toward an overarching purpose.
  • We all know why we are here.
  • We have an obvious shared interest and our conflict is about how to get there not where to go.
Overdone 
  • Attachment to “core values” grows rigid such that an unrealistic zeal drives activity.
  • People are quick to become indignant when others suggest that we would ever compromise or question the direction that has been set.
  • There is talk of “sacred cows.”
Underdone
  • Lack of consistent focus makes it hard for people to assign priority.
  • Lower levels of management feel compelled to check with upper levels.
  • Management shows reluctance to exercise judgement because decision-making criteria is unclear.
Dimension #2 – Measures and Metrics (balancing art and science; means and ends)
Done well
  • There are appropriate and trackable indicators of performance at individual, team and organizational levels.
  • Discussions around performance, including performance reviews, have some objective and tangible criteria.
  • With negative changes in measures and metrics, discussions turn to “what can we do to affect this outcome?”
Overdone 
  • Emphasis on “making the numbers” leads to situations akin to “the operation was a success, but the patient died.”
  • Rampant gaming of the system to make “my numbers,” with complete disregard for overall impact.
  • No concept of “taking one for the team” because there is no opportunity to provide a context or expectation of reciprocity.
Underdone
  • There is no meaningful indication of results and outcomes.
  • Well-intentioned people often feel that although much gets done, little may have been accomplished.
  • There is little perceived connection to and control over end-results (positive or negative)


Dimension #3 – Rules and norms (balancing constraints with restrictions; formal with informal)
Done well
  • There are a few key parameters that people maintain (and don’t need to look at the website for guidance).
  • These are supported in formal policy (e.g. vision, mission and values).
  • There is a “spirit” of the rules not fully captured by the “letter” of the formal statements
Overdone 
  • Decision-making may be stifled because everything is prescribed and no judgment is required.
  • Rationale for doing something is often replaced with explanation of rules, guidelines and norms that prescribe behaviour (more “we/you can’t” than “why couldn’t we?”)
  • People look for air-cover from a policy or from “so-and-so said we have to do it this way” to justify actions/decisions.
Underdone
  • The walls of the office have signs like: “DO NOT LEAVE FOOD IN THE OFFICE FRIDGE OVERNIGHT.“ & “DO NOT LET THIS DOOR SLAM.”
  • The funnel of “policies in progress” is always full.
  • Existing policies are routinely reworked to be clearer. (e.g. Coffee cream is exempt from “Food left in Fridge” policy.)
What now/what next?

An analysis of this nature has to sift through competing perceptions of the situation. If the goal is to improve performance, the first step should be to better understand it. The interplay of these dimensions is similar to the combination of individual life philosophy, personal goals, and code of conduct that form a human being. Some degree of misalignment is inevitable, but very often it is manageable. Large misalignments and inconsistencies will become obvious over time and become more difficult to manage and to hide.

Using these dimensions as a periodic diagnostic within an organization can bring insight to where to focus time and energy to proactively affect future performance. This can also help to prevent large crises that require swift and sudden change.

 

Well, what do/did you expect?

Any discussion regarding performance has to include both outcomes (e.g. what you accomplished) and conduct (e.g. how you accomplished it). These concepts can exist together in statements like “they won fair and square,” but with the current mayoral race in Toronto, many would encourage to keep them separate.

  • Pro-Forders say: Look what he’s done (e.g. outcomes). So what if he’s not perfect (e.g conduct).
  • Another camp says: I don’t care about his record (e.g. outcomes); his behaviour is unacceptable (e.g. conduct).

A reasonable response would be to balance the two, which is what I believe is at the heart of John Tory’s code of conduct. One truism of the performance evaluation is: “clarify expectations.” In more practical terms, this quickly becomes an exercise in managing expectations. Unfortunately, the result of that, more often than not, is defining the “barely acceptable.”

Enter the “Code of Conduct.”

Such well-intentioned documents set the bar for accountability for future actions. It states: “Here is how I am going to go about my business, and please call me out if I conduct myself otherwise.” But that is where the clarity ends because we are stuck with statements like Tory’s Point #2 “I will show up to work each day to get things done…”

So, John, do you mean that you will show up to work “everyday”? “Every workday” (e.g. you will take vacations and weekends)? Everyday that you show up to work, you will try to get things done (e.g. you could indeed be absent, maybe even absent a lot, but when you are there, you are there to get things done.)?

Note: If the response is to tighten the wording of the “code,” we will undoubtedly get stuck with unreadable legalese!

Transparency, honesty and integrity are far too conceptual to be prescribed on a code of conduct. That said, I think we have every right to expect these traits in leaders, political or not.

My second problem with defining the “barely acceptable” conduct is that inevitably the code is used to counter any critique of performance.  As of April 4, 2014, Rob Ford can factually claim: “I have not been charged with a criminal offence while in office.” The binary distinction of charged or not charged is apparently the expectation here. Does integrity and honesty really come down to “I have not been charged with a crime.”? This is akin to Lance Armstrong’s claim that he had “never failed a drug test,” which, in retrospect, was not the best evaluation of his performance.

Even if a candidate for Toronto’s mayor said: “Trust me, I am going to pay better attention to my conduct than the current mayor has been,” some still won’t care. Unfortunately, the outcomes Toronto will have received by 2018 will remain a mystery past voting day.

When it comes to conduct (e.g. the “how you go about doing it”), leaders should give us much more than “barely acceptable,” so why bother defining it? The effort in defining the “barely acceptable” should be spent on the outcome side. (e.g. If I have not achieved X by 2018, I will not run again.) This will demand leaders accepting responsibility for things beyond their individual control, which might create a necessity for people to work together.

I would love to see more leaders clarify the “barely acceptable” outcomes rather than trying to pin down the specifics of “integrity” and “respect.”