Thursday, January 30, 2014

SOP Friday: Honesty Integrity and Teamwork

This SOP is more about culture than a simple checklist. It's about how you treat your team members, clients, and vendors.

When I worked at HP in Roseville, CA, I met every week with a team of managers. Between us we ran every division responsible for the internal systems on campus: All the servers, the network, the hardware, the software, etc. One thing stood out to me from the first meeting I attended.

Every person on that team - in fact, ever manager I met at HP - simply assumed that everyone else at the management level was completely competent at their job. They each assumed that everyone else who ran a project or team did so because they were chosen carefully.

As the months rolled on, I became more and more convinced that the assumption of competence was a tremendous asset to the organization. I didn't have to prove myself to someone as the first step to working with them. And I didn't have to question whether someone I worked with was good at their job. I could ask about skills and experience and know that the information they gave me was accurate.

The great advantage of this "assumed competence" was the assumed honesty that went with it.

When someone made a mistake, they didn't hide it. In fact, they let the appropriate people know as quickly as possible so we could meet, discuss, and begin working on the fix as soon as possible.

When someone did not have the information they needed, they asked for it freely. When they needed help because their team was too busy, they asked for help. When they had a slow time, they offered their team's services to others.

The result of all of this was an amazing amount of team commitment and camaraderie. People didn't fear that they would lose their budgets or that they had to constantly see other departments as "the enemy." The closest I experienced to any conflict was with the Hardware Team. I was in charge or the Software Support Team. And on some minor cases it wasn't clear whether the problem was hardware or software. When that happened, I talked to the head of the Hardware Team and we developed a plan in about sixty seconds.

In my own business, I have always tried to emulate this behavior. I tell all employees, especially new ones, that mistakes are not the worst thing in the world. In fact, mistakes just happen. We're all human. The question is not whether humans will make mistakes, but how you will react to them.

We make it clear that mistakes are not "good" in any way. But honest mistakes are not a firing offense. It is critical that mistakes be reported as quickly as possible so we can get to work on the fix as soon as possible. I always tell clients and employees: You can't break something so bad that we can't fix it!

We all assume honesty is a good thing. We all assume honesty is to be expected. But all too often we create cultures of distrust, of unnecessary scarcity, and cultures in which team members shame and belittle each other. These are unhealthy for the company as a whole.

We've all met technicians who overstate their abilities, keep all the client information to themselves, and refuse to be team players. When you hire folks like that, you need to have a culture that teaches them another way. You need to make it safe for them to be honest. You need to make it safe for them to make mistakes.

It is critical to your success that your team knows they can rely on each other and trust each other.

When you ask a team member what happened on a specific client visit, you need to know that they will tell you the truth, even if it's unpleasant or demonstrates that they need more training. That happens when they know that they will be treated with respect and that the focus is on fixing the problem rather than placing blame.

A similar thing happens with third party support. When you tell them exactly what you did and did not do, they respect you and are very open to helping you. If you act like an arrogant jerk and make it sound like it's their problem, they are less inclined to help you.

I have found time and time again that high end tech support people believe what you tell them. They assume you'll be honest and that you're both working on the same team to solve a problem.

If you promote an ethic of honesty, there must be zero tolerance for dishonesty. The reasons for this are obvious. Even though we all think honesty is a good thing, and we all say we're in favor of it, people are suspicious when you proclaim it as a company value. If honesty and integrity were not hallmarks in the past, then every move will be seen as a test.

More than anything else, employees will look to the owner and managers for models of integrity. If you treat everyone with honesty and integrity, your employees will see that. If you do not, they will see that as well.

So while honesty and integrity are central to your business, they do not magically appear. You need to state this standard, live this standard, and then broadcast this standard. When one technician turns to another and says "That's just how we do it here," then you know your policy works.

Comments welcome.

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About this Series

SOP Friday - or Standard Operating System Friday - is a series dedicated to helping small computer consulting firms develop the right processes and procedures to create a successful and profitable consulting business.

Find out more about the series, and view the complete "table of contents" for SOP Friday at

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Next topic: Vendor/Distributor Record Keeping

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