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By Francis Wade

Sunday, November 18, 2012.

Recently, I heard the story of an executive who told his staff a vivid account of how he cheated a potential partner in a business deal. It was framed in the context of 'smart business decisions I have made'.

Unfortunately, it was heard in quite a different context: liar and cheat who cannot be trusted.

Newly promoted managers are often surprised to discover that there is an intelligence that groups of employees demonstrate that is often missing in the thinking of individuals.

Anyone who has ever given a speech knows the feeling of being more than a little naked, and the reality is that 100 people all listening at the same time is not the same as having 100 individual conversations. In other words, it's easier to fool a single person than a group, which appears to register every single inconsistency and falsehood, and remain unconvinced by arguments that overpower single minds.

The book, The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki, speaks to this phenomenon in which groups are often smarter than the brightest individuals.

When the right level of intra-communication is present, decision-making improves and information is aggregated quickly, and at high quality. History is recorded more faithfully, and promises are less likely to fall through the cracks.

Jamaican managers sometimes fail to acknowledge this phenomenon, and attempt to get away with behaviours that they think only a few notice, forgetting the power of the group. For example, a single illicit affair with a different staff member each year may not seem like much, but after a few years a manager may be astonished to discover how many people know so much about his 'personal' life. Managers are often surprised by how many eyes and ears are paying close attention.
In organisations, a little information gathered from here and there adds up.

Casual conversations

It's all put together in a series of casual conversations repeated hundreds of times by staff members who don't need to be malicious to end up being well-informed.
Fortunately, this phenomenon works in positive ways as well.
In my work, I define integrity as an unyielding willingness to keep one's word regardless of the circumstances. An executive who brings integrity to every interaction builds a kind of goodwill that others notice and talk about, even though good news travels much slower than bad.

Therefore, it's a good idea to play it safe, and to treat your word as a manager as if it were special, or even sacred. It makes sense to the bitter end to fulfil promises that you have made, even when you fail.

One way to learn how to live with this kind of power is to follow the pyramid of learning discovered by the National Training Labs in Bethel, Maine, United States.

1. At the very start, we can learn about integrity by listening to someone talk about it, and then move on to reading and studying it for ourselves. This allows us to retain about 10 per cent of what we learn.

2. As we progress, we can find YouTube videos or podcasts on the subject, which increases our learning to 20 per cent.

3. If we are able to observe someone who has integrity actually demonstrate it in action in a live situation, our retention increases to 30 per cent. This can be facilitated in a workshop setting where its actual occurrence can be made clear in real time.

4. A huge increase takes place to 50 per cent when a group is given the opportunity to discuss the concept. Those individuals who move to practise it in their daily lives will retain an astonishing 75 per cent.

5. Those who retain the most (90 per cent) are those who undertake teaching. I have seen a few local executives play this role, becoming the proponents of integrity in their companies. As teachers, they call themselves to an extraordinary standard, and implicitly give others permission to hold them to account. Some even allow this to happen in public forums, with an effect that is electric.

Unfortunately, there are too many who don't care, and end up simply doing whatever happens to be in their best interest.

This ends up being the unintended lesson that their employees learn; a particular, selfish way of being that gets amplified across the organisation.

They do damage without knowing it, and it's too bad. Our employees are usually hungry for much, much more.

Francis Wade is the President of Framework Consulting. He can be reached at columns@fwconsulting.com

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