Tag Archives: integrity

Managing Honesty

In a post several months ago, Seth Godin asks organizations that speak untruths to customers “what else will you lie about?

The question of organizational integrity is one that I wrestle with frequently. I’ve written about it directly or indirectly several times already, and I’m sure I’ll write about it considerably more.

In the same way that Seth describes the slippery slope of institutional lying to its customers and to the public, managers must be wary of choosing to start glibly lying to his or her charges.

And it’s terribly easy to start lying.

Continue reading Managing Honesty

When to Hit the Gas

In my last post, I alluded to a set of criteria that I use to determine whether or not it is reasonable to ask a team to work significant extra hours—such as going over 45-50 hours in a week or working a weekend at all. What I didn’t do was describe the composition of that criteria.

I typically am looking for three factors to be met; so when I’m determining if it is appropriate to ask for the additional work, I look for:

Is there a defined, specific, goal? This doesn’t mean “finish the project,” as that is the sort of down-the-rabbit-hole trap that ends up dragging teams to an early exit. This means “we have these clearly defined tasks with clearly defined success conditions that must be done.”

Is the goal possible? My criteria used to be 2-items in length, until I was at a job that delighted in giving clearly defined criteria that were clearly impossible. Nobody should be sent on a death march.

Is the duration and severity reasonable? Saying “we have a clear, specific goal of working 80h weeks for no more than 2 months to do these 100 items” might be sufficiently specific and plausible, but the duration and severity virtually guarantee that quality is going to be thrown out entirely.

These are not the only factors that I consider—length of time since last the developers involved have been asked to do this, how did we get in this predicament in the first place, is this a reasonable thing to ask to get us out of the predicament; these are all also considerations to varying degrees—but the above are the primary drivers of my decision making.

In practical terms, this is handled as a conversation. By way of example, on projects for my current employer, working considerable extra time was brought up in two distinct situations on two separate occasions. In both instances, I sat with our senior management team and walked through the above thought exercise.

In one instance, it was determined that while the scope of work was relatively well defined and possible, the duration of the overwork would be such that it was very likely to destroy quality. It was also likely to have a significant impact on the development team as a whole. In that instance, we decided together that it wasn’t worth the risk, and found a plan that would yield more reliable results.

In the other instance, while the same risks were very much present, the volume of work was more reasonable and we all felt comfortable in using over-work as a strategy.

In both cases, working together first with my management team then with my development team was an essential piece of the decision making process. It has been my experience that this criteria has both served as a gatekeeper for preventing burnout and low quality due to overwork, but it has also served as a educational opportunity for all involved every time it has come up.

Corporate Integrity

Today, I tweeted the following:


It was brought to my attention that the last two tweets in my message were unfair to companies that are trying to do better in many ways, but are trapped by past performance and slow-moving internal politics.

I disagree, and I’ll explain now what I explained then…

Until recently, I did not have a good name for an element of my approach to the world in which I have long taken considerable pride. A friend pointed out that the name for it was “integrity,” in the sense that I reliably adhere to a code and to my values. In short, if I say it, I do it, to the best of my ability (and, of course, the converse is also true). I try to be a “man of his word,” even when doing so causes me significant difficulty.

I think that we spend an awful lot of time at our jobs trying to explain away why our codes don’t apply in one circumstance or another; especially when we’re talking about our corporate values rather than our personal ones. Perhaps profits are down and we’re just trying to get through this one ugly time then we can practice our values again. Sometimes we just don’t have the political clout yet to enforce our values, but given some time, we’ll earn it. Most often, though, it’s just not time yet—but soon, soon it will be time!

I would argue that that is bullshit; a code that you only follow when it isn’t being tested isn’t a code. If I don’t steal because it’s too easy to get caught, my code of conduct isn’t “don’t steal,” it’s “don’t get caught stealing.” Likewise, if my dedication to quality is such that I forsake it when it would make me unprofitable, my value isn’t “deliver maximum quality,” it’s “deliver the best quality you can without hurting profits”—which is really just a long way of saying “deliver good enough.” I value my integrity BECAUSE of how difficult it is to maintain when it’s being tested, and as a customer, I value the integrity of companies that do the same for me.

So when I say “my team won’t work extended hours unless it meets a very particular set of criteria,” I mean PRECISELY that. It is too easy to have your values outshone by every exception and edge case that comes up—and it becomes increasingly easy each time that you do it. In practical terms, this means that I walk a very fine line at times between having my team made no-longer-my-team by virtue of a very abrupt demotion or termination; and I walk that line knowingly because I WILL follow a set of strictures that I know is correct and best for both my team and my business. If I lose my job or my team, I will do so knowing I did the right thing, and I will find an employer whose values are more similar to mine in the future. I have been lucky my nearly 20 year career that this has not actually happened—I suspect that this is at least partially because I actively select companies whose values are in alignment with my own, and I am very quick to leave if I find that no longer to be true.

It is also incumbent upon me, though, to assert my integrity—to honor my code if you will—in a way that makes it easiest for my company to help me follow my values. I spend tremendous amounts of energy in educational efforts in all organizational directions to PROVE the value of these points of view, and I spend even more energy in ensuring that my values benefit both team and company; there’s no point in making a stand that leaves us all the former employees of a former company at the end. Integrity, be it personal or corporate, is profoundly exhausting, challenging, and—as a result—rewarding.

So, do I think it is unfair to say that your actions when things are challenging convey your real values? Absolutely not—in fact, I’d turn the question back to you, if you think that it’s unfair. Is your integrity sufficiently important as to make your actions match your values? And if not, why not?