I recently read an article that talked about a high-school biology class where nearly 25% of the students were caught cheating. Apparently they had plagiarized entire sections of their semester-long reports from various Internet web sites. The teacher had isolated the offenders and had given them a failing grade. The parents of these students protested that the failing grade was “too harsh” a penalty for their cheating children. Unbelievably, the school board agreed!
The article went on to point out that a Rutgers University study found that more than 75% of students cheat. The Internet has made plagiarism quite easy. There are many web sites where students can get ready-made reports for all kinds of topics. Schools also have access to software that allows them to catch plagiarists just as easily. But apparently they often choose NOT to use it. Why? Because they feel that policing plagiarism might hurt a cheater’s self esteem. In fact, many student groups have attacked the use of anti-plagiarism software as a potential violation of student rights!My question is: “What will happen to these students when they have to compete in the real world?” In the real world if you plagiarize, you suffer the consequences. That could mean litigation, retraction and most certainly professional embarrassment.Ok, I know what you’re thinking: “What does all this have to do with business improvement?”
Everything.If we really care for people, then we tell them what they need to hear. If we are too concerned about offending them or hurting them then we are in part responsible for their failures. Think of how much those high school students will be hurt in the future simply because parents, teachers and administrators were unwilling to bruise their fragile egos.Let’s face it many, if not most supervisors are at the very least uncomfortable holding their employees accountable. I am not saying that we should create an environment where perfection is the goal. I rather encourage peak performance rather that perfect performance. But it is critical for business owners, manager and supervisors to distinguish between a “mistake of the heart” or a “mistake of the head.” A “mistake of the heart” is a situation where an employee intentionally did something that was known to be wrong and tried to get away with it. A “mistake of the head” is when an employee is working hard to do the right thing but, for some reason, it does not work out that way. With mistakes of the head, we should be very lenient. With mistakes of the heart we should be quite strict.One way to ensure that we are creating an environment where mistakes of the mind are tolerated and mistakes of the heart are not is to make your expectations crystal clear to your staff. Over the years I have noticed that communicating expectations is paramount in achieving peak performance. The following are areas in which leaders should develop clear expectations for team members:1. Culture – Communicate your company’s culture clearly by modeling the kind of behavior that you want to see. If you are looking for more honesty and integrity then model honesty and integrity. Like it or not, they will do as you do, NOT as you say. This starts at the top. If you are a business owner, don’t expect your managers to accomplish this if you can’t.2. Rewards – When people do well we should congratulate them publicly. This should be done with great fanfare but in a genuine, sincere way. There’s nothing worse than phony flummery or flattery. Give sincere appreciation.3. Chastisement – When we need to provide chastisement or correction it should always be done privately away from any other staff member. We should be forthright in expressing our disappointment with the staff member’s poor behavior NOT anger with them as a person.4. Correction – When correcting make sure that you communicate the methods and procedures expected. This should include deadlines with non-negotiable dates as opposed to dates that can slip as well as priorities. What’s to be done first, second and so on.5. Performance – Paint a picture of the outcome for your staff. Show them a vision of a “good” job versus a “bad” job. Make sure they understand the degree of effort that you expect them to each contribute to the successful solution.6. Measurement – Establish a system to measure performance in small increments as well as a format for consistent communication. This forum will give you the ability to ask the right kind of questions to determine whether they are “on-track.” At this point you can provide feedback and make suggestions on course correction.7. Resources – Make sure that they understand the resources that are available to them. This could include staff, facilities, technology, equipment, outside consultants and so on. Encourage them to use the resources to their best advantage but in a cost effective way in order to achieve their goals.
As leaders it’s our job to foster integrity, honesty and honor. Team members look to us for confidence, guidance, direction and innovation. To whom much is given, much is required. As leaders we must hold ourselves to a higher standard than anyone else in our organization. Does this mean that we need to be perfect in order to achieve peak performance? Not at all. But is does mean that when we are wrong that we, as Dale Carnegie advises us, “admit it quickly and emphatically.”Remember your team members are not just a resource, they are PEOPLE. As I have said many times, we live in an age of relationships. How can you create relationships that go beyond just getting the job done? And how can we do so with integrity and honor?