We’re less than a month away from the release of Jack and Suzy Welch‘s newest work, The Real Life MBA: Your No-BS Guide to Winning the Game, Building a Team, and Growing Your Career (Harper Business, 2015). It is a certain best-seller, and pre-orders for the book are rocking the online outlets. Considering their personal backgrounds, perhaps you join me in being perplexed that even before its release, the book ranks #11 in the Amazon.com best-selling list in Business Ethics.
“Say what?” If you don’t know the story, here is a brief account. Suffice it to say that much more detail is available to you through the Internet. Jack’s second wife, Jane Beasley, found out about an affair between Suzy Wetlaufer and Welch. At the time, Suzy was editor-in-chief of the Harvard Business Review. Beasley delivered this information to the publication, and Wetlaufer was forced to resign in early 2002 after admitting to having been involved in an affair with Welch while preparing an interview with him for HBR. Personal and professional ethics? This did not turn out too badly for Beasley. While Welch had crafted a prenupital agreement, she had insisted on a ten-year time limit for its enforceability, and therefore, left the marriage with around $180 million of Welch’s money. That interview was never published. Suzy and Jack married in 2004.
This is not their first co-authored book. Randy Mayeux presented their first one, Winning (Harper Business, 2005) at the First Friday Book Synopsis. It reached # 1 on the New York Times and Wall Street Journal business best-selling lists. We did not present their next co-authored work, Winning: The Answers: Confronting 74 of the Toughest Questions in Business Today (Harper Business, 2006).
They both have another single-authored book. Randy presented a synopsis of Jack: Straight from the Gut (Business Plus, 2003). In 2010, Suzy wrote 10-10-10: A Fast and Powerful Way to Get Unstuck in Love, at Work, and with Your Family (Scribner). Randy gave that synopsis to several of our Creative Communication Network clients. I remember that audiences we delivered that synopsis to were not exactly thrilled at the quality of information transferred. In fact, at the Fort Worth Club, our event planner remarked that she wished she would have selected another book. Maybe her reputation backfired on that one. Of course, she didn’t write that one way to get unstuck is to have an affair with a famous married man. It certainly worked for her.
Note that both of these authors are very competent and successful. History will likely write Jack as the most successful CEO in American history. His style and substance led General Electric to a fast and furious climb to the top of elite and powerful businesses. All the labels, such as “Neutron Jack,” are applicable. His decisions were profound and effective. And, he believed in lifelong learning and professional development, even teaching courses on-site at the GE Learning Center. Many CEO’s don’t even know their company has a learning center, let alone take the time to go teach in it. Suzy’s role at one of the most prestigious business publications gave her strong credibility, as did her work experience at Bain.
Considering their reputation, most likely, this one will also fly to the top. It is not out of the question that you might hear a synopsis of this at our event. In fact, many of our regular attendees may push us very hard to present it. It will be exciting to see what the sub-topics will be from the Table of Contents. Only time will tell whether this one is heavier on style than substance. The title alone is appealing.
But, ethics? Is this really the best resource?
Before you decide upon an ethics program for your organization, consider how the facilitator conducts it, and what content he or she exposes your people to.
We don’t think training people about ethics should be from a situational or conditional perspective. We don’t believe in excuses or promises. We don’t believe in people sitting in a chair absorbing content. We think participants must immerse themselves in the world of ethical behavior and then practically apply that behavior every day on the job. We are serious about this. However, learning about ethics does not have to be uncomfortable, dry, and a guilt trip. We make it interesting and fun by emphasizing interaction and participant input. Afterwards, many people want even more!
In the 2-hour program we offer at Creative Communication Network, we use the following agenda to cover these topics:
- Traits: A failure in ethics starts with the loss of foundational human traits. What kind of person works in an ethical organization?
- Danger Signs: Most ethical failure is quite unintentional. Discover and examine your organization’s own danger signs.
- Prevention: An “ounce of prevention” is good for physical health, and it is equally good for ethical health. What preventative disciplines do you have in place in your organization?
- Ethical Bases: Sometimes, ethical failure is the failure to cover every ethical base. Does your organization have all the key players, and elements, in place?
- Scenario Discussion: Each participant will also participate in some challenging scenarios that open up discussion for noble, ethical behavior. We will also have time for questions and answers.
We call our program:
Ethical Undergirding in a World of Intentional, even Willful, Blindness
- 2-HOUR INTERACTIVE, FAST-PACED TRAINING SESSION
- CERTIFICATES OF COMPLETION FOR ALL ATTENDEES
- CERTIFIED LIST OF ATTENDEES FOR YOUR COMPANY’S RECORDS
Here are the terms:
- $800 facilitation fee for an unlimited number of participants.
- $3.50 per-person materials fee.
- Discounts available for same-day, 2-sessions – $1500; same-day, 4-sessions – $2750.
- You are responsible for any location or audio-visual equipment rental, and refreshments.
- 50% deposit required upon booking.
We’re really excited about this program. We are confident about what we do.
Complete information is available simply by calling (972) 980-0383. You can also send an e-Mail to .
THIS COULD BE THE BEST $800 YOUR COMPANY HAS EVER SPENT!
SHIELD YOURSELF FROM DAMAGING, COSTLY LAWSUITS BY CERTIFYING YOUR EMPLOYEES WITH OUR ETHICS TRAINING
I think it is time for a new executive officer on every leadership team. The name of this position should be CEO – Chief Ethics Officer. (Though I doubt that these initials are available).
“First, do no harm…”
We’ve got a serious problem, and it is going to take some serious solutions.
Now, there is quite a range. There are some folks who are just downright evil; lying, defrauding… (Last night, on one of the local TV stations, a web discount site was exposed as that kind of company).
But most “evil” isn’t quite “evil,” but falls under the category of “mistakes.” And even if they are acknowledged as “egregious mistakes,” they are still costly mistakes that hurt actual people, and can destroy a company’s reputation as a to-be-trusted, ethically upright company.
Let’s start with a verse from the Christian Scriptures:
“Do not be deceived. Evil companions corrupt good morals.” (1 Corinthians 15:33. Click here to read a lot of variations, from multiple different translations. I especially thought this one was gripping: “Don’t let anyone deceive you. Associating with bad people will ruin decent people..”).
The principle behind this verse is important. Good and decent people do not intend to do harm. They do not intend to made bad decisions, to make mistakes, and they certainly do not intend to harm anyone. But, bad judgment; ignorance; not “thinking through;” being “seduced” by compelling salesmanship or persuasion… before you know it, a good and decent person can do a not-so-good and decent thing.
Now, how many examples do I need to offer?
Let’s assume that not every NFL player started out intending to do harm, but the allure and the persuasion of a coach and fellow players will lead someone to say, “okay, I will try to take this player out in this game.” A bounty beckons a decent person to do a not-so-decent thing.
Let’ s assume that Jamie Dimon is the smartest, best banker of the bunch. But under his watch, J. P. Morgan Chase made an “egregious mistake,” with $2 Billion lost, and real people hurt, from actual losses, and then stock value loss.
Days after disclosing a $2 billion trading loss at JPMorgan Chase, the bank’s chief executive, Jamie Dimon, admitted that “we made a terrible egregious mistake” in an interview Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Or, consider the plight of Mark Zuckerberg. Farhad Manjoo has a terrific piece up this morning about the Facebook IPO — Ads, Ads, and More Ads: How Going Public Will Change Facebook for the Worse. Here’s the opening paragraph of Manjoo’s article:
When Facebook filed for its initial public offering in February, Mark Zuckerberg wrote a frank letter to potential investors in the firm. “Facebook was not originally created to be a company,” he began. “It was built to accomplish a social mission—to make the world more open and connected.” The founder went on to say that while making money was important to Facebook, raking in cash was not its primary goal. “Simply put: we don’t build services to make money; we make money to build better services.”
He also quotes a line from Google’s early days, adding his own warning:
His letter bears a resemblance to the note that Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin wrote to investors in 2004. In that note, Google warned Wall Street that though the search company’s shares were for sale, its mission was not. “Google is not a conventional company,” the pair warned. “We do not intend to become one.”
Don’t buy what any of these guys are selling. Eight years after its IPO, Google is still quirky, still sometimes surprising, and still wildly successful, but it is not at all unconventional. Just like any other company, Google has been swayed by pressure from investors to do things that once seemed unlikely…
In other words, going public and adding stockholders can lead to different decisions over the long haul – decisions that may betray the original mission of the company.
Now, I do not know how to fix this. But I’ve got a few observations/recommendations.
1) Run away from the evil folks… The outright liars, defrauders, bad folks should not be trusted. Don’t hire them; don’t do business with them; don’t ever trust them.
2) Assume that every good and decent person can make an occasional mistake. Sometimes, a whopper of a mistake (an “egregious mistake”). So, even if you trust the person, remember Ronald Reagan’s advice: “Trust, but verify.”
3) Get serious about ethics. Is it ethical to let the mission of the company be undone by some new set of stockholders? Is it ethical to abandon a core mission? Is it ethical to try some fancy new investment instrument when you can’t quite know the ultimate consequences? Somebody, with genuine clout in the room, needs to be asking these questions.
4) Quit bellyaching about too many regulations. Regulations are created because we can’t trust some people, and we can’t guarantee a good outcome from the rest of the good and decent people. The Volcker Rule, and other rules, are simply at times needed to save us from our own stupidity. The regulations really can be for our own good.
5) And, maybe it’s time to put a CEO in the decision making meetings. A Chief Ethics Officer, who has only one job: to ask, until he or she is almost hated for it, “is this the right, the wise, the ‘good’ thing to do?” And, maybe, give that person the authority to overrule us in the midst of our own unwise stupidity.
Dallas Police Department fires three officers:
Dallas Police Chief David Brown fired three officers Friday in cases involving alleged substance abuse, including one who police say drove while drunk and fired a weapon out of his car and another found to have misused prescription drugs.
Parkland Memorial Hospital fired a social worker for complaining about pressure to break safety rules, a new lawsuit alleges.
NFL Players Associaotion appealing punishments:
The NFL Players Association has filed a pair of grievances challenging the authority of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to suspend four players for their involvement in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty program.
In the first, filed with arbitrator Shyam Das, the NFLPA argues that Goodell is prohibited from punishing players for any conduct prior to Aug. 4, when the current collective bargaining agreement took effect.
“In connection with entering into the 2011 CBA, the NFL released all players from conduct engaged in prior to the execution of the CBA, on August 4, 2011,” the grievance says.
(Warning: I may ramble a bit in this post).
Do you remember the movie Trading Places. In the movie, the Duke brothers place a wager that they could turn a common criminal into an upstanding business success, and they could turn a fine-upstanding business success into a common criminal. Here’s one Duke brother to the other (I think I’ve got the brothers speaking in the correct order):
Mortimer Duke to Randolph Duke:
I suppose you think Winthorpe… say if he were to lose his job, would resort to holding up people on the streets.
Randolph Duke to Mortimer Duke:
No, I don’t think that would be enough for Winthorpe.
We’d have to heap a little more misfortune on those narrow shoulders.
If he lost his job and his homeand his fiancée and his friends.
If he were somehow disgraced and arrested by the policeand thrown in jail, even.
Yes, I’m sure he’d take to crime like a fish to water.
By the way, it worked: Billy Ray Valentine became the next Wall Street wonder, and Winthorpe took to crime pretty dramatically.
I occasionally think of this movie as I read the painful stories of the failures of our leaders, and our institutions. Maybe life circumstances do lead some people to do wrong, criminal, evil deeds. (Would you steal medicine for a son or daughter who desperately needed it, if that was the only way you could obtain it?) But, as I remember from many years ago during a lawless riot in one inner city, one community leader put it this way: “the poor must be moral too.” And the rich, I might add. And everyone else.
I just presented a book synopsis of the recent biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas. A theologian in Germany at the rise of Hitler, Bonhoeffer was “martyred” for his part in a failed attempt to kill Hitler (yes, he played a part in the Valkyrie plot). He was “sent to America” to continue his writing and his speaking in safety, (so that he could continue to have influence), but, he heard a higher ethical calling:
I have come to the conclusion that I have made a mistake in coming to America.
I shall have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people. They may have been right in urging me to do so; but I was wrong in going.
Bonhoeffer returned to Germany on the last steamer from America before the war, and ultimately was hanged just two weeks before his camp was liberated by the Americans — on what was certainly the direct order of Hitler himself.
A police officer really does need to live up to a high standard of moral and ethical behavior. And I know, from experience with fine people involved, that the Dallas police Department takes seriously the ethical training of is leaders. So the failure of even one hurts the entire organization (not to mention its reputation in the community).
When we have police officers who break the law, when we have superiors in a public hospital firing a social worker for standing up for what is right, when we have a player’s union asking for penalties to be overturned because the rules were not in effect yet (as though doing the right thing is dependent on the way the rules are written)… I think it is safe to say that there is an ethical vacuum throughout our society.
A fine MBA teacher who attends our First Friday Book Synopsis reminds me that this is not new. This problem is as old as time itself, and no one has found a way to change human nature enough to change such a dark reality.
We could recite the ideas and proposed remedies: more training in ethics, more oversight, and regulation, and coaching, and mentoring, and better discipline, and…
But here is at least one thing to think about. Organizations are shaped, in very real ways, in the image of its top leader. And the more that a top leader sets a clear vision, with an unblinking focus, the more chance that organization has to be shaped in the direction of that vision and focus.
And the more that an organization thinks that that such ethical matters will take care of themselves, the more that an organization decides that an occasional “cya” seminar on ethics is the approach to take to “solve” its ethical issue, the further the organization will fall away from a genuine and lasting ethical core.
In What Matters Now, Gary Hamel writes:
Values (matter now) :
As trust has waned, the regulatory burden on business has grown. Reversing these trends will require nothing less than a moral renaissance in business.
“A moral renaissance in business.” This implies that there was once a golden age in business, an age of good morals, an age of less greed, less skirting of the rules and boundaries of ethical concerns.
But I do think this. We need a pretty serious effort by the genuine leaders, the ones at the top, to tackle this ongoing, multi-generational/multi-century crisis. With all of their vigor and vision and focus.
If anything trumps morals, ethics, values in an organization, it is a time for a new leader. And until we get genuinely moral leaders, we will continue to read story after story of moral failure.
Who can we trust? Who can we trust to tell us the truth? Especially, when the truth really matters?
This is not a new concern. And, the sense that more and more people seem to be so untrustworthy may be a false sense. I suspect that if we picked any decade, from any century, thoughtful people would be writing that there seems to be an alarming and society-threatening erosion of ethical standards evident to all.
So, now it is our turn. And, really, what do we do?
This blog post is prompted by the very disturbing exposé on 60 Minutes last night, Deception at Duke.
The story focused on the fraud perpetrated by Dr. Anil Potti at Duke University. This fraud was pulled off right under the nose of “the renowned lab of Dr. Joseph Nevins,” and Dr. Nevins had selected Dr. Potti to mentor.
Dr. Nevins believed in Dr. Potti. He clearly should not have been so trusting.
The story centered on a breakthrough discovery by Dr. Potti that would certainly bring healing to cancer patients. “80%” was the promised rate of cure. But it was all built on a house of lies; outright fraud. From the report;
Pelley: Is it a close call? Or is it abundantly clear that the data were fabricated?
Nevins: Abundantly clear.
But this brief blog post is about the deeper implications: “Are they telling us the truth?” From Enron, to BP, to mortgage lenders to borrowers to Wall Street Banks to big banks to politicians to… we face an era in which the ability to discover whether or not they “are telling us the truth” is the most important skill to develop.
How can we tell if someone is lying to us?
And, there is something of a spectrum to this. There is the outright lie, as in the case of Dr. Potti at the Duke lab. And then there is the overabundance of sloppy reporting, sloppy research, inadequate diagnosis of problems and solutions that is rampant. And some (most) of this is from well-meaning, “honest people” who simply think that know more than they actually do know or can know. And, yet, they announce their findings with such certianty.
I could give a long ist of business studies and books to add to this, like: Jim Collins and his pronouncements in Good to Great. Good to Great came out in 2001. That is eleven short years ago. Of the eleven “great’ exemplar companies, notice these three:
• Circuit City – now bankrupt
• Fannie Mae – now… we’ll, you know their many failures
• Wells Fargo – which just settled as one of the big banks with illegal practices in the foreclosure aftermath of the great 2008 financial crisis
Please do not misunderstand. I am not accusing Jim Collins of being in the same category of Dr. Potti. Dr. Potti lied. Jim Collins was wrong. That is a big difference.
Mr. Collins would argue that, at the time, these were in fact “great” companies. And his follow-up book, How the Mighty Fall, was an attempt to describe how companies can fall from greatness. I like Jim Collins’ books. But when a writer writes with his kind of certainty, and then has to explain where he missed it, maybe there should be a red flag waving saying “don’t trust what this guy says so quickly.”
(In Great by Choice, Apple is an example of a “failed company”; but, as he explains, he was describing the Apple in the years before their greatest triumphs. Here’s the flaw in his reason – their “bad years” may have been so very important to set them up for their insanely great years. So, were they truly a failure? I suspect not).
Back to the Duke story. There is no indication that Dr. Nevins in any way participated in, condoned, or ultimately excused the lies of Dr. Potti. Dr. Nevins was as astonished as the rest of us. In fact, he looked just a little shell-shocked to me in the interview. But, if the man overseeing the work did not catch the fraud, because he wanted to believe the good news, then what chance do the rest of us have in catching the fraud?
This blog post is simply an “I’m thinking about all this” post. Here is one of my thoughts; we live in a data-rich era. Every book, every study, has to have data. Jim Collins is data driven. But there is some indication that one can carefully select data to “agree with” an already reached conclusion. And, when one presents “findings” in such a “this is right, and it can be trusted” format, then when things do not turn out that way… well, trust becomes one of the casualties.
60 Minutes seemed to be asking” “Who can we ask to find out if the data really is trustworthy?” I would like to know the answer to that question.
A friend of mine, a good teacher in a very fine local MBA program, reminds me that this is not a new problem. It has always been with us, it will not go away, and…though he does not say these words, he implies that there is not much we can do about it. Ethical failure almost seems to be the human condition.
“There is not much we can do about it.” Now, that is an observation that can lead to genuine despair.
Here’s a really interesting article. This is one of those “I didn’t know about this, but I should have!” stories.
The article is entitled The ‘Learning Knights’ of Bell Telephone by Wes Davis, in the New York Times. (in the top 10 e-mailed articles). It is a story from the 1950’s.
A number of Bell’s top executives, led by W. D. Gillen, then president of Bell Telephone of Pennsylvania, had begun to worry about the education of the managers rising through the company’s hierarchy. Many of these junior executives had technical backgrounds, gained at engineering schools or on the job, and quite a few had no college education at all. They were good at their jobs, but they would eventually rise to positions in which Gillen felt they would need broader views than their backgrounds had so far given them.
The sociologist E. Digby Baltzell explained the Bell leaders’ concerns in an article published in Harper’s magazine in 1955: “A well-trained man knows how to answer questions, they reasoned; an educated man knows what questions are worth asking.” Bell, then one of the largest industrial concerns in the country, needed more employees capable of guiding the company rather than simply following instructions or responding to obvious crises.
Together with representatives of the university, Bell set up a program called the Institute of Humanistic Studies for Executives. More than simply training its young executives to do a particular job, the institute would give them, in a 10-month immersion program on the Penn campus, what amounted to a complete liberal arts education. There were lectures and seminars led by scholars from Penn and other colleges in the area — 550 hours of course work in total, and more reading, Baltzell reported, than the average graduate student was asked to do in a similar time frame.
There’s a lot being written about the failures of education. And the question of “what kind of education is needed for the modern era?” is front and center for a lot of folks in business and in education.
But I think we are truly in crisis times, and the ethical center is not holding very well. Here is how Mr. Davis ends his article:
As the worst economic crisis since the Depression continues and the deepening rift in the nation’s political fabric threatens to forestall economic reform, the values the program instilled would certainly come in handy today. We need fewer drifting straws on the stream of American business, and more discontented thinkers who listen thoughtfully to both sides of our national debates. Reading “Ulysses” this Bloomsday may be more than just a literary observance. Think of it as an act of fiscal responsibility.