Ask Bracher (Questions & Responses)
As a manager, how can I resolve the apparent differences
between the ethics and values I choose to hold in
my personal life and those that seem to be imposed
on me by the business community? The competitiveness
of the business environment and the expectations
of Wall Street and stockholders create conflict between
what I feel I need to do to meet their demands versus
my personal value system.
Perhaps you are seeing a conflict that is of your own
making. The real question is, "within your value
system, how can you make a positive contribution to your
After answering the hard question regarding your ability
to contribute where you are, you will know how best to
proceed. Act in accordance with your values.
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity
Matters newspaper column on December 4, 2002
must tell the truth"
What obligation for truthfulness does management have
with employees? Obviously, Enron stepped over the line
by outright lying to employees. But how much truth is
enough? When business prospects are down, when consolidations
or reorganizations are being considered, when units are
being sold or spun off, when business strategies change
-- all with potentially adverse impact on employees' continued
employment -- how much information should be shared with
those being impacted?
Management has 100% responsibility to deal with all of
its stakeholders truthfully. Leaders provide appropriate
information...as they see it. Sometimes optimism may seem
naïve in hard times. When circumstances fail to improve
then these same leaders can be accused of ignorance or
malfeasance. They make mistakes.
However, leadership can never skirt the truth. Timing
of the telling of the truth requires judgment, which can
Great leaders err on the side of disclosure. Look for
patterns and act accordingly. If someone lies one time,
that is an event, or, perhaps, even a misunderstanding.
If they lie twice, there is a pattern. If they lie a third
time, it has become a habit. Habits are hard to change.
I am frightened. Recently my husband returned from
one of several long business trips. He has never
been under such pressure to sell products, raise
capital and keep his board happy. We talk, as we
have for the twenty-nine years we have been married.
He considers me his best friend and sounding board.
So, this is what scares me.
We were talking about his job, where he is the president,
and he said that things were rough, so rough that he hopes
he is dead before they ever get this rough again. What
can I say or do to help him?
Now, more than ever, we need our friends and loved ones.
It is their understanding and support that will sustain
us. Your husband sounds overwhelmed and why not? These
are rough times. Keep the doors of communication open.
Continue to listen. If this is a one-time conversation,
the listening may be all that is needed. If the conversations
continue over an extended time so that it is clear the
conditions are not temporary, then help him plan an exit
to a healthier situation. Life is short! Handle with care.
Published in Jim Bracher's
Integrity Matters newspaper column on December 31,
"Look for integrity in a leader's eyes"
I'm in the Human Resources Department for a high tech
company. Our business is way down, like most companies
in our industry. Having lost 40% of our employees over
the last two years has created a lot of wear and tear
on me because I'm involved in outplacement. I really don't
have any good news for the laid off staff. There are no
new jobs to be had in our area for most skills and it
doesn't look like we'll be rehiring anytime soon.
But what's really bothering me is our senior management.
They seem to be in denial. There's so much money being
wasted. We still have our corporate jets, fancy perks
and big expense accounts. There's also a rumor that the
CEO and COO paid themselves substantial bonuses last year.
I read about WorldCom and Enron and start to get really
cynical. Are all companies run by greedy me-first people?
I don't know if I can look one more co worker (about to
be ex co-worker) in the eye as I hand them their severance
check and try to explain why they are being laid off.
On the other hand I find it tough to stand on the moral
high ground when I feel so desperate to keep my own job
so that I can take care of my family.
You are not alone. You are not in control of the behaviors
of others. Your integrity stands on its own. From the
time history was recorded, bad things happened to good
people. Given your responsibilities to yourself, your
family and your colleagues, pause and put together your
own plan. If you cannot see integrity flickering in leaders'
eyes, engineer a plan for your own exit. You cannot represent
integrity in an organization that has none. Balance your
own desire to sustain your personal and organizational
values while simultaneously remaining responsible for
the health and welfare of those you love best.
Now, for the future. If nothing substantive changes where
you are, you will probably move on. Establish the right
criteria for responsible leadership. You can develop the
list from what you see done poorly where you are and from
what might also be done well. Build this list into a performance
scorecard. Utilize the information in future interviews.
Even painful learning is learning.
- Assess your own needs and those for whom you are responsible.
- Determine what the right (sensible and prudent) time
is to move on, only after thoroughly addressing financial
needs and future opportunities.
- Seek leadership next time that more clearly fits with
your definition of integrity in leadership.
- Move on when you find the right situation.
Do we terminate an employee who we know committed sexual
harassment? Do we fire the individual now or when
the boss returns?
Assuming due process, you need to do what is right...immediately.
Forget convenience and honor integrity. Suspend or release
is your call.
Three months ago my wife came home from a "Business
Opportunity Meeting" she was invited to by someone
at our church and she was very excited. She said that
a couple of people who spoke at the meeting were showing
off checks for over $25,000 that they had received in
monthly bonuses for putting together sales organizations
selling vitamins and herbs. No matter how much I told
my wife that this sounded like some kind of shady pyramid
scheme she said we could use the extra money and she was,
"going for it".
So far, after spending $700 on product and training materials,
she has made a grand total of $140 in commissions. More
troubling is that my wife has gotten many of our friends
and relatives into her little enterprise. I think she
has too much pride to admit she's been had by visions
of "striking it rich". She still insists that
with more time and by recruiting even more friends and
relatives that she will start making big money. I'm worried
that the only thing we're going to end up with is a bunch
of damaged relationships from the people my wife has encouraged
to join her business crusade.
Is there any chance that my wife's business can pan out?
Should I force her to give this up before any more money
and time are thrown away?
Obviously, you love your wife, care about your friends
and are concerned that your wife's business skills may
not match the needs of the enterprise. Losing any of the
above can be costly
therefore: Ask your wife if
she is motivated by the mission of her new enterprise
or by its promise of dollars. In all likelihood, your
wife needs to make her own decisions, so you help best
by asking her the right focus questions.
Generally, among the successful people I know, all know
profits are the by-product not the goal. If the product
is good, it will sell assuming it is properly capitalized,
marketed and supported. Most business owners, such as
your wife, develop budgets for enterprises and once the
investment capital is exhausted, they decide to dig deeper
or say "enough" and close the doors. Check the
company. Check your wife's plan. Be open about the budget.
Make the decision. Move on. Integrity is to be maintained,
personally and professionally.
How can credit card institutions live with 22%-25%
interest rates on unpaid balances?
I resigned from my job when it became apparent that our
institution was preying on the poor.
Because they can. Their lobbying pressure is powerful
in Washington, D.C. and in state capitals. So far, we
seem unwilling to police those who fleece the poor. Elected
representatives need to wake up and protect those less
able to protect themselves. Education can assist by teaching
individuals to spend with discipline. Political institutions
can enforce reasonable rates. Business leaders can balance
their successes by quality of life for more people while
controlling self-serving greed. Certainly the media can
focus the spotlight on their greed.
In professional team sports, the best players...those
with the proper mix of skill and talent
field/arena/etc. on "game day", regardless of
their color, race and/or religion.
In professional organizations, however, the best "players"
do not fill the key positions. Often this is because of
their color, race, religion, network and/or affiliation
not skill and talent.
Is there a reason for the different sets of standards
given all the laws and regulations regarding equal opportunity
employment and non-discrimination?
Your question relates to the manner with which positions
are filled. Insecure leaders often fill key positions
with "known quantities." Depending upon the
priorities of some enterprises, winning is a distant second
to harmony and family comfort. How else could one explain
the lack of a winning tradition among some sport teams?
On the other hand, some leaders prefer to employ friends
or socially comfortable "slot fillers" instead
of seeking only the most qualified to do the work.
One aspect of this socially sensitive approach is admirable,
caring for the less obviously capable. The other side
of this "relationship coin" could be described
as biased, even discriminatory.
In the meantime, enjoy the winning sports programs that
grasp the winning team concept and avoid investing in
the capitalists who place productivity and profits after
their "good old buddy" network of employing
friends and pals, male or female.
The company I work for is actively involved with the
United Way. In addition to corporate support, each
employee, including myself, is "encouraged" by the Chief
Executive Officer to contribute. I would rather contribute
to other organizations and not feel as if I "have
to" contribute to the United Way. What can I do?
Because the United Way has created a reputation of good
deeds, it is often difficult to "opt out" of
the contribution expectations. Given the competitive format
(namely, what percentage of employees participate), it
may be cumbersome "career-wise" to not contribute.
As with all volunteer efforts, the metrics can sometimes
be more admirable than the tactics.
Ask yourself if the "work" of the United Way
is within your personal budget. If yes, participate. If
no, then find a way to gain understanding with those directing
the efforts, perhaps by showing them the positive contributions
you are making to others, or by asking United Way to direct
your contributions to a specific recipient.
My company has a "forced distribution" for annual
performance reviews. I received a significantly lower
review score than I should have. My manager said that,
"Compared to all others, that's how it works out."
This means a much lower bonus and options for next year.
Is this fair?
A long time ago, someone suggested to me that I could
exceed an unlimited budget. Once it became clear to me
that this was not a compliment, my spending habits changed.
Everyone sees themselves as "above average",
and there is a chance your manager has been fair. On the
other hand, if you are a high performer and are truly
failing to be recognized and rewarded for it, ask your
supervisor how to improve your productivity. After all,
you want to be in the top group. Once you know what to
accomplish, you can then determine if your leader is eager
to support your quest for success, or if your leader simply
sees you as a statistical contributor who enables others
to gain more substantial rewards.
No matter which way things turn out, you will know a
lot more about the integrity of your boss and your organization.
The answer will determine your tenure.
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity
Matters newspaper column on December 11, 2002
off your duff and enjoy life's ride"
I went on an international assignment as part of my "high
potential" cross training. The assignment was cut
short as the company decided to close the office. I was
then re-assigned a lower level job because the company
said, "There is nothing open right now." It
has been a year and I have gone from a rising star to
a disgruntled, demoted employee. What should I do now?
Sometimes we win and sometimes we finish "out of
the money". Life and work involve taking calculated
risks. Had your international assignment continued, you
might have re-entered the home office a conquering star.
Now, we will never know.
However, simply because this did not "work as planned",
you must not choose the victim role. Search for the next
opportunity. Thomas Edison did not succeed...until hundreds
of tries. Colonel Sanders was 65 years old before his
"special recipe" launched Kentucky Fried Chicken.
So, you fell off the horse. Get back up, dust your demoted
self off, and "get moving". The only guarantee
we have is death. Until then enjoy the rewards (the education)
that come from risk.
We are told daily about cost containment and reducing
the budget. At the same time our Chief Executive
Officer buys a failing company and proceeds to lose
20 million dollars before we simply close the doors.
Why should I mind how many pencils are bought when
it makes no difference based on leadership decisions?
Leaders can make big dollar mistakes because the rest
of us are making penny-wise decisions. Bosses make mistakes.
If you learn financial disciplines early, you may be in
a better position to offer sage counsel before future
financial blunders are made.
Keep in mind that another's carelessness is not a permission
slip for you to become mediocre. Count the pencils!
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity
Matters newspaper column on December 18, 2002
have right to make a profit"
How can banks pay 2½% on savings accounts and
charge 9% for loans? Are banks cheating customers?
No, they are practicing free enterprise. They are doing
what is legal, not necessarily what is moral! Hopefully,
the marketplace will seek alternatives and force banks
to be more responsive. Why else do people invest their
funds in other places and borrow from non-banking sources?
Banks have enjoyed a level of non-responsiveness which
needs to change. Everyone knows that financial institutions
have overhead expenses. Profit is essential. If increasing
numbers of bank customers choose other resources, the
marketplace determines how much is enough.
How much is enough? Compensation is totally out of
whack. Is compensation about ego satisfaction or
contribution to the organization?
Many years ago a mentor of mine told me how today we could
learn from the American frontier. During the days of stage
coaches and gun slingers, a traveler might encounter masked
robbers on horseback who would shake-down travelers with
a pointed demand, "Your money or your life."
In those days people often turned over their money because
they knew the difference and they recognized the values
Today, we are too often wrapped up in the external rewards
of title, influence, money, or empire. When these symbols
become the measuring stick by which we evaluate our worth,
there is likely never to be enough.
Compensation at the higher levels of many organizations
is out of whack. Ego satisfaction replaces rational reward
systems and becomes a rat-race that can easily wreck corporate
morale and risk the viability of the enterprise.
This crazy system will change when integrity informs
the ways boards of directors set compensation and reward
Until then, free enterprise will function at the whim
of uninspired leaders with an underachieving workforce.
My company is involved in a Political Action Committee
(PAC). I would rather control my own contributions.
Each time the senior team meets lately, the Chief Executive
Officer goes around the table and reports who has contributed
what to date. He then "encourages" his directs
to get all their people "on board". I am feeling
pressure to contribute when I do not want to. What should
In some corporate circles this behavior must be commonplace.
Perhaps large salaries are provided with an unspoken expectation
that some of these dollars are to be "made available"
for the candidates chosen by the leadership team.
Assuming these "expectations" are legal, then
you have choices to make. Participate at the level you
deem adequate or look for a different environment. If
your frustration and resentment "bubble over"
into your day-to-day transactions and become counter productive,
it is your own reputation and career that are at risk.
Intimidation seldom fosters a healthy environment, regardless
of the motive.
I was recruited to a company with full relocation benefits,
but when I actually spent 10 days moving, I had to
take a non-paid leave of absence to do it. Nothing
was in writing but I simply assumed I would be supported
as with every other company I've been with. My manager
the policy". What can I do?
Given the current economy, learn to live with the disappointment.
If you simply "assumed" the pay and you possess
nothing in writing, be sure to rise above the forced 10-day
vacation. Over the next ten years, that is only a day
a year. With excellent work habits, appropriate promotions
and raises, you will more than make up for the current
Next time, get it in writing!
Our company has an ethics hotline that is operated
by an independent third party and all "tips"
are treated anonymously. I have personal knowledge of
a senior manager in the company who is taking sizeable
gifts from groups to whom he awards work. There is no
question in my mind that his actions are unethical. My
question, am I creating an ethical dilemma by not reporting
this individual. I really don't want to do this but feel
I have an obligation to do so. Please comment.
Assuming you trust the confidentiality of your corporation's
hotline and assuming that you feel such violations of
integrity could or will risk the future of your organization,
then what choices are left to you?
1. report unethical actions and affirm your values
2. risk repercussions while strengthening your company
3. fulfill your obligations and exhibit social/corporate
If you cannot act, then you are becoming a participant
in the ripping of the fabric of integrity that is the
foundation of free enterprise.
If there are repercussions, then you have been lied to
on the confidentiality issue. Would you then even want
to work there?
The risks are real:
1. remain in an ugly environment and build resentment
2. respond and live with the consequences
I lost money in the stock market, because some company
executives were using very questionable accounting
practices. The audit committees of these companies
either didn't care or were ignorant about what was
going on. What can be done to bring some integrity
into the business world?
First, acknowledge that a lot of integrity already exists
in the "business world"! An overwhelming number
of times each day, all over the world, including in the
United States, people "say what they do and do what
they say". Milk from the carton is pure. Trash is
removed. Police protect us. Goods and services are traded
fairly and professionally. All in all, we have a solid
foundation for commerce.
The problem is greed. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool
me twice, shame on me. When we refuse to do business with
self-serving, greedy, unreliable business people, the
market itself will "run them off".
Governmental laws will never take the place of individuals
confronting "colleagues" with honest rebuke.
We need to see the pendulum swing toward responsiveness
and responsible business practices. The pendulum will
be moved when it is nudged by our elected officials, the
media and appropriately-principled leaders (in all walks
of life). Those are the leaders who are willing to stand
up and be counted.
Make a personal effort to compliment those who impress
you with integrity, and to criticize (professionally)
those who violate the principle. One at a time, we become
the people we need to be.
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity
Matters newspaper column on January 1, 2003
lose when a trust is broken"
Is there possibly an economic system that is not so structurally
flawed that it can result in a society that places its
priority on leadership with integrity? Unregulated capitalism
clearly results in an unfair concentration of wealth.
Government regulation of a capitalistic system has clearly
not been working in recent years, if it ever did, for
reasons you have given to narrower questions. Socialism,
democratic or otherwise, clearly results in concentration
of wealth and power in a few government bureaucrats. How
could we build an economic system that rewards integrity
and ability at the same time so that those qualities are
inherent in our leaders?
Regarding structurally-flawed economic systems and the
ways integrity can improve them. First, structures are
human. Humans are flawed. However, flaws, if properly
addressed, can become strengths.
There is a statement that may have come from a philosopher,
a rogue or someone hoping to find a "great"
deal: "You cannot cheat an honest person!" These
words sound naïve. They may or may not be valid.
They do, however, prompt us to reflect on recent business
scandals. Were the deals "too good to be true"?
If they were, whose motives were flawed? The buyers? Perhaps.
The sellers? Probably.
Those in authority who intentionally over promise are
hiding behind their own fears that the truth will not
be adequate. The actions of too many who are in high-powered
roles seem to be saying, "If 15% return is not attractive
enough for investors, then why not adjust financial reporting
procedures to convince the public (buyers and investors)
that more should be possible"? "Rat race"
(over promising) behaviors are offering false hopes. Too
many well-intentioned individuals feel they are careening
wildly over the high cliffs of lying and cheating. The
vehicle of commerce has been moving at uncontrolled speeds
and the passengers are scared.
Perhaps it is a truth that you cannot cheat an honest
human being. Trust is broken between and among the various
participants and partners of the free market (stakeholders)
when we allow our officials (academic, economic, political
and spiritual) to feed us "lines" of comfortable
(and dishonest) clichés. Traditional economic controls
(the brakes) are broken. Passengers, those buying and
investing, have lost confidence. They are casting about
for sound and dependable counsel, financial and beyond.
Passengers are flailing
out of fear, mistrust, uncertainty,
and doubt. Such flailing energizes downturns that lead
toward recessions and depressions.
The answer has been and will remain that "It should
be common knowledge that free markets must regulate themselves
or governments will". Bottom line: wisdom from the
philosopher, M.H. McKee: "Integrity is one of several
paths; it distinguishes itself from the others because
it is the right path and the only one upon which you will
never get lost."
published in Jim Bracher's Integrity
Matters newspaper column on January15, 2003
get into the habit of paying your bills late"
Last month a substantial number of my clients didn't
pay their bills on time. Quite a few do so on a regular
basis; they must think it's alright to let it ride as
they see fit. I can't afford to cut them loose, and I
can't afford to be "the bank," either. How
can I guide my clients towards acting with more integrity
in their financial transactions with my Company?
Dear Entrepreneur (with a receivables problem): When customers/clients
pay late, you may want to assess the situation utilizing
Assuming that you are providing excellent services/products
and your customers are confirming their satisfaction with
all aspects of what you are delivering to them (high quality,
superior price-value, along with mutual respect and appreciation)
Assuming that you wish to continue working with
those "late paying" clients if they would pay
as agreed -
Assuming you are willing to risk losing any or
all of them if they continue to treat you poorly by failure
to meet their part of the agreement, i.e. to pay you on
Assuming that you can speak forthrightly to those
individuals for whom and with whom you have been providing
Assuming that they will respect legitimate concerns
that you would share with them related to the difficulties
their tardy payments are causing you-
THEN CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING ACTIONS:
Set a time to meet with each troublesome
client face-to-face to confirm your understanding
of their thinking regarding not paying you on time.
Consider asking each "late-payer"
if there is any aspect of your working relationship
that is not meeting or exceeding their expectations.
Tell them you are beginning to feel
that, despite your efforts to deliver to them the
very best you could, they must be dissatisfied with
some or all of your work or have lost respect for
you and/or your services.
Explain that you cannot survive long
in business if you fail to receive payment from customers,
as agreed, for your delivery of goods and services
Confirm that you would like to retain
your working relationship with them but can only proceed
if the integrity of the relationship goes both ways:
timely and quality services are followed with timely
Remember: INTEGRITY IS THE GLUE OF SOCIETY.
Integrity sustains relationships with mutual respect
and treats each member of the transaction, whether
personally or professionally, as a partner. Partnerships
apply to each and every significant relationship.
Finally, if clients do not meet their agreements, and
thereby respect high quality suppliers, bid them farewell.
The time you spend on bad-faith clients could have been
spent developing and working with new clients who will
pay on time.
I would like to express my appreciation
for Jim Bracher's Integrity Matters column, to
give your newspaper credit for having the backbone to
publish it, and to relate two distinct ways it has made
a difference in my business and personal life.
First, the column about a Receivables problem was right
on the mark. I have that in a prominent place on my desk,
and I have already referred to it as a blueprint for handling
this type of customer issue. Raising a Client's awareness
in the manner Mr. Bracher suggests has already resulted
in better response from, and ultimately better relationships
with my customers.
Secondly, on a more personal note, I am pelted with sales
calls on a daily (and NIGHTLY) basis. Based on a shifted
focus towards integrity (due in no small part to reading
Mr. Bracher's column), I asked a long distance rep if
she could fax me a list of social causes her company contributes
to. She hung up on me. The response was proof enough that
my question was the right one to determine what kind of
company I was dealing with.
To close, thank you again for helping helping to remind
us all that there are deeper, more meaningful values by
which we may live and work.
Woodland Hills, California
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