Building a Foundation for Character with Organizational Guiding Principals

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Guiding principles, or values, lay the foundation of character for every organization. A wide variety of people make up organizations, coming from different backgrounds, and bringing different personal and cultural values to the group. An organization’s guiding principles establish what things are important for the organization. Successful organizations establish and ingrain compliance with their guiding principles through training. Using a daily or weekly meeting is an easy way to train employees about the organizations principles.

Let’s say the organization has three guiding principles; loyalty, quality customer service, and finding winning solutions for everyone. Supervisors hold meetings every Monday with their staff. In addition to the regular items, modified_meeting_torimiddelstadt_uaf-school-of-managementthe supervisor includes one of the guiding principles on the first Monday of the month. The supervisor provides the company’s definition of the principles and facilitates a discussion about ways employees can incorporate behaviors into their work lives to live up to the principle. This week they discuss loyalty. The conversation includes loyalty to the company, the smaller group, customers, and shareholders. The meeting breaks and employees go about their work.

During the week the leader moves about the work area looking for opportunities to recognize behaviors that comply with loyalty issues discussed during the weekly meeting. The leader notices a technician on the phone who appears to be talking with a customer. He tells the customer how much he appreciates his loyalty by sticking with company. He explains that he cannot do the repair work for free but will research a discount because of his loyalty.

During the next Monday meeting, the supervisor continues the discussion on loyalty. He starts the conversation by telling the story of the technician who found a way to stay true to the company while rewarding customer loyalty. Next he goes around the room asking others for stories of things they did during the previous week to live the principle of loyalty. Not everyone had a story, but all participated in the conversation. He also facilitated a conversation about how their views of loyalty changed during the week as they focused on different ways to be loyal to all the company stakeholders. The conversation was lively. Eventually the supervisor had to cut them off so they could conduct the business of the company.

The following week, the leader may start the loyalty discussion by telling a story of an experience he had where the principle was the focus of the situation. He opens the floor for others to tell stories. One way to ensure there will be some discussion is to have a chat with one or two employees during the week ending by asking them to share their story at the next weekly meeting.

On the fourth Monday, the group engages in a conversation wrapping what they have learned about loyalty. Again there should be time to allow story telling of application of the principle, but the conversation should shift to lessons learned and how to apply them. Using these steps allows people to be taught about an idea, followed with examples of how to use the idea and concludes by them practicing what they learned. The discussion allows corrections to be made so everyone becomes better and also recognizes behaviors meeting expectations for the particular guiding principle.

On the first Monday of the next month the supervisor introduces the next guiding principle, quality customer service. He follows the same format during the month when they learned about loyalty. The employees are told about quality customer service. They are shown examples of quality customer service. They try and report on their efforts. They are praised for success and coached to improve when they fall short of the standard. The process is repeated the next month for the finding winning solutions principle.

Change up things after going through the guiding principles once . Ask one of the employees in the group to lead themodified_geese-flying_john-johnson conversation when you return to the first guiding principle. Allow that employee to discuss and introduce the guiding principle. She could lead the conversations about how others engaged in behaviors exemplifying the principle. Repeating the process instills a deeper understanding of each principle and allows employees to further ingrain that principle into their daily lives. As new employees come on board, they learn not only how things are done, but why.

Creating organizational change is difficult. Helping employees improve their understanding of an organization’s guiding principles is one step leading to change. As employees begin to live the principles of the organization, the culture changes. Reinforcing each lesson through reflection of behaviors supporting compliance with organizational principles ensures lasting change. Employees see how small changes improve working conditions and organizational cohesion. Focusing attention on a guiding principle at daily or weekly meetings results in easily training teams about each principle. Try it at your next group meeting.

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Photo Credits

All photos from Flickr.com with Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Granite wall by Wolfgang Tonschmidt, cropped by author

Group meeting by Tori Middelstadt at UAF School of Management, modified by author

Geese by John Johnson, modified by author

Finding the Path

“No!” replied the client and hung up.

“I quit!” said Bill out loud. “I haven’t made a sale all day.”cubical-drewfromzhrodague

Jill, Bill’s big boss, happened to be passing his cubical as he announced his intent to terminate his employment, or at least sales calls for the day. “Bill,” said Jill, “We don’t quit. If you are having problems, I expect you to find a way to over come them. Getting to YES is an important principal of our division. I want you to spend the rest of the afternoon examining what what you have been doing and work with your team leader to figure out what you can improve. Both of you will report to my office in the morning with your findings.” Jill did not wait for a response. She turned and left. When she returned to her office, she called Bill’s team leader and told her about Bill’s problem and her expectations for corrective action.”

Jill said, “Getting to yes is an important principal.” She did not scold Bill for breaking a rule, but rather for failing to comply with a guiding principal. Guiding principals liberate leaders and employees from restrictive rules that require and prohibit behaviors by establishing clear boundaries, not rules. Employees operate within their boundaries established by guiding principals without fear of breaking some arcane rule. Employees use the principals to break the molds of past successes improving the organization. Sometimes people make mistakes, but in principle based organizations, leaders allow people to learn from errors, reorient themselves, and continue on the path to success. Guiding principles establish boundaries, not specific routes, for people to travel to achieve successful outcomes.

In the example at the beginning of this post, Bill probably violated several rules in his organization. Jill elected to call out Bill for violating a principle instead. According to Robert McDonald, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, “A rules-based organization is a safe place to work…because as long as you follow the rules, you’re never going to be criticized. You go to the General Counsel for each opinion, so you never have to take any personal risk.”1   boundry-jesse_loughborough Rules tell each employee what to do and what not to do in a given situation. The problem with rules is no organization can write a rule for every situation, and organizations like the VA have tried. Often rules conflict in a given situation. When faced with a situation not covered by a rule, or one where the rules provide conflicting guidance, people have to make decisions. That is why guiding principles are necessary.

Guiding principals, sometimes called values, are a short list of ideas that establish behaviors for employees to accomplish the organizational mission regardless of the situation. In some organizations, they establish their guiding principals a single words like, duty, honor, country. Others may use short phrases like, get to yes, respect all stake holders, continually improve. Organizational leaders boil down ideas until only those most important remain. An area cannot be established with less than three points. More than seven and people will not remember the principals; the area is too large.

The following morning Bill and his team leader Jane were waiting outside Jill’s office when she arrived. After being invited into her office, Bill explained to Jill that he and Jane spent the afternoon reviewing his sales pitches. They discussed some small improvements he could make to be more effective. Jane told Jill that she would check in with Bill a couple times in the next week to review his progress and make additional refinements to help him get to yes. Bill said, “I’ve learned the importance of seeking help when I need it to deal with frustrations.” Jill smiled. Bill’s outburst helped her develop Jane’s leadership skills and Bill’s sales skills. Had she just reprimanded Bill for disturbing other sales representatives, neither Bill nor Jane would have grown.

Leaders who use guiding principals establish markers to follow allowing freedom of choice cairns-sean_munson.jpginstead of rules that fence in options. Guiding Principals develop effective organizations. They create a climate for employees and junior leaders to safely take risks within established areas. Leaders use mistakes as learning opportunities for the employee and others. Employees respond to increased trust by finding improved ways to accomplish the organization’s mission. All stakeholders receive the results they expected. By using guiding principals, people find their own route to success within establish boundaries. Now is a great time to review your organization’s principals and determine how you can improve them for increased success in the coming year.


Footnote


Photo credits

Cubical: Drew from Zhrodague from Flickr.com

Fence: Jesse Loughborough from Flickr.com

Cairns:  Sean Munson from Flicker.com

All used under Creative Commons Licenses.

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AW…do we have to plan AGAIN?!

“Plans are nothing; Planning is everything.” Dwight D. Eisenhower. Planning is one of the fundamental functional areas of management. Leaders at all levels plan. Depending on the event and their level in the organization determines how they plan, but the planning process should remain the same. Whether you want to develop a new vision for your organization, or you are putting together a small meeting for your staff, planning is the process that identifies the needs for what is desired in the future, the resources necessary to accomplish the task, actions requiring completion, controls and guide posts to watch for along the way and a statement of success. One of the reasons planning is valued more than the finished plan is understanding that no battle plan ever survives past first enemy contact, but in the planning process, key leaders have opportunities to evaluate different courses of actions allowing them to change course as the situation evolves. This topic deserves more than the few hundred words dedicated here, however my intent is to provide readers a general direction for their own planning processes.Image
The first step in any plan in to identify the objectives. Plans are only required if there is difference between the current situation and what you expect in the future. The purpose of the plan is to change the future. At the strategic level, leaders develop mission statements, share their vision and establish guiding principals. At the operational level, leaders develop work processes, gather resources, train workers and establish goals and task steps.
Once the object is identified, develop alternative actions. Often this is done during brain storming sessions although other idea generating activities also work. Ideas do not have to appear practical or traditional. The important action at this stage is to developing ideas. You may find that some of what originally appear to be flaky ideas in the beginning, when paired with other ideas may work the best.
Now that you have several alternatives, take time to evaluate them whether alone or in a group. Identify their efficiency, alignment with organizational guiding principals, likelihood of success and other factors selected by the group’s leaders. During this stage you should start to develop the measure for success. As alternatives are eliminated the better ideas become evident. The completion of this step should involve a completed written plan. The plan does not have to answer all questions but should provide enough information for those charged with implementing understand the intent. Remember the old saying, “An imperfect plan delivered on time trumps the perfect plan delivered a day late.”
Action is the next step in the planning process. A complete plan is not required to begin action. The great thing about mission and vision statements are they provide everyone an idea about which direction they should be traveling even if they lose the directions to the final destination. Once the decision has been made to move towards a certain goal, action can begin. Starting movement is the hardest part of any change. Starting movement is they only way the plan will succeed.
Once things begin to move it is important to monitor progress. The plan should include specific check points where staff gather to report progress. Like any journey, if you don’t take the time to check your compass and read the road signs you may find you took a left when you should have turned right in Albuquerque. These controls may include checks on spending, use of resources, percent of quality improvement, number of units sold or any other metric that measures progress.
A final and critical step in the planning process is obtaining commitment from stakeholders. Too many projects fail for lack of this important support. Ensure the key leaders understand the resources requiring commitment for success. Obtain contracts from customers if necessary. Lock in resources from suppliers early.
A finished plan may not be fancy. It may not be complete. What matters is the process used to arrive at the plan. Follow these steps and you increase your plan’s success. Start by determining the objective. Identify alternatives to reach the objective. Evaluate the alternatives selecting the one most in line with organizational values and vision. Begin action as soon as there is commitment. Obtain commitment from key stakeholders. Check your progress regularly and plan those check-ups. As your project rolls along, you may find success lies off the road you selected to reach your destination, but through your planning process you identified detours and side trips. In the end you will find your planning helped you make small adjustments along the way and reach your destination.

 

Photo by author

Training Ethics or Ethical Training?

There are so many ways to approach ethics training that it is unethical to have people sit bored while training ethics. Instructors can conduct ethics training on three levels. ImageThe first is to demonstrate by training ethically. The next is to provide ethical training. The third is to identify organizational behaviors that require changing and provide training that will change that behavior. What follows is a short dissertation how trainer can accomplish each of these goals without having to speak above the din of snoring in the classroom.

 Within the realm of training ethically there are three sub-categories; civil liability, ensuring employees are fully prepared to complete their duties and using the time of trainees well. Every organization wants to avoid law suits. Training your employees to do the right things the right way for the right reason ensures tort avoidance better than the coverage from insurance. By training employees well to avoid liability, you create added value by developing better employees who do their jobs well. Trainers have a responsibility to ensure they train employees well and when you do, students’ time is wisely used. Everyone despises the torture known as Death by PowerPoint. The point of presentation software is to help make critical points powerfully. By showing everything you are going to say on the slide the importance of the points are lost. Be prepared to speak ideas, not the slides.

 The next major area of ethics training is training ethics. Teach organizational standards, orders, policies or other written documentation governing behavior in your organization. These rules establish expected behavior. Let students know what the maximum and minimum penalties as well as the typical penalty for violating norms. Often these topics are approached by reading each document verbatim. A better idea is to assign the reading to be completed before class, review the material in the form of questions and answers and then use stories as examples of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. Facilitated classes are great opportunities to share ethical theory with students showing how their biases effect their focus of organizational standards.

 The next area is training to change behaviors. Repetition is required for this training to be successful, but do not teach the exact same class to the exact same audience time after time. Both you and your students will become bored quickly. The point of this training is to focus student attention to behave in compliance with the organizational mission, principals, expectations and norms. Use this time to explain what the mission statement means to their section. Talk about how the organizational principals support the mission. Express your vision for the future of the organization. If you are training others, then you have been chosen to lead. Leaders have a better view of what lies ahead. Share your vantage point with others so they understand the importance of doing the right things the right way.

 As you develop training for each of these areas, you will soon find you have far more material to cover than the time available. Newer trainers will curse and try to squeeze everything into the allotted time. Experienced trainers recognize the opportunity to provide follow up training without repeating previous classes improving student attention and retention in subsequent classes. Focus on the three areas, ethically train, train ethics and change behavior. When you do, your students will clamor for more.

Inspire Others to Go Forth and do Good

ImageAs the hour draws to a close the speaker comments on what a great bunch your group has been. She was so concerned things would not go well because she was not sure what she had to offer would meet the needs of the rest of the team or that she had enough material for the 60 minutes she was allowed. She asks of there are any questions; there are none, and thanks you all for coming. You stand up hoping to sneak out of the room before your boss has an opportunity to corner you about the poor performance of your direct report during the monthly senior staff training, too late, he yells across the room to meet him in his office in five minutes. What went wrong?

Often employees or outside subject matter experts are asked to make presentations about hot topics. Powerful presentations are not guaranteed just because the presenter possesses expert or referent power and may deny the members of the organization the inspiration to do great things with what they have learned. Even when the person makes a great presentation, they may end up talking about everything except the one or two areas of concern for your organization. Taking the time to identify objectives of what you want participants to learn helps you and the presenter focus on material that will enlighten, educate and inspire. Steven Covey calls it beginning with the end in mind.

It may seem too simple to write out a comprehensive terminal learning objective. Doing so focuses the efforts of the trainer to only that information which will help the audience achieve the final educational goal. The end result is a focused presentation meeting the needs of the audience. Steven Covey covers this principal when he advises his readers to begin with the end in mind.

There are three important parts of every learning objective whether it is the capstone objective, or a smaller piece of the puzzle. The parts are action, condition and standard. The action is what you want the student to learn how to accomplish when they complete the training. An example might be something like, “The clerk will complete a telephonic customer order on the computer.” The conditions for the task or action to be completed should include the environment and any tools or resources available while completing the action. Often training is conducted in a classroom or conference style setting and that should be reflected in the condition statement. Finally spell out how someone will know when the student has achieved success by stating the standard. This can be performance steps, standards for a finished product, a score on an examination or any other means of measuring performance. Often in a classroom this may be as simple as, “The student will respond correctly to questions related to the action.”

This is a sample of a TLO for a classroom setting where there will be no formal testing.

Action: Complete a telephonic customer order on the computer.

Conditions: A classroom environment, a block of instruction and random questions from the instructor.

Standard: Correctly answer questions related to taking a customer order on the phone and entering the data into the computer.

Ideally action statements start with a verb. Conditions describe resources available to complete the action. Standards should be measurable and attainable, very much like setting SMART goals.

Establishing learning objectives when assigning someone to conduct training improves communication and enables the trainer to understand the perceived needs of organization. Given an objective such as the one above instead of some generic statement like, “Hey Smith, I need you to give a class on that new software at the next staff training conference next week.” With the first, employees should walk out of the training understanding how to take customer orders using the new software. Who knows what you will get with the second. When you are tasked to provide training, having an understanding of the process allows you to develop a TLO, run it by the person who assigned it and then help you focus your attention on what is necessary to meet expectations.

Developing training objectives help trainers focus on presenting important information in the time allowed for students to achieve a given task. When assigned, both the manager and the trainer have better expectations of what the finished product includes. Quality learning objectives contain three parts, the action, the conditions, and the standards. When assigned by your manager to train others using a learning goal ensures you and he understand what is expected of you. Don’t let your next presentation flop. Take the time to develop an objective for the time you are given to teach others.

References

Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. electronic edition. New York, NY: Rosetta Books, 2012.

Henry, V. E. (2002). The COMPSTAT paradigm: management accountability in policing, business, and the public sector. Flushing, NY: Looseleaf Law Publications.

http://www.grayharriman.com/ADDIE_Writing_Learning_Objectives.htm

Photo by tiffa 130 on flicka  http://www.flickr.com/photos/tiffanyday/4233065842/sizes/o/in/photolist-7s4yZQ-8Wryi-ffna1C-47iP3d-52AQpJ-bGYWzB-4AufPZ-6tcK9H-9TLQ4V-8NuGDD-8Hg5U4-9JMiVv-9JMita-9JgqsL-7YrzMS-dKTJnF-8HpL4e-BFAGU-eNMWSj-eNNwHC-7n4gRh-eNN2rq-bZzNxs-c4SdKS-c5qaBj-c4SXZQ-bZH6nN-bZSrEN-c5EoAW-bZyRyh-5Vc4Mb-5Vc4uY-gx8cF-e4GEBY-dtYtxp-5F11Pu-4gL5v1-4tppYd-Gfs6t-BXKac-c5ECoN-c5Er4b-c5EzqU-c5EtBq-c5Es7u-c5EpMy-c5Ev57-c5EAUf-c5ExWq-bZPjLw-bZPucw/

Focusing on Ethical Lenses

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Wall Street struggles with insider trading scandals. Capital Hill drowns in waves of corruption. The military suffers from being blown up by sexual assault after sexual assault. All these organizations have professed values. They have codes of ethics. They investigate allegations of wrong doing daily. In spite of their best efforts the same problems continue to plague them.

Each of these organizations teach ethics. Many of us have sat through classes teaching us what is right and what is wrong based on organizational principles. None of these classes explores the underpinnings of ethical thinking and are therefore doomed to fail.

In their book, When Generations Collide, Lynne C. Lancaster & David Stilman explore the differences between generations based on the differences of the history that defined the moments each grew up with. The thesis of the book is that understanding the forces that shaped each generation allows the others to understand the motivations behind the behaviors of each group of people. Young people are not lazy, but rather value their free time to associate with friends and family. Boomers think globally and act locally. Understanding the forces that shaped the values of others creates harmonious relationships at work and home.

Ethics are the same. When an organization professes to value loyalty, the committee that established that as an important guiding principle envisioned that everyone understands what loyalty means. Everyone does, but brings their own history to the definition. One who has strong family ties is loyal to his family. Another employee who values friendships is loyal to her friends. A third employee is third generation at the company. He benefited from many of the past policies that rewarded hard working employees, his loyalty lies with the company. From different points of view come different views of loyalty each equally valid yet when viewed by the others, bound to create disagreement and tension. A study of ethical theory enables understanding of how others define ethical values such as loyalty, honor or duty.

Four major concepts of ethical thinking include:

  • Seeking to do the Greatest Good for Me,
  • Accomplish My Duties & Safeguard My Rights,
  • Making Choices that are Just and Fair for All,
  • Living Virtuous Life According to a Selected Code of Conduct.

Using a story will help put each theory into perspective. While shopping, a person notices another placing a package of meat into a pocket on the inside of a bulky coat. What is the ethical thing to do?

If we use the first theory, by reporting it he may find he is required to make a written statement, wait for police to arrive and possibly testify in court. This may mean missing time for work and not getting paid. From this point of view, the person may reason the best thing for him to do is nothing.

Using the second ethical view, the shopper may decide that she has a duty to report what she saw to the manager which may require the same sacrifices already described. In addition she has a right to pay the lowest possible prices. People stealing food causes prices to rise so by reporting she fulfills her duty and protects her rights.

Using the third outlook the shopper may take into consideration things like the ability of the thief to pay as well as missing work and going to court. He may reason that overall it is not fair for everyone to pay higher prices, but also that the other should be able to purchase food at a reasonable rate. He may choose not to report, but rather approach the thief and offer to buy the meat for the other.

I the final theory, the shopper decides that virtue requires reporting. She determines that if no one pays for the food than the store goes out of business and there is no place to shop. Stealing is against the law no matter the reason (the selected code of conduct) and must not be tolerated. Additionally if everyone turns a blind eye to theft, stealing will escalate resulting in the store closing. Reporting is the only virtuous thing to do.

As the example shows, the lens of one’s ethical view determines how principles such as loyalty, duty and honor focus actions. Based upon the ethical point of view none of the answers provided are incorrect. Likewise in the workplace, when employees make decisions, they select choices based on their ethical lens changing the focus to actions that match. In order to maximize mission statements, value selection, guiding principals and visions for the future, leaders must not only provide ethics training, but also train understanding which lenses employees use. Failure to recognize employee focal points ensures failure of ethical decision making efforts by leaders. Take the time to teach junior leaders and their employees which lens is used by the key leaders to view the world so they can make better choices.