The Meyer Group - Blog

You manage people and events. Does that make you an example? Can you be an example of responsibility and practicality at the same time?

I have a real case for you -- Joe the CEO of a Midwestern services firm. Talking to his employees, Joe emphasized the value of integrity in the workplace. He was very careful to make it clear that it was everyone’s responsibility to do what it takes to win and to always do it ethically. Joe evangelized values frequently and publicly. He bought supportive books for his employees, his key suppliers, and his customers.

At the same time Joe’s Vice President of Sales presented several candidates to fill a senior sales role. One prospect had a wonderful pedigree, great previous results, and a position with one of Joe’s key rivals. That candidate also offered also to bring the competitor’s current internal database of customers.

The decision was clear: Take a great candidate and get the forbidden list or to walk the talk. This was a chance to weigh responsibility against practicality. The “talk” that Joe had been giving would bring him to say no. The temptation to get a great sales person and a treasure of great data would bring him to say yes.

Joe hired the candidate. Within days, Joe’s employees all knew. His image inside his own firm was significantly tarnished.

The Meyer Group has done studies, and you have read others. They tell us what we intuit, most people prefer to do what is right and they want the same from others. They shun acquaintances (and bosses) who do and feel less than good. They avoid purchasing from businesses that fail that very personal standard.

It goes further. The best people tend to leave companies that feel less than responsible. Sometimes they check out emotionally, sometimes they quit and go elsewhere. No business can grow and excel when that happens. Keeping good people engaged is part of your job. What you do becomes part of that equation.

The eyes are on you. But what gives you the right to set standards of responsibility? Who made you a deity? And what do you do about it?

Control vs. Govern

Most successful executives value independent thought and action. Very few successful managers want to be controlled. Very few of us really want to control the thoughts and actions of others. So what do you do? Instead of control, what about governing? Setting the right example is part of that.

Try these three steps:

Step 1 - Inspect Visibly

This is not about transparency, this is about acting. Start with visibly inspecting what you consider to be important. When you look at periodic updates from your team, do you request and measure ethical activity? The CEOs who succeed here make it a point to systematically ask how their team members are applying the company’s principles. One or two hits on this each month take little time but are wonderfully visible. This is good governance.

Step 2 - Do

Here is where transparency matters. You can talk about corporate citizenship, you can give money, but your strongest statement will be when you visibly do something like take a half day and volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. Another option: Many local schools use business people to guest teach once a fortnight. The point is to do something visibly, and to do something that any employee could emulate.

Step 3 - Encourage

When you see people in your team making good choices for your business, thank them personally and immediately. A note on your stationary will do more than a company program or an award. Nothing speaks louder, and the successful CEOs don’t delegate this.

When you act visibly on responsibility, the community and business both benefit. So do you, you get to keep your job as part time deity and full time executive.