I recently saw a great video from Patty McCord, head of HR at Netflix talking about treating employees like adults (amongst other things). I loved it and clicked the ubiquitous thumbs-up icon. Then I thought some more about how this translates to the world of ethics & compliance. Luckily my 8yr old daughter came and gave me much-needed perspective.
Kids ask questions. A lot of questions! They’re usually very good too. For example, my daughter recently told me that a friend at school had been writing nasty things about other classmates in a diary, and had asked my daughter to join in. She felt bullied into writing one verse and showed me her half-hearted attempt at being mean. I was glad she’d told me, and told her what you’d expect: be true to yourself, you seldom have a bad word to say of anyone etc. Before asking her how comfortable she would feel politely declining to play next time. “Not very” was the answer, but she’d do it anyway.
So what does that have to do with ethics & compliance? Well, kids are better at asking questions (often) and lack much of our adult baggage and justifications. In particular (credit to Donald Cressey for his fraud triangle, which I partially borrowed):
- Pressure: Much non-compliance, in my experience, stems from pressure. Pressure to hit targets, pressure to conform, pressure to progress/earn, self-directed pressure to ‘win’. So what can the 8yr old teach us? If a task isn’t achievable, say so. If you don’t like the way you are treated or expected to behave, speak up (I know, I know, easily said than done, especially in toxic corporate or political cultures). At very least, if you can’t speak-up, talk to someone you can trust.
- Rationalization: Once we’re on the path to non-compliance the self-talk begins. “They won’t miss the $$$ I’m taking,” “I work so hard for these guys, no promotion for years,” and the one I wish I was paid a dollar every time I heard it, “It’s just the way things are done in….[insert sweeping generalization about country, region, culture, industry etc.].” Channel the 8yr old, stop looking at extrinsic justifications for internal moral fallibility. Own your ethics. Compliance is just that, it’s about rules. Ethics is generally more internal, and almost always better. So, ask, “Would you feel comfortable using that justification with your family?”
- Asking for help: Many organizational cultures say “Bring me solutions not problems.” Okay, but for ethics and compliance the solutions are often best arrived at by sharing the problem or asking for help. Channel the 8yr old, organizations need to respect employees enough to let them not know the answers and need help.
- Get comfortable challenging authority/received wisdom: No one likes change or so the cliché goes. Change is good say the other cliché. In ethics and compliance, I would challenge both. I’ve seen people in markets where they can’t get their kid a doctor’s appointment without a bribe request delighted that their employer is taking a stand against endemic corruption. They are empowered and motivated to change a morally bankrupt status quo. But other change isn’t always good. Needing enhanced cyber security protocols (both technical and human) is not “good”, but it’s necessary. In either case, the 8yr old asks, “Why?” Why does this undesirable status quo persist?” and “Why is the change necessary?”
Okay, so I’ve focused more on the problems, and covered solutions very briefly. That’s intentional. Each need unpacking and proper analysis. More on that anon, but for now: Let your employees treat you like kids treat adults!