In Simon Sinek’s new book, The Infinite Game, he writes about ethical fading — the short-term focus in an organization that pressures people to do things which they normally would not do.
“Ethical fading is a condition in a culture that allows people to act in unethical ways in order to advance their own interests, often at the expense of others, while falsely believing that they have not compromised their own moral principles. Ethical fading often starts with small, seemingly innocuous transgressions, that, when left unchecked, continue to grow and compound*.”
The classic example is Wells Fargo, where over 5,000 employees were involved in opening over three and a half million fake bank accounts, but unfortunately, lapses occur daily in many organizations.
I think about Sinek’s concept in this time of COVID. With millions working from remote locations there can be a great temptation to engage in work ethic fading – letting habits of productivity and performance lag. Just as with ethical fading, you may be able to justify your slacking to yourself as self-care or what “everyone” is doing in this time of high anxiety – which may be true – but it is also the start of smaller lapses that can have larger negative impacts.
Don’t let your 8am start time fade into 9am then 10am before you turn on the computer. Try to remain vigilant in keeping up with email and communication. Stay on target to complete the projects you are able to finish. Reallocate any open times to create for the future instead of checking out early.
The times of uncertainty will settle into something new in the future. Take care now so that the virus doesn’t claim your work ethic as one of its victims.
*The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek, 2019, p. 132
Today our town will name the recipient of the annual First Citizen award, a recognition given to someone who has made an impact on the community. There will be fanfare and public recognition but, unlike with most awards, the recipient will not be forgotten.
The newspaper has been running half-page stories for the last 49 days, leading up to today’s announcement of the 50th winner. Each story gives the context that led to the award and includes an update if the winner is still alive. I especially like that all the features include the names of the previous recipients as the border.
So often we recognize people in the moment and then their accomplishments fade into the background. This series has been an excellent way to keep the legacies of the winners alive, educate readers on some of the city’s history and provide a build-up to the new announcement.
Think about how your organization could adapt this concept to share the stories of your past award winners. There is no better way to shape your culture than to hold up examples of those who exemplify what excellence looks like.
I listened carefully to a song on the radio and I could hear the consistent drumbeat that carried through the entire piece. Parts of the melody varied – highs and lows, fast and slow – but that steady rhythm kept time throughout.
I think that the drumbeat is the job of the supervisor – providing consistency through the variations of organizational life. The supervisor should be the voice of calm in the chaos. They serve their staff well when they function as a through line that maintains movement and provides integrity to the work.
Supervisors whose emotions and stress levels cover the full gamut of the scale tend to transfer their dysfunction to members of their staff. Others model their behaviors and instead of a cohesive melody that is pleasant to experience, the culture reflects unproductive clashes and often loses its way.
If you’re the one in charge, try to function like the consistent drumbeat in the background, providing a steady signal that allows the others to turn their contributions into beautiful music.
Front-line workers in five organizations that are working to create system-wide change were asked to share observations about how the change efforts have (or haven’t) impacted them.
The content that resulted from those interviews wasn’t much of a surprise to any of the organization leaders but the gift of the process was the language the employees utilized. The transcripts moved the conversation away from buzz words and the party line to express real emotion about the work, their reactions and their fears about the change. The comments painted a vivid picture – far richer than any of the leaders could have painted on their own – and highlighted gaps between how the front-lines are experiencing the change and how the supervisors do.
Think about the implications of the process itself for your enterprise. You may believe that you know what your customers or employees think about your organization but without direct contact, you’ll never be able to describe it in their words. The richness of the language of those who experience your products or services can enlighten you in ways that nothing else can. Not only can it help you to listen and learn, but direct feedback can also reshape how you speak and communicate back to your constituencies.
It’s worth the effort to invest in externally-facilitated focus groups or face-to-face interviews to gather the nuances of the external voice. Looking through a window isn’t the same experience as being outside.
I went to return bottles at the redemption center and it was closed – due to lack of workers. The same thing happened at Sam’s snack bar and at Popeye’s Chicken – the employee didn’t show up so they shuttered the operation for the day.
Liz Ryan (@humanworkplace) offers this perspective: “The ‘talent shortage’ myth is a simple case of employers refusing to acknowledge that the cost of talent has gone up.”
I don’t think she is referring just to minimum wage. The cost of talent, in my opinion, refers to the intangible contributions that employers need to make to create a desirable culture – to provide meaningful work for employees, to treat them with respect and dignity, and to create a sense of belonging and purpose that makes showing up for work worthwhile.
How many times have you volunteered to do hard work for free? Of course, you can’t pay the rent with altruism, but volunteering serves as evidence that you can have experiences that transcend what you are paid to do them. As older generations retire and younger generations are looking for incentives to trade leisure for work, an organization’s culture is going to be as valuable as its salary pool. The time to pay attention to it is now.
When interviewing a potential employee, managers often look for a “cultural fit.” This makes sense as the new employee’s values need to align with those of the organization and they need to be comfortable operating within its environment; however, design firm IDEO’s founders encourage a different lens with which to view candidates: that of “cultural contribution.”
Instead of hiring people who are similar to everyone else, they suggest considering what differences a person can add to the organization and how they can make everyone uncomfortable in their thinking. Hiring someone with a varied background, nontraditional experience, or characteristic new to your organization can allow them to contribute creative perspectives, challenge assumptions and raise questions that others may not think to ask.
If you’re looking to stimulate thinking in your organization, hiring for cultural contribution instead of fit may be a good first step on this journey. Consider what you are missing and seek out candidates who bring you something new.
While on vacation at Lake Michigan, we were warned to watch out for rip currents, a force of water that occurs away from the shore. Swimmers can get caught in the waves near a sandbar and feel the pull of water toward the center of the lake.
Instinctively, swimmers fight the current and attempt to head against it back to shore. While this may be their first reaction, it is the wrong one and will only serve to tire the swimmer. A far more effective response is to swim parallel to the shore until you are past the rip current and then you are able to return to the shore with ease.
I think rip currents occur in organizations, too – places where strong emotions or opinions bubble up and create disruptions all those in the area. You may feel trapped in the current of dissent and expend your energy fighting it. Better to take the counter-intuitive route and go about your business in a parallel fashion; ignoring the currents rather than getting sucked into the drama.