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Establishing Shared Values and Ethics

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Type: Article, Report or Whitepaper

Topics: Project Management

Date: February 2012

By Bradley A. Malone, PMP

This is the third in an ongoing series of project management articles by InfoComm University™ instructor Brad Malone.

We’ve all heard how different generations of people (baby boomers, Gen X, Gen Y) work and live differently. This sometimes causes frustration for those of one generation who must interact with those of another generation whom they deem not to be acting “correctly.” It’s the same type of challenge we occasionally face when working with people from different cultures — their motivations often don’t match our own.

Yet what is the definition of acting “correctly” and who determined it? Why is it even important? It’s important because people feel comfortable and perform more effectively with others who share a common belief system. What I’ve found in my consulting and teaching experience is that there is a lack of structured training and communication on the establishment of shared values and ethics. And it’s that lack of a foundational understanding or cohesiveness that causes many of the organization’s performance issues — impacting client relations, morale, quality work, etc. at most audiovisual integration companies (and organizations in general).

Values

In order to propose some strategies, let’s start by defining values and ethics. A value (Oxford English Dictionary) is “that which is worthy of esteem for its own sake; that which has intrinsic worth.” It’s not something valuable as a means to reach some other worthy end. It is an end itself.

We all value certain beliefs. Things like, “hard work will get you ahead” and “always tell the truth, no matter what.” These often become unconscious beliefs during the socialization process of our formative years. But at a company, which is made up of multiple people from different cultures and beliefs, the question we need to ask is, “Are we creating and communicating those values that are truly important to us, and are we measuring and rewarding those who are operating in alignment with those values?” In other words, do we talk the talk, but walk a very different walk? Here are two lists of words and values that could describe a successful AV company. Which do you espouse and which do you follow?

List 1:
Openness/transparency
Merit/education/talent
Quality (right thing, done right)
Collaboration/sharing
Holding one another accountable
Initiative/performance

List 2:
Guarded/only a few need to know
Who you know/where you’re from
Looking good enough to get by
Competitiveness/withholding
Rules apply only to certain people
Seniority/longevity

Neither list is intrinsically good or bad. The key here is to be responsible for practicing what you preach and owning the results. What I find at a lot of companies is that values from the first list are preached, but it’s the values from second list that are practiced. This leads to a slow death, especially when it comes to the morale or spirit of a company. Nothing destroys an employee’s passion more than hypocrisy by people in leadership positions.

Ethics

Now let’s move to ethics, which encompass a “code of morality; a system of moral principles governing the appropriate conduct for a person or group (Encarta World English Dictionary).” Based on the years of research I’ve conducted on values and ethics, I’ve found that this code of morality actually has three constructs that resonate with people — usually with varying levels of importance. The first is a purely moral construct: right vs. wrong. Theologian Hans Kung has examined what the world’s great religions have in common and found five basic commands in all of them: Do not kill; do not lie; do not steal; do not practice immorality; respect parents and love children.

The second moral construct has to do with alignment. The word most often associated with this construct is integrity, defined as a consistency of actions to values and ethics. In other words, “Are your thoughts, words and actions in alignment? Do you walk the talk?”

Over the last 10 years, integrity has gotten mixed up with morality, to the point where only moral people can have integrity. I happen to believe that many people who do not share my morals and values still exhibit great integrity: They will predictably do what they say, which is what they also believe.

The third construct has to do with loyalty — having allegiance to a belief, person or entity (family, company, country, etc.). The loyalty ethic can be thought of as commitment or mutual protection.

The challenge in dealing with these three morality constructs, in so much as they define a company’s ethics, is that they can be in conflict with one another. For example, I’m loyal to my best friend whom I’ve known all my life. But he just told the boss that a project is going fine, even though it’s way behind and over budget. What do I do? Am I supposed to be loyal to my friend, my company or myself (my own morality)?

If you walked around your company and asked people these questions, what answers would you get? For that matter, which is the “correct” answer? The point here isn’t to tell you or your company which values and ethics you should follow, but to prompt you to begin the conversation within your organization. Ask yourselves:

  • What do we stand for, in terms of both values and ethics?
  • What behaviors should we practice and reward?
  • Which actions should never be tolerated by anyone?
  • Do we communicate and differentiate ourselves (with our clients, from our competitors) based on these values and ethics?
  • Am I proud to work here, or do I just show up?

Most people want to work in a company where they feel trusted and they can trust others; a place where the values and ethics are known, shared and followed. They want to be where a sense of belonging and pride permeate the culture — a tangible esprit de corps.

What are you doing to create that company?

Bradley A. Malone, PMP, is an InfoComm instructor and president of Twin Star Consulting, a project management and corporate transformation consulting company. He holds the Project Management Professional (PMP®) designation from the Project Management Institute (PMI) and is one of PMI’s highest-rated instructors. Please share your thoughts with him at brad@twinstarconsulting.com.