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Dear Workforce How To Deal With Dishonesty In The Workplace

Plan a strategic invention, eliciting support of employees.
September 7, 2011
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Related Topics: Ethics, Dear Workforce
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QDear Workforce:

    I am a development consultant who has been asked to take on afreelance-consulting project. I'm concerned about the issue this prospectiveclient wants to address: dishonesty in the workplace. Although I've consulted onprojects where dishonesty was seen as a contributing factor to some otherproblem, in this case dishonesty is the focal point. It seems that dishonesty isravenous in this particular organization.

    My charge is to help these folks create a more honest, trusting, andcollaborative workforce. Honesty and integrity are such intrinsic issues thatI'm not sure where to begin or how to do so without frightening, alienating, oroffending people.

- Kathy

ADear Kathy:

    Pervasive and persistent dishonesty in a system inevitably grows from amalignancy to a full-blown cancer, destroying an organization's productivity andmorale. As organizational consultants charged with helping undo the damage, hereare some things to consider and implement:

  • Do a gut check. First and foremost, when intervening with such widespreaddeceptive and manipulative behavior we must be aware of our own feelings - fear, alienation, anger and disgust. Also, be prepared to be the target of thismendacity. Make sure you have someone with whom you can bounce ideas andfeelings.

  • Understand the dynamics. What motivates such wide-ranging dishonesty?Consider these forces:

    1. Top management as role models. Has dishonesty- payoffs, falsifyingrecords, inflating productivity numbers, etc. - become business as usual? Istop management covering up for a friend or ally? If these operational practicescease will their reign of power end? Even if top management is not outrightdishonest, is it tolerating or closing its eyes to serious dysfunctionalactivity from key managers and supervisors? Too often such leaders don't want tohear "bad news," especially if it reflects on their performancecapability.

    2. Climate of fear. Lying and cheating also flourish in an atmosphere ofintimidation and reprisal, of harsh judgment and ridicule and of impulsivedismissal. There's an almost irrational fear of making a mistake, of not meetingproductivity quotas as well as the belief that the messenger will suffer ifgiving honest feedback. No one can say the obvious: the organizational emperorsaren't wearing any clothes. So, of course, there's a cover up.

    3. Conflict-averse system. Not surprisingly, such organizations tend to avoiddealing with conflict. People promote false personas such as being "sonice," "too busy to notice what's going on," delegating to otherswithout monitoring performance or holding others accountable.

    4. Dysfunctional competition. Sometimes overly aggressive, territorialindividuals and departments foment this institutionalized deceit andmanipulation. Especially when there are insufficient resources and rewards to goaround, self-serving and self-protective actions can evolve into chronicbackstabbing and sabotage.

  • Plan a strategic intervention. Consider these four consulting steps:

    1. Management orientation. Meet with top management to share your initialapproach to data gathering and early stage intervention. In this meeting you maywant to avoid directly announcing the problem of widespread dishonesty. Instead,focus on the unproductive and self-defeating communication, destructivecompetition, lack of trust and cooperation/cohesiveness in the organization,along with the tension. Ask participants to define the nature and scope of theproblem to assess how open, self-deluding or defensive the climate at the topis. It is critical to have genuine backing for this intervention from someone inthe top management hierarchy.

    2. Individual interviews. Conduct one-on-one interviews with a substantialnumber of employees across the organizational spectrum. Interview enough folksso you can begin to discover the inconsistencies and cover-ups. Also, see ifanyone will acknowledge the pressure, fear or guilt generated by thisdysfunctional situation. Another source of useful data can come from anonymousquestionnaires.

    3. Slowly build alliances. Use this interview data to form a small group ofpotential change agents - individuals most uncomfortable with the toxicatmosphere. You may need to meet with these folks more than once to ensure theyare ready to challenge the system. (This is similar to needing a number offamily members, friends or colleagues to confront the alcoholic in seriousdenial. By the way, don't be surprised if there are serious drug/alcoholproblems in the organization.)

      In addition, build an alliance with any Employee Assistance Programcounselors, assuming they aren't part of the dysfunctional family. Some of thechronic manipulators or intimidators may have personality disorders, not tomention drinking issues. Referral of these folks to the EAP also will be vitalto regaining control of the workplace environment.

      Two or three intervention groups may be needed, that is, separate groups formanagers and for employees, at this juncture. Later, you can form a matrix taskforce - jointly comprised of managers, supervisors, employees, union, etc.These groupings, or the individual members, will eventually become your corecollective for challenging the unhealthy status quo at team, department anddivision meetings.

    4. Large group workshop. Once you have some backup support, hold a daylongworkshop to confront the productivity and morale problems - the problems instraight communication, lack of trust and cooperation, destructive conflict oravoidance of conflict, etc. For example, my "Practice Safe Stress"Programs: Managing Stress and Building Team Morale through Humor enableparticipants to open up gradually sensitive operational areas for constructivediscussion and creative group art therapy-like drawing. These activities, alongwith subsequent role-play exercises, transform trashing and griping into dynamicand honest dialogue and problem solving.

      An additional benefit of a large group workshop is that substantial numbersof employees - consider mixing all staffing levels here - can begin to bondwith and develop trust in our leadership abilities and further open cross-linecommunication. (30-50 people/workshop is about the outer size limit for intimateexercises and problem solving.)

  • Ongoing team building. Following the workshops, hold meetings with eachteam. In this small group setting, the dishonesty issues are really ready to beengaged and confronted. Also, start recruiting individuals across the hierarchyfor a "Save the Workshop" matrix group. These folks' mission will beto insure that all levels of the organization are engaging in honestcommunication, effective dialogue and genuine conflict resolution. Also be surethere is a confidential and objective structure - hopefully HR and/or theEmployee Assistance Program -- for reporting violations and grievances.

SOURCE: Mark Gorkin, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" and American Online's"Online Psychohumorist," Washington, D.C., January 29, 2001.

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 The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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