Guidelines for Decency at Work

1.  Relationality Is The Goal.

Mainstream businesses are authoritarian: What the boss says, goes. And, intensely focused on making more and more money, relationality is not a priority. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Relationality is good business. When profitability is priority 1A, vitally important but clearly subordinate to relationality, the expectable outcomes are: Product excellence, fiercely loyal customers, highly motivated workers – and a better life for all. At work, as in every other area of living, relationality should be your goal.

2.  Evolution, Not Revolution.

Most workplaces have deeply engrained ways of operating that are authoritarian, competitive, and anti-relational. They are promoted from the top and are imported into the company by most everyone it hires. For this reason, don’t expect a quick turn-around. Lasting change will require progressive implementation of new, more relational ways of operating as well as a persistent weeding out of the old, less relational ones. Absent this steady evolutionary push, the old ways will creep back in, choice by imperceptible choice

3.  Be Practical – And Be a Force for Change.

Work is really important. Our paycheck pays the bills and, for many of us, work is an essential part of our identity. To survive and get by, you will – at times – need to make choices that fall short of your relational goals. But resist the all too easy temptation to simply give in to the workplace’s competitive, anti-relational ethos. Strive, instead, to mold these environments in ways that increasingly reflect these Guidelines.

4.  No Sacred Cows.

Many relational choices will not be immediately achievable. But this should never be an excuse for a retreating into “pick and chose” relationality: A service day here; a charitable initiative there; an occasional employee grip session. Within you area of influence, consider and – as it becomes feasible – implement new more relational ways, even in areas that are more typically off the table; e.g., how power is shared and how everyone, including owners and senior executives, are compensated.

5.  Pay Attention to the “Little” Things.

We humans are thoroughly creatures of habit. And, our business as usual ways of operating are thoroughly embedded in all that we do – from the ways in which we price and market our products, to the ways in which we answer the phone. Unless you actively seek to eliminate these old, longstanding ways of operating in all that you do – in every interaction and choice – they will inevitably re-emerge, short-circuiting your relational ambitions.

6.  Create Relational Systems and Procedures.

Good leadership isn’t enough. Lasting change needs to be institutionalized: Reflected in, and reinforced by, governing documents and written procedures; embedded in the taken-for-granted outlooks, routines, and traditions that, cumulatively, create your entity’s culture. If you fail to take these steps, marketplace pressures will erode your good initiatives as new leaders – always vulnerable to mainstream mindsets and choices – emerge.

7.  Don’t Be Derailed: By Fear.

Following Special Guidelines ## 2-6, you’ll move steadily toward a relational workplace and, it that same time, preserve your economic viability. But, in business, the pressure is relentless. The temptation is to compromise your principals is the ever-present; e.g., by cutting corners to get a piece of business; or by tolerating the indecencies of a key customer or employee. Don’t do it. The short-term gains are far outweighed by the long-term costs.

8.  Don’t Be Derailed: By Success.

Ironically, the siren song of success is also an ever-present danger. The opportunity in front of you, as attractive as it seems, may bring with it too high a cost. Be vigilant at these times as well. Cultivating the “no deal” option is never more important than when you are faced with an opportunity that, while promising to grow your business, will compromise your relational goals.

9.  Don’t Be De-railed: By The Experts.

The expert accountants, attorneys, marketing specialists, and financial advisors we rely on are steeped in mainstream ways of operating. And they regularly tell you what you “have to” do: Cut “this” expense to create a strong balance sheet; stop talking to “that” person to limit liability. These people have no expertise when it comes to integrating your larger non-economic goals into your ways of operating. Don’t be disempowered by their technical knowledge. Don’t let them hi-jack key parts of your business.

10.  A Better Business, A Better Life.

Imagine how different your life would be if work were an expression of your most deeply held values, instead of an exception to them – at the center of your life. And imagine how different our world would be if these ways of operating became business’ new norm