Posts Tagged ‘honesty’

“Honey, do I look fat in this dress?” That is a question any wise man approaches carefully – very carefully. It is prescient when it comes to change management. Why? Well, we all say we prize honesty but upon closer examination there is a desire to get by which comes in direct conflict with the need to be honest.

Everyone loves to clean house and get rid of the bad guy(s) and girl(s). After the euphoria the sweeping out creates dies down something surprising happens. It is the fear created by the need for those remaining to be honest in a piercing manner. Why is that?

As mentioned in previous blogs, having the bad guy around supports the creation of bad habits. For example, there is the opportunity to fudge billable time and expenses. A while back there was the infamous $500 coffee pot charged to the U.S. Air Force. (I got to talk with one of the lead accountants on that issue and it turns out dishonesty wasn’t present but let’s assume for this blog it was a blatant rip off.) In the every day world of projects how can that occur? All that is needed is a leader out to get as much money as possible and will gouge the client to the extent the client is blind, naive or both. When an engineer has worked under such a person for a long enough period of time it becomes easy to get sloppy and gradually expand what “honesty means right along with “cheating.”

Sociologically, it is well established that we all like to leave ourselves some space, some wiggle room. Let’s say 15 minutes a day of billable time. So, if we only charge for 15 non-productive minutes we can claim we are honest. After a while under a disreputable boss that 15 minutes becomes an hour. The process continues until all hell breaks loose and then all sorts of time is charged simply because we can do it. So what happens when you clean house?

For the housecleaning to be complete there is a need to return to honesty. This is the point at which panic sets in. If your situation is typical a flood of requests start coming in to explain exactly what you mean when you say, “In order to bill for one hour you have to do one hour’s worth of work.” All sorts of lawyering begins. It is accompanied by confusion and more than a slight degree of hysteria. Remember, people have been let go for not being honest. The question on everyone’s mind is, “Am I next?” (For what it is worth, I am championed for bringing the light of day and a breath of fresh air to the organization when getting rid of the bad guy. That quickly turns to pitchforks, tar, and feathers once the issue of accountability is brought to the masses.) What to do? Answer: State the obvious.

“The only way out of the mess you are in is through frank discussions as to what it means to bill an hour of time. This isn’t free-floating. It needs to reference a sound business case.

In other words, know what will work in your industry. Find standards that are reliable. Then add that to a solid business case. Determine what “serving the customer” means in terms of billable hours, expenses, and productivity. By all means, stay away from witch-hunts. Tell the troops you will be out of business if the sloppiness continues. The best way to keep one’s job is to work to acceptable standards. Have them participate in the defining of standards as it applies to their discipline, keeping in mind that who ever is responsible for the business case will have the final say.

What this all amounts to is a focus on emotional honesty rather than a Salem witch trial. When done in a respectful tone those who want to work and feel significant appreciate it. As to the others…well…the human resource changes must continue. The challenges will continue and people will wonder if the housekeeping was worth it. In the long run, though, there will be an appreciation of getting back on track and billing one hour for an hour’s worth of work.

The Soul of a Project #30: Dealing With Shame!

by Gary Monti on December 4, 2012

Ever have someone melt down right in front of you for no apparent reason? Or, has someone dug in unrealistically? What about another person feeding the gossip mill in a rather vicious manner working to get people to side with him? On the flip side, there’s the person who shrugs her shoulders blind to the destruction caused by her last decision. These individuals may all have something in common – shame. Shame as used here refers to situations where a lack of self-esteem has been brought to the surface and the person tries behavior that is meant to provide some form of self-protection.

To learn a bit more about it the etymology of shame may help. At the core it means, “to cover.” So, when someone takes on an apparently irrational behavior it may be an unconscious attempt to protect, to cover the sense of being defective. The irrational part puts it in the realm of a coping mechanism, which is an unhealthy response learned or created to try and deal with a problem, real or perceived. The word “irrational” is a tip that the current events have triggered something from the past about which the person experiences an irrationally low sense of self, a sense of shame.

For example, you might be working with an extremely good engineer who gets angry and belligerent when asked to speak in a formal setting with clients. He might say he has plenty of work to do and insists sales should be pulling their weight and earn their commissions instead of relying on the people who do the work and have to reach billable hour goals to also have to sell the project. No matter how much you talk with the engineer, saying how good his work is, this is a chance to shine, etc., it all seems to go nowhere.

In some consulting situations like this I’ve had to dig deeper (working with a therapist) to find out a grade school teacher in front of the class ridiculed the individual. No other adult was sensitive to or helped this future engineer work through the situation in a healthy way. He was left thinking it was his fault and that he was (and still is) defective. Consequently, he covered the problem by avoiding formal speaking situations and, when needed, through belligerence.  For what it is worth, I run into shame-based problems with some regularity. They typically are a main contributor to the difficulties the organization is experiencing. You know what I am talking about, the person who limits their career or gets fired over something they just can’t get beyond.

So what can you do in such a situation? First, offer compassion, acceptance, and empathy. Be honest and state the problem as you see it and the challenge the individual faces. It is being a friend and, in the words of Carl Jung, “If everyone had good friends there’d be no need for therapists.” Keep in mind you aren’t their mother so limits are required. When that limit is reached it is time to escalate, which can be very uncomfortable when a friend is involved. It is the best thing to do. Without honesty in the situation a cost is incurred which has price tags associated with it, ranging from money to stress. It might be good for an outsider to come in and look at the situation and be the “bad guy” who pushes for needed changes.

In any case, simply riding over it and trying to pretend the irrational behavior can be absorbed or ignored will just drive everyone else crazy and provide no help for the person feeling the shame. On the positive side, as difficult as the situation is, when genuine friendship is extended and a healthy confrontation occurs, if the person with the difficulties really wants to do better, he is eventually appreciative. The situation can get better and profitability has a better shot at going up.

The last blog focused on pushing through the Peter Principle by building interdependence. The power to move the project forward radiates from this interdependence, which includes power being shared by key stakeholders.

That interdependence has a very short half-life. So, the obvious question is, “How is it kept alive and encouraged to grow?” The answer lies within the story. The story is what binds people together to work as a team and move the project forward. There are a few things to consider when generating and disseminating the story.

  • Honesty. This is foremost. The moment the team senses they are being played the project fragments. Honesty requires being open and vulnerable regarding the consequences associated with the project including big payoffs that some might get. Not that they have to have every detail. They just need to be included as to the consequences. If the team is put on a “need-to-know” basis the members can feel diminished and it puts the interdependent bond at risk.
  • Discipline. Emerging from the Peter Principle typically has a lot of positive energy but there also are few rules present that work. New rules need generated or the old ones need modified.  You must be able to deal with the ambiguities of the situation and rely on core principles in pushing through to create a new gestalt as to how the team will work and the project will move forward.
  • Energy. With the old rules sitting in a jumbled mess the team instinctively will look for leadership as to what to do next. Here is where a big challenge is present. You must substitute yourself for the policies and procedures that fell apart in order to hold the team together. This can be sustained only so long. A plan is needed.
  • Delegate.  You can’t do it alone. Having key people willing to pick of some piece of the power and hammer out new rules/guidelines/etc. will go a long way towards re-establishing order, building the plan, and lowering the demands on your personal energy. It’s impossible to stress too much the need for a critical mass of people who can commit to something bigger than themselves. Falling short of this critical mass by even one person can cause the situation to implode.
  • Clean House. This is a corollary to delegation. Those who are creating difficulties need to either turn around or be removed from the team. This may seem a bit harsh. It simply is the reality of the situation. I’ve worked on projects and organizational changes where inability to get rid of a key gossipmonger torpedoed the changes.
  • Know where you are going. All of the above comes together to support your moving towards the end goal. Know what it is and state it clearly.

By doing the above the story will unfold from within you. You’ll find it spontaneously arises and you will instinctively know when to pause and reflect, talk with others, or push forward. This may sounds crazy but you will become the story. Think of El Cid. The myth, the story overtook him to the extent it was bigger than his own death. (Not that you want to have your career die!) What works best is having the aura of the project’s story radiate from you. This sounds corny but it isn’t. You know it is happening when people take your lead, when they listen to you in meetings and suggest ways to achieve goals, when the team looks forward to the meeting, when the milestones begin to be met.

Who knows? Maybe someone will write an epic poem about you, too!

Students from around the world list starting the project without clear requirements as their #1 problem. Last week, in a workshop addressing this issue an interesting response surfaced in about a third of the students. In a word, discomfort. Why would this happen when something that benefits the PM and team is being developed? Let’s explore.

Some background about the method will help. It teaches simultaneous development of a scope of work and determination of a possible political path providing a high probability of successful implementation of the proposed scope of work. No small feat, just ask any project manager!

Scope and Politics

Developing scope in a no-scope environment entails using a method developed by the astrophysicist Fritz Zwicky. It is called Morphological Analysis. The short version of how to use it goes something like this: using the variables associated with the project think of all possible scopes in the situation. Go through and eliminate those that have contradictory requirements, e.g., simultaneously tall and short. This will reduce the list of possible scopes dramatically.

Now, switch to game theory. List the stakeholders (players) who can impact the development of the project and its execution. By stakeholder, list the way they are playing their particular game (strategy), and the reward (payoff) they want. Generate a 3 dimensional grid, comprising player, strategy, and payoff. Now the fun begins!

Map the list of possible scopes into the strategies and payoffs.  List the scopes that have the highest probability of surviving the games being played. This typically leaves a very short list of possible scopes. Pick one and start promoting it. Keep the other scopes as possible backups should a shift in plans be needed.

Seems straightforward enough and, for many it was. So why would some attendees experience discomfort?

Fear and Honesty

In her classic book, When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron states:

“Fear is a natural reaction to getting closer to the truth.”

In the workshop confusion, discomfort, fear, and some anger arose. The class was paused and a chart session was used to find out what was happening. Students gave a range of responses. Here are a few:

“Looking at gamesmanship so directly pushes on me. I have to go into my unconscious incompetencies and decide what to do about the politics. This is good.”

I made a career-altering decision 8 months ago and things have been tough ever since. This class, though, is validating I made the right decision and will continue implementing it.”

“I work with a nice guy who isn’t pulling his weight. We have the same boss, whom I like, and she wants him to do better but nothing gets done. I am feeling a lot of pressure. This class is getting confusing!”

“Why this game stuff? We have technical work to get done and I just don’t see where politics applies.”

“I don’t see where any of this is relevant! Just how am I supposed to use this?”

That first respondent is very self-aware. She stayed with her discomfort and did quite well with the material. Prima fascia, she would make a good team member. The last respondent left in anger at the next break.

But the other respondents, what about them? There isn’t enough space to go into them right now. Instead, it would be better to close with a list showing a few responses people may choose in a no-scope situation. Having this list may help you profile your own situation and determine how far you could get with a given scope based on the stakeholder population, time, money, and resources present. Here are a few of the possible positions people can take:

  1. Is a natural in this situation and is on board;
  2. Has a fear of dealing with politics and reacts by actively work against the project;
  3. Can see benefit but is afraid to go to those uncomfortable spaces where politics is addressed and stalls;
  4. Is afraid but sees the benefit of pushing on themselves and working through the difficulties and is willing to push through;
  5. Only likes working in defined situations and goes blank in no-scope environments.

Maybe by keeping the above in mind and looking at your own power, authority, time, and resources you can gauge just how far to push with which scope. Ideally, you’ll do reasonably well and live to see another day and manage another project.

Character and Personality #10: A simple honesty

by Gary Monti on September 7, 2010

The final blog in this series on character and personality deals with the leaders affect, i.e., what others observe with a leader who shows integrity regarding the character and personality traits discussed in previous blogs. Others observe a simple honesty. In this day and age it may seem paradoxical to use the word “simple” considering the ever-increasing complexity of business life. The reality is: the need for this simple honesty increases right along with the complexity. Achieving it is a daily challenge since expediency in a fast-paced environment can push one to go for the short-term gain.

Looking at the lives of leaders such as Gandhi, George Washington, Martin Luther King, Joan of Arc, and Chief Joseph the deliberateness of their behavior in an ever-changing environment provided a much-needed stability for their followers. They were very sophisticated leaders who displayed simple honesty.

Moral- vs Emotional Integrity

Underpinning simple honesty is integrity. Integrity is a word that is bandied about and can become quite slippery. One way to nail down its meaning is to look at two usages: moral and emotional.

Moral integrity reflects one’s ethics in codes of conduct that delineate between good and evil. In politics this surfaces frequently. However, I believe it misses the mark. Why? Moral integrity runs the risk of being associated with “head stuff.” To borrow from previous blogs, it runs the risk of flowing from ego consciousness. The danger is this: codes of conduct can be formed supposedly based on taking the higher ground when actually it has more to do with being attracted to or wanting to avoid people who reflect our shadow self. (For more on this see the blog on Triggers.) So, in the end, moral integrity can reflect deep-seated fears and aggressions. This is reflected in the aphorism, “More people have been killed in the name of God than for any other reason.”

Moral integrity DOES have value and it IS important. However, it comes from being a subset of something greater. That something is emotional integrity. A simple definition of emotion integrity is:

Thoughts, feelings, and actions are mutually reinforcing and integrated.

Achieving this is no small feat! Remember that battle between ego consciousness and shadow self? Emotional integrity deals with it directly. It is reflected in a simple honesty. Deviation from it leads to dishonesty, a form of lying.

Children are very good at picking up on emotional honesty and dishonesty. They can intuitively feel when someone is lying to them by simply seeing the discord between thoughts, feelings, and actions. They may not understand the subject matter but they can see when someone who is speaking from supposed moral integrity displays fear or aggression. They sense the disconnect between thoughts, feelings, and actions. The child can then proceed to shut down or act out since they are in a powerless situation much like some employees.

There’s a phrase in the business world when one refuses to see this disconnect in others and in turn becomes emotionally dishonest. We say, “He drank the Kool-Aid.” This is an extremely good phrase. The etiology is Reverend Jim Jones’s direction to his followers to commit suicide by drinking cyanide-laced Flavor Aid at their colony in Jonestown.

Situational Decision-Making

So how does a simple honesty play out in changing business environments? Answering this question is what burdens leaders. The leader may have to go through great changes herself. Doris Kearns Goodwin does a masterful job of showing Abraham Lincoln’s journey in her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Team of Rivals. This is in stark contrast to Jones’s megalomania.

Trust and trust

I’ve found this reduces to two definitions of trust. The first is with a capital “T”. Here Trust means a willingness to be vulnerable in the other person’s presence, e.g., followers Trusted Lincoln and Jones. The second definition is with a small “t”. Here trust means expectations based on consistency of behavior, e.g., if I walk by someone’s desk and say “Hi!” each morning that person will probably trust I will say “Hi!” tomorrow morning.

Lincoln could be Trusted because his behavior said he could be trusted to do what ever it took to preserve the Union. He showed a simple honesty in a changing situation.

Character and Personality #7: Courage

by Gary Monti on August 17, 2010

Tiger Woods’ difficulties with his swing and Mark Hurd’s (HP’s CEO) inability to fill out expense reports correctly could have a great deal in common – complexes. With Tiger there was admission of adultery repeatedly with different women. Hurd’s situation was different and a lot more bizarre since he settled out of court for sexual harassment in which there was no sex (this was validated by the woman who was the victim and accepted the settlement) and which did not meet HP’s criteria for sexual harassment.

However, he did spent $20,000 on the woman that was mis-reported and could have been a clerical mistake by his assistant since nothing apparently happened. Is that clear to you? If it is, let me know how you figured it out.

In a very public way they both show how trying to succeed simply by ego (the parts of the psyche that have been developed and are the basis of initial career development) has limits and the desire to be complete (integrate the parts of the psyche pushed down to please others) as Self will, when denied, erupt and wreak havoc without any regard to the consequences. In both cases it was sexual indiscretion (or at least in Tiger’s case since Hurd didn’t really do what he settled out of court for and over which he left his job as CEO of one of the world’s top computer firms.)

The bigger issue is the repressed parts of the psyche yelling, “Hey, over here! Ignore me at your own peril!”

Is there anything unique about how they both are behaving? No. As we go through life we all experience the same self-sabotaging behavior in some form (which doesn’t have to be sex) at one time or another. So, empathy is the order of the day for both gentlemen.

A healthy leader embraces his/her complexes and actually works to provoke psychic integration. Most of us, though, step away from doing this proactively due to fear over loss of security, position, control, power, money, or something else to which we are clinging. The belief is it is easier to just keep on doing more of the same hoping that it will work for us as it has in the past. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Refusal to listen to and address those noises coming out of our psychic basement can have disastrous results. For most of us, though, it feels easier to just do something equivalent to turning up the stereo and drowning out the sounds, hoping those things that go bump in the night will just go away. When we do that those entities in the basement just get angrier and stronger. They combine to form what Jung called complexes. Eventually, these complexes break down the cellar door and burst onto the scene. Usually they time it when we have company present; company important to maintaining our hold on what feels important. A real train wreck results.

A term used for these embarrassing situations is “acting out.” A complex sweeps over us and we become a bystander watching the strange behavior play itself out. That is what Woods and Hurd have done – acted out. A common response in trying to repair the situation is to pretend the complex isn’t there and diminish the significance of the problem. The dark cellar is avoided. Ego-based behavior continues until something technical is done to try and stay off-topic, e.g., get a new coach to work on one’s swing. Sounds nice but if the issue is due to a complex, it will just sit there nudging Tiger with every attempt at swinging correctly until the healing occurs.

An Inside Job

A recurring theme throughout these blogs is what occurs in the business world is a reflection of something going on internally. Hurd and Woods exemplify this. In line with this it is sad to see HP’s response to the situation (but that is fodder for a later blog on honesty). So, if the business, career, etc., is to be saved what’s the answer? Save yourself rather than the things you want to cling to. Do it proactively. Do it daily.


When Woods spoke publicly for the first time after the car accident and coming out of rehab he spoke with wisdom and humility. He owned having drifted away from himself and others and believed the solution was returning to his Buddhist roots. He nailed it! Does everyone have to be Buddhist? No. What’s needed is finding a path that leads to opening the cellar door and inviting those scary entities up into the light to integrate into a life in community.  The big surprise at that point is seeing there was nothing to be afraid of and those hidden parts are actually quite powerful and beautiful! In line with this, good book that is a simple read is “When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chodron.

There is one caution, though. You could find out there is a need to do something different, requiring a letting go or transformation of the things being held onto. There’s no way of knowing without taking the journey. The one guarantee is NOT taking the journey will insure the loss of those possessions. This is one reason why I put such a heavy focus on risk management.

Change Management

So what are the implications of all this for business? Here’s the big secret.  The piper has to be paid. There is no easy road. Smart money bets are on the leader that not only opens but takes off the cellar door and works to be complete.

Is this difficult?


Can there be pain associated with it?


Is it rewarding in terms of becoming happy, trustworthy, competent, and capable of being a good team player as well as a leader?


Branding – What’s your brand promise?

by Laura Lowell on October 2, 2009

brand promiseIn research conducted for my upcoming book ’42 Rules to build Your Brand and Your Business’ respondents clearly indicated that what affected their perception of a brand were visibility, authenticity and honesty of the brand.  Ok, great…what does this mean to someone trying to build a business and establish their brand? Or what does it mean to a company with an established brand trying to break into a new market with little brand recognition?  You may be surprised to hear me say (or type) that it means the same thing in both situations.

Ultimately, the key is to have a defined brand promise – what is it that your brand stands for?  Based on this you can then begin to prioritize your strategies and define your tactics accordingly.  I have seen, over and over again, where companies jump into the tactics with out understanding how they fit, or don’t fit, into the bigger picture.  For example, I once worked on a brand re-design project with a major high-tech computer manufacturer.  We had a well established brand and were trying to reposition it within the confines of the overall product portfolio.  Plus, we wanted to target a new demographic audience.  Off we went to the branding agency who created several different graphic treatments.  We reviewed them and made changes and came up with what we thought was a brilliant idea – very “off the wall”, especially for this company – but the new demographic “would be drawn to it” we explained to senior management who were having heart palpitations at the very thought of it.  Picture this…a gorilla sitting on top of a PC. Something was definitely “off”, and it turned out… it was us!

This project never saw the light of day…why?  We completely forgot the established brand promise we had been making, and continued to make, to the market.  This design had nothing to do with the real world – it was graphically outstanding and visually compelling, but who cares?  It didn’t relate at all to our brand promise.

So how do you start defining your brand promise? Here’s a list of questions to ask:

  • What does the company stands for? 
  • What is the single most important thing that the organization promises to deliver to its customers?
  • How do you want customers to feel about your organization after interacting with you?
  • What is it that the organization wants its brand to be known for?
  • What unique value to you deliver to customers?

Make sure you have agreement across the company – whether it is large or small.  People should be excited about this.  They should be able to rally around this promise and use it to make appropriate business decisions.  If not, then you still have some work to do.  But, I guarantee you, it’s well worth it.