Friday, January 6, 2012

Legislating Loyalty...

There's been a discussion in one of the LinkedIn groups about teaching ethics to employees and wondering what the ROI is. Many commentators wonder if you can really change people's behaviors with such training. One person wondered if you could teach loyalty. Sure, you can describe it and make people aware of what it looks like...or can you? Can you make people aware of ethical behavior and describe what it looks like? Or is it, like beauty, in the eyes of the beholder? "I'll know it when I see it," said one Supreme Court justice when he couldn't define pornography. Politicians and military commanders harp loudly on loyalty (and its corollary, patriotism).

Is it loyalty when people agree with you?
Is it loyalty when people do exactly what you ask them to do?

In the past, we called them sycophants (fancy word for kiss-ass). Or else, they would have been slaves or subservient to an extreme. Are those people loyal? Or are they just cowardly? Merely selfish and self-serving to get your approval?

Is it loyalty when people accept your beneficence with strings, even though their involvement might put them at risk later on?

Is it disloyal to question you, or suggest alternative options to the course of action you've proposed?
Is it disloyal to not fulfill a commitment when circumstances have changed since the agreement was made?
Is it disloyal to share confidential information when the essence is protected and it furthers another person's understanding of another motivations, paradigms, etc.?

Remember: loyalty is a two-way street. However you answered the questions above, your employees are wondering about your loyalty to them with the same scenarios. And here's another that came from a different LinkedIn discussion thread: If you insist on a normal distribution (Gaussian, bell-curve spread) in performance ratings, are you being honest and loyal to the values you have and the people you employ? One commentator wisely observed that bell curves work for randomized events. They don't work for interrelated events like people hired through the same system, and dependent on each other for work successes and effective relationships. It's disloyal to make people you claim are important fit a model that wasn't meant for them.

Can you really rate people on their loyalty or create policies that encourage it or enforce it? You can't legislate morality, ethical behaviors or character traits like loyalty. Robert Coles, a famous psychiatrist and medical humanities professor, observed that there's a big disconnect between intellect and character. Top students in ethics classes still behaved badly, unethically even. They know what it takes to pass the test. They know the information but they couldn't apply to their behavior. Even in the mid-90's when he wrote an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education, he and others have noted that business ethics classes haven't reduced the number of scandals in the business world. This was before Enron, Worldcom, Lehman Bros, Madoff, MF Global and others. If we can define ethics but can't see how we should apply it, can it be any different for loyalty? Will we really know it when we see it?

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