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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Openness and respect

Unilever Australia's Code of Business Principles appeals to me -- of course the challenge is implementing these ideals in practice.
Tomorrow, all the company's employees and some key contractors will see the guts of our financial data -- the company's weekly financial report. This decision to carry the philosophy of openness to the highest level is contrary to the advice of some of my best (and most successful) business friends -- they advocate compartmentalization; only letting your employees know what they need to know to do their jobs; certainly not the whole picture.

I've never been comfortable with that approach to business, but equally, it took some serious blunders for me to realize that just being open, easy-going and fair doesn't always work in the real world. People don't always get it, and many times, see things from very narrow (and selfish) perspectives. The answer to the dilemma is to connect openness with responsibility and respect -- we'll respect our employees, but ask them to behave the same towards themselves and others on the team.

Respect isn't that complex a concept. It is important to show up for work on time and do your work to the best of your abilities. Respect also connotes taking into account the very real needs (human and emotional) of your peers, clients, suppliers, and even complete strangers. This isn't sucking up; nor is it pandering, nor hopefully is it playing organizational games to curry favour. Respect, intriguingly, also recognizes there are times when it is best to not share everything; to keep confidences, to understand that misplaced words and expressions can do far more harm than spouting the 'truth' in a noisy outburst of reaction. (And it certainly doesn't require us to be totally open with everyone about everything -- I am certainly not posting the confidential business information to be shared with our employees on this blog!)

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