About twice a quarter, Velentium offers its staff the opportunity to read & discuss a business-related book together. It’s a chance for us to take a break from chopping firewood and sharpen our proverbial axes by studying how to become more efficient or proficient at our work.
Matt Leaverton & Jason Smith contributed to this post.
In their book It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work, authors Fried and Hansson make a number of points that resonate with Velentium’s core value of Honorable. Described in our company documents as “Doing Right for Right’s Sake,” Honorable to us means doing the right thing simply because it’s right, without any need for additional justification or overcomplicating the question. It also means doing what must be done to make things right if we’ve made a mistake. Given the high-value profiles of our projects, that could be an expensive promise -- which is one of the many reasons our QMS is woven throughout our project cycles and right into the fabric of our company culture: to catch mistakes as early as possible, so we can do the right thing and fix them before they get costly.
Fried and Hansson’s book contains more than a few Honorable-boosting recommendations that prompted us to pause and think about how we could become more effective at being Honorable. Their recommendations are surprising because they run counter to behaviors and conventions that are extremely common across most businesses… but maybe aren’t as beneficial as we often assume.
Here is a sampling of counterintuitive advice that may make it easier for your organization to operate with Honor:
● Avoid the Language of War. As Fried and Hansson point out, whenever we start to think of our activities as being part of a justifiable conflict or warlike cause, it becomes naturally easier to put options for “fighting dirty” to “beat the competition” on the table. “All’s fair in love and war” comes to mind. But this isn’t love or war -- it’s business. And business should always be about serving your customers well and delivering the best product or service you can. “Ignore the competition,” Fried and Hansson say, and you won’t be tempted to engage Dishonorable tactics.
● Reconsider Your Use of Goals. Often, goals are “fake” (“arbitrary” might be a better word), chosen for the sake of having a target date to set a schedule around, aiming high without justification. This goal-setting process can easily be decoupled from the substance of real requirements and constraints. What’s bad about that, Fried and Hansson say, is that “choosing goals often increases pressure to cheat to hit them.” If you promise yourself, your staff, your board, or your clients something unrealistic, the closer that deadline looms without correction, the deeper the moral quandary looms between lying or cheating to appear to meet the goal versus going back on your word. This can play out with big and small goals, so we should become reluctant to set goals and build promises around them without doing the careful prework that’s necessary for us to know what we’re committing to. At the end of the day, a great work ethic should mean doing what we say we’ll do -- not overworking ourselves to meet a badly-set goal, and certainly not fudging the truth to imply we’ve accomplished something we haven’t.
● Pay Attention to Discomfort. Pain isn’t always gain, and sometimes, feeling uncomfortable about moving forward is a sign that something isn’t right, but you don’t (yet) know consciously what it is. While it’s critical not to enslave the organization to consensus by deciding to disagree and commit to the path forward, it’s also okay to take a bit of time to explore a nagging doubt to see whether it’s a warning sign for a substantive concern.
● Avoid the Language of Family. A company isn’t a family. Any company that says or implies otherwise is usually trying to manipulate its people to overcommit or signalling “an expectation of unidirectional sacrifice.” (Or maybe, as with the language of war, we’re using commonplace phrases that have become cliche in the business world, without realizing the implications). An organization that’s Honorable, that makes Honorable part of its hiring criteria, can empower reasonable people -- its staff -- to make reasonable, responsible, Honorable choices with their work and their time. And then, the organization can afford to be reasonable in response. But that can only happen when we’re honest about our relationship: we’re not family. We’re a business.
There are more tie-ins to Honorable in It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work than we have space to explore in this post. We wanted to highlight the four above because they struck us as the most counter-typical. Being Honorable is an aspiration for many companies, but progressing beyond lip-service is usually difficult and complex, occasionally expensive, and -- we believe -- always worth it.
In our next post, we’ll take one more pass through Fried and Hansson’s book from the perspective of Humble Charisma, Velentium’s least-intuitive core value.