Frank Bucaro is a dear, valued and long-time buddy. For close to thirty years, I've had the benefit of his unparalleled friendship, wise counsel and raucous laugh!
Frank is a leading advocate for ethics and values in business, in the United States and throughout the world. He's a fellow Hall of Fame speaker and a prolific author on trust, truth and transparency. And I've been the beneficiary of his sage advice.
On occasion, when I've had an ethical challenge, wondering, "Did I do the right thing?" or "What's the best thing to do?"—Frank is my go-to-guy. Thankfully, over the years, Frank has declared, "Jeff, you've done everything you could. You've continually attempted to take the high road. Move on." And then in his playful and overemphasized Italian accent he'll exclaim, "Fuh-ged-a-bout it!" Yet Frank's judgment and wisdom are always memorable.
Now it's time for you too to benefit from Frank's insights.
Jeff Blackman: How do you define ethics?
Frank Bucaro: Since my focus is on the "process" of thinking ethically, I define ethics as a tough decision, with the "payout" at the end. And an unethical decision is an easy one, with the payout up front.
When you're ethical, you may struggle with or even "agonize" over certain decisions. Meaning, you really think things through, like the potential impact, consequences, implications, outcomes or even rewards. And this takes time, focus, analysis and reflection.
JB: So what are the principles of ethics, character and honesty?
FB: They're intricately related. Ethics can also be defined as "honesty in action." If you want to be honest, always tell the truth. Because if you tell a lie, you'll have to remember it. And you're likely to tell another lie to cover the first lie, etc. If you have short memory, always tell the truth!
In being ethical and honest, you reveal your true character, your moral fiber. Yet when you're not ethical or honest, your character is also revealed. Then the choice is, "Who do you want to be?" And for others, the choice is, "Which you, do they want to associate with?"
Here's the challenge: One of the most demeaning terms I hear, is "whistleblower." Let's understand this. A company trains its people to embrace its values and ethics. Then when something seriously wrong happens, the individual tries to work through the company's "system for resolution" and they're blocked, stymied, thwarted. Then, given no internal choice for resolution, they go public and are then condemned, ridiculed and punished!
These folks aren't merely "whistleblowers," they're heroes or "values advocates." We should reward them for living the values they were trained to embrace and embody. They're shining examples of ethics, character and honesty in action, yet they pay a heavy price for being so.
JB: What's the impact of an ethical impropriety?
FB: It's positive or negative. Positive, if you can stop something from becoming an ethical issue or a legal issue. Here, proactive ethics is a cost savings!
On the negative side, the U.S. Federal Sentencing Guidelines state, if something happens in a company from a legal perspective and one can prove the company already has an ongoing compliance and ethics training program, fines could be reduced by up to 95%!
The guidelines give two reasons for this:
1. The necessity for ongoing compliance and ethics training and
2. With ongoing training, it creates the greatest likelihood for understanding and behavioral change
So how could the preceding possibly be negative?
The problem is, most companies don't have this ongoing training, so they gamble the odds of something "bad" happening are minimal or non-existent. Or they reach the dangerous conclusion, "We won't get caught!"
Leaders must see ethics training as an investment versus an expense. It's like the security that comes with insurance protection. Yes, you'll "pay" for the peace-of-mind. Yet it's really a question of investing now vs. paying a far greater "price" later!
JB: What worries businesspeople most when it comes to ethics and values?
FB: It's more what they don't worry about! Here are some key realities. Many don't get the reality that morale filters down. It never filters up. Leaders set the ethical tone by how and why they do what they do and their people listen with their eyes, not just their ears.
Leaders, sales people, customer service folks, can't just preach it, they must live it. Yet research shows with mid-level management, ethics "takes a hit" because these managers get no or very little ethics training. They're on the front line for their people and they don't have the skills, techniques or insights to deal with issues from an ethical perspective.
Many companies have values statements, yet there's a consistent breakdown from what's stated versus what might happen if profits are down, and owners or shareholders aren't happy.
JB: What do you say to folks who claim, "It's no big deal, everybody does it!" Or, "It's only a little, white lie."
FB: These types of statements and attitudes try to justify or rationalize a situation, so one has a "reason" for their decision.
Everybody doesn't lie. That's the reality! Yet people will create an excuse or rationale for their justification or fib. It's often designed to avoid responsibility and create acceptance, i.e., "I don't have to pay any consequences, because so many others have done this, and they didn't get caught."
The "everybody does it" belief is a cop out. It negates one's proactive responsibility for their choices. The "fibbing" or willingness to lie part befuddles me. What's the difference between a little white lie or a big purple one? A lie IS a lie! When one lies about little things, they're likely to lie about big things. Until they get caught!
JB: What lessons are to be learned from Tom Brady and Deflategate?
FB: There are three:
1. Perceptions determine attitudes and attitudes determine behavior. Perceptions are neither right nor wrong, but there are still consequences. If Brady is perceived to be guilty, then to some he is.
2. There are always consequences and most could be considered unintentional. Thinking like: "Who will know?" or "What are the odds?" or "If you do it, don't tell me when."
3. His reputation is tarnished whether he's guilty or not.
JB: So what do the future of ethics, honesty and character look like?
FB: They'll be influenced by the media, the changing structures of family life, economic conditions and education. Yet the real issue is, how acceptable and important society and business make these principles.
Jeff, where do values, ethics and morals come from? The old answer, your family. Your family is your foundation.
If that's still true, what's the makeup of today's family? How important is the raising of one's children? Also, what's the academic world teaching children about ethics, responsibility and accountability?
Kids and adults need to be held accountable for their choices, at home, in school, in the workplace, in life. Yet often, it's now an employer's responsibility to teach, model and enforce values, ethics and compliance.
Another interesting twist, (at least in the United States), is that it's the first time in American history, five generations are simultaneously in the workplace; Boomers, Xers, Yers, Millennials and now the Digital Natives. Each generation was raised and educated differently. The key question: How do we get them all in alignment with a company's ethics and values structure?
Yet realize, in any generation or with any individual, ethics drives trust, loyalty and goodwill, in our personal and professional lives. And professionally, that also drives success and profits!
For more ways to do the right thing and generate the right results, please visit www.frankbucaro.com
And to learn more about my VINe philosophy, of being value-driven, integrity-based and non-manipulative, please take a peek at this ResultsTV video link: