O is for Openness


Copyright © 2018 by Barney Rosenberg
President, Ethics Line, LLC™

Organizations are set up in various ways.  Partnerships, joint ventures, corporations, LLCs.  Their operations follow formal structures with boards of directors, executives, officers with varying responsibilities, by-laws.  Most organizations take their marching orders from government laws and regulations that impose a certain consistency across all similar organizations.  It makes it easier for bureaucrats to keep track! All organizations develop ways of doing things that never show up in an org chart.  It’s called “culture.”

Deep in the last century, as a freshman at my university, I was enrolled in a sociology course.  The professor offered this definition, which I carry with me all these decades later: “Culture is the extra-somatic continuum of symbol borne events.”  Sorry.  Just showing off.  Roughly translated, culture is how we chose to demonstrate what we stand for.  It’s not DNA.

On a slightly different level, let me share an experience I had at a company’s USA manufacturing site.  The leadership at the site was known to all (well, most!).  There was a row of offices with doors that closed and varying amounts of glass in the walls and doors.  There were organizational depictions of the lines of authority which we all know as org charts.

But at this particular site, there was also a significant population in the workforce with family ties to the Philippines.  When questions or concerns arose at the site, many people by-passed the formal reporting structures.  Instead of going to their supervisor, they consulted the equivalent of the “village head man”.  He would know what to do.  That person was nowhere to be found on the org chart but, without him, the business was in big trouble.  Everybody who did appear on the org chart knew about this informal organization and it suited them just fine.  They knew the “head man” and trusted him.

Likewise, some organizations are rigid and closed.  Supervisors there may be described as bullies.  They manage through intimidation.  “It’s my way or the highway!”  Get me out of there!

Once, I started a new, very senior position at a company that I did not know well.  And my large staff did not know me at all.  A very wise Human Resources manager recommended the following exercise.  At an all-hands meeting to introduce us to each other, the exercise went like this.  In advance of the meeting, the staff was asked to prepare answers to 3 questions:

  1. What do you know about Barney?
  2. What do you want to know about Barney that you don’t know? And
  3. What do you want Barney to know about you?

How I fielded the questions might just determine my future success!  The HR person advised Openness!  Good advice.  In a relatively short time all of us in the department learned enough to form the basis for a good start to important relationships.  Try it sometime…and encourage others to try it.

Most important in my opinion, talk to each other.  Ask what we individually and as an organization can do to keep a good thing going and to make things better when they aren’t so good.  There’s no need to give away state secrets or descend into gossip.  Keep it professional. As managers, dare to be “vulnerable”.  We don’t have to know all the answers.  We do have to ask the right questions and encourage others to keep asking.  When the formal and informal work hand in hand, that’s the recipe for a healthy culture!  Ethics is a team sport!



    • Thank you. Feel free to share it with others. Next week’s topic is “P is for Peril”
      You might find other interesting topics on my web site::
      This blog is part of a series I call the ABCs of Business Ethics. There’s one for each letter of the English alphabet.

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