How is it that everyone is so busy yet it seems like nothing ever gets done? Listen to those around you. I guarantee someone is talking about how busy they are—and another person will soon up the ante. We’re competing to win at busyness. Why? Is it to demonstrate that things can’t go on without us? To make us indispensable at work? To prove we have value? We all know that the pace of work life has increased. But are we accomplishing more? No. But we all know we’re supposed to look like we are.
Jobs for many are insignificant, not tied to what they really care about. There are often too many bosses resulting in people being bossed around too much. People rebel through slowness or depression. Yet are often full of anxiety…what if I step on toes? Get out of line? Get fired? The irony is that all this anxiety is about keeping jobs that put money in our pockets but don’t feed our spirits.
In my opinion, the point of life is to make or do something that has some worth. In many workplaces today competing interests get in the way of productivity. When those at the top aren’t incentivized to work together you end up demoralizing those on the front line who work hard but never see any progress. Wouldn’t it be great if people went to work and actually accomplished something instead of just removed obstacles, stayed clear of extra bosses or worried about whether they can keep their jobs?
When did being accountable become optional? Did I miss the memo? Now we learn that MF Global, the brokerage firm that lost $1 BILLION of its customers’ money, is unlikely to face criminal charges. Why? According to the New York Times (http://nyti.ms/OZprdF) it was “chaos and porous risk controls at the firm, rather than fraud, [which] allowed the money to disappear.”
What about the people that created the chaos and risk controls? If there is no downside to lying, cheating, and stealing then not doing so may be seen as a competitive disadvantage. Let’s not kid ourselves. What’s happening in financial institutions is happening elsewhere—it’s just not as flagrant. Why else would there be so many articles, workshops, and books dedicated to teaching accountability?
Really, what’s to learn? You’re responsible for your actions. That’s pretty much what accountability is…the breakdown is that we no longer expect people to “do the right thing.” Now we have to incentivize them because there’s no shame in not being a stand up person.
Our institutions, our government, and our culture reflect what we believe and value. Change needs to come from us. We need to commit to being held accountable ourselves and not tolerate it in other people, our institutions or our government. Otherwise we have only ourselves to blame for the rampant misbehavior in our culture.
Speaking truth to power is essential in a democratic society. As questions about Joe Paterno’s legacy and NCAA sanctions consumes the airwaves, let’s not forget Vicky Triponey who stood up to Joe Paterno to ensure that all students are treated equally.
As Penn State’s VP of Student Affairs, she consistently and vocally resisted efforts to influence student disciplinary actions by coaches, board members, and alumni. Originally she had the support of Penn State’s administration. However when the team’s record improved her recommendations were overruled and disciplinary penalties on those associated with the football program was lessened. She resigned in 2007 after years of harassment. During the investigation of Jerry Sandusky the Freeh Report investigators sought her opinion of the Penn State culture which she described as “insular and secretive.”
Corrupt cultures allow bad behavior to thrive. It can start innocently enough. Pride in your team can quickly escalate to arrogance which puts self-interest above the institution. Winning provides financial reward which translates to power. Without values power becomes arbitrary and unmanageable. We need people like Ms. Triponey who are willing to speak up—in the face of tremendous pressure and personal cost—and we need to be willing to listen.
“You’ve got to change the culture, and the culture is deep. It’s not just the leaders. It permeates the place. I think they have an interconnectiveness in their passion for their football program. But I’m not sure that’s a genuine sense of community. It’s a sense of pride. It’s a sense of prestige.” At this point, most would agree that the culture of Penn State must change.
A healthy culture in our institutions benefits everyone. Let’s hope our corporations have millions of people like Vicky Triponey who keep their focus on the bigger picture and are willing to take a stand so that everyone can thrive.
There’s a lot to learn from Ann Curry’s behavior during the recent Today Show dust-up that led to her departure. For weeks a whispering campaign suggested that her performance was responsible for the show’s slide in ratings. Universally liked, Ms. Curry maintained radio silence while NBC let her twist in the wind.
Watching Ms. Curry, you would never know there was anything wrong during her weeks in limbo. She continued to show up, do her job, and kept her personal feelings to herself. She embodied the ultimate in self-management.
Lessons we can all learn from her include:
• Stay true to your values. Ms. Curry has stated repeatedly that loyalty is important to her. She walked the talk even when it didn’t appear that the network was going to reciprocate.
• Be strategic. Ms. Curry kept her focus on her long-term goal. She said repeatedly she wanted to remain with NBC—her behavior made it virtually impossible for them to sever their relationship entirely.
• Maintain your professionalism. By taking the high road Ms. Curry kept the focus on the problem—declining ratings—instead of escalating the drama and becoming a distraction.
While Ms. Curry was ultimately asked to leave the Today Show, the network acknowledged her prowess in hard news reporting by making her an NBC correspondent. Her expertise in managing perceptions allowed her to make the best of a bad situation while engendering public sympathy. While most of us will never have to have our work dramas play out in such a public forum, the example Ms. Curry has set will serve us in good stead when it’s our turn on the hot seat.