I was engaged in various capacities at several unique organizations, all of which provided a wealth of learning in the arenas of management, leadership and ethics. As I emphasized earlier, these were and are solid organizations, led by good people, with good programs, providing valuable–sometimes exceptional–community services. However, in all cases, the viability of each entity is put at risk when ethical violations occur, even unknowingly or “when no one got hurt”. Please note that I have not yet adequately defined the term Ethics as I use it in this series. I think some of my understanding lies in the space between Ethics and Integrity. More on that to come later.
Further thoughts and caveats on this series is shown in the introduction to Installment 1, here.
For this installment: A Case of Embellishment
A Global Institution aspires to be a major Service Association in the International Aid and Development arena. When publicly describing its work, it routinely overstates its membership participants. Internally, this is justified from the perspective of “if and when non-members participate in Aid work through projects where we collaborate and partner with other groups, we are reaching x number of millions through the efforts of y numbers (includes the partner group contributions) of participants ”. This inflated number becomes part of taglines and promotions, without interpretation. Staff and board members pick up on this as a matter of integrity, question its validity and ultimately the numbers are restated to coincide with actual membership and regular direct engagement by members. The leadership team avoids placing blame on this slip, but wisely uses this episode to establish holistic ethical standards across the organization, which becomes a cornerstone of the future story-lines. The revelations and resulting conversations also become the raw material for a new internal culture focused on Trust as an essential guiding principle.
Establishing a revised baseline of real direct membership provides a reasonable measurement against which subsequent growth could be measured. The resulting real growth becomes the new positive marketing focus, and serves the organization well as its expansion and change initiatives are enacted and results are quantified.
This is a case of using a mistake to create learning, growth and leadership strength. This, in my view was possible because participants were willing to engage in difficult conversations and speak truth to one another in the process. A more intentionally ethical atmosphere was developed. Membership did increase dramatically over the subsequent three years, and the heightened levels of transparency are seen as a contributing factor.
The events described here while fictional, are derived from several real events I have observed (none of which are listed as clients or employers in GHC or
R Magee’s public materials). A more detailed case study is forthcoming.