Tue | Apr 23, 2019

Fine line between business cheat, savvy exec

Published:Sunday | October 7, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Francis Wade, Contributor

Recently, I heard the story of an executive who told his staff a vivid account of how he cheated a potential partner in a business deal. It was framed in the context of 'smart business decisions I have made'.

Unfortunately, it was heard in quite a different context: liar and cheat who cannot be trusted.

Newly promoted managers are often surprised to discover that
there is an intelligence that groups of employees demonstrate that is
often missing in the thinking of individuals.

Anyone
who has ever given a speech knows the feeling of being more than a
little naked, and the reality is that 100 people all listening at the
same time is not the same as having 100 individual conversations. In
other words, it's easier to fool a single person than a group, which
appears to register every single inconsistency and falsehood, and remain
unconvinced by arguments that overpower single
minds.

The book, The Wisdom of
Crowds
by James Surowiecki, speaks to this phenomenon in which
groups are often smarter than the brightest
individuals.

When the right level of
intra-communication is present, decision-making improves and information
is aggregated quickly, and at high quality. History is recorded more
faithfully, and promises are less likely to fall through the
cracks.

Jamaican managers sometimes fail to
acknowledge this phenomenon, and attempt to get away with behaviours
that they think only a few notice, forgetting the power of the group.
For example, a single illicit affair with a different staff member each
year may not seem like much, but after a few years a manager may be
astonished to discover how many people know so much about his 'personal'
life. Managers are often surprised by how many eyes and ears are paying
close attention.

In organisations, a little
information gathered from here and there adds
up.

Casual conversations

It's all
put together in a series of casual conversations repeated hundreds of
times by staff members who don't need to be malicious to end up being
well-informed.

Fortunately, this phenomenon works in
positive ways as well.

In my work, I define integrity
as an unyielding willingness to keep one's word regardless of the
circumstances. An executive who brings integrity to every interaction
builds a kind of goodwill that others notice and talk about, even though
good news travels much slower than bad.

Therefore,
it's a good idea to play it safe, and to treat your word as a manager as
if it were special, or even sacred. It makes sense to the bitter end to
fulfil promises that you have made, even when you
fail.

One way to learn how to live with this kind of
power is to follow the pyramid of learning discovered by the National
Training Labs in Bethel, Maine, United States.

1. At
the very start, we can learn about integrity by listening to someone
talk about it, and then move on to reading and studying it for
ourselves. This allows us to retain about 10 per cent of what we
learn.

2. As we progress, we can find YouTube videos
or podcasts on the subject, which increases our learning to 20 per
cent.

3. If we are able to observe someone who has
integrity actually demonstrate it in action in a live situation, our
retention increases to 30 per cent. This can be facilitated in a
workshop setting where its actual occurrence can be made clear in real
time.

4. A huge increase takes place to 50 per cent
when a group is given the opportunity to discuss the concept. Those
individuals who move to practise it in their daily lives will retain an
astonishing 75 per cent.

5. Those who retain the most
(90 per cent) are those who undertake teaching. I have seen a few local
executives play this role, becoming the proponents of integrity in their
companies. As teachers, they call themselves to an extraordinary
standard, and implicitly give others permission to hold them to account.
Some even allow this to happen in public forums, with an effect that is
electric.

Unfortunately, there are
too many who don't care, and end up simply doing whatever happens to be
in their best interest.

This ends up being the
unintended lesson that their employees learn; a particular, selfish way
of being that gets amplified across the
organisation.

They do damage without knowing it, and
it's too bad. Our employees are usually hungry for much, much
more.

Francis Wade is a consultant with Framework
Consulting and author of the One Page
Digest.columns@fwconsulting.com