Ethics: A Part of the Crucial Conversation
Paul Falcone is a long-time friend and respected expert in the area of Human Resources. He has dedicated tremendous energies in not only writing, teaching and practicing HR but also in advancing the human side of our business through his books and toolkits. I learned about his newest book project and had to catch up with him to learn more.
Sherry: Tell me about your book project this past year?
Paul: It is called, “The Paul Falcone Workshop Leadership Series,” and it will be published by HarperCollins Leadership. There will be five books, and we focus on the big picture of cradle-to-grave talent management. The first book of the series is on workplace ethics. It received the most feedback on current relevance and importance. The second book is on Effective Hiring and the third one is called Leadership Offense, covering coaching, motivation and performance feedback to name a few. The fourth one is Leadership Defense and covers tough conversations, disciplinary documentation, and terminations and layoffs. As you can see, the theme is really addressing the fundamentals and building blocks of strong people leadership.
Lastly, we will look at a book for New Managers, including what I am calling the “Big Three: Leadership, Communication and Team Building.”
They are easy to read and 100-150 pages with a focus on “how” to get things done, not just “what” to do. I hope they can be used as a training tool for frontline operational managers and HR practitioners.
Sherry: How did Ethics become part of the critical conversation and the first book in this upcoming series?
Paul: I’ve taught the ethics course in the HR Extension program at UCLA for years, and there’s never been a book on workplace ethics for that type of learning setting. That motivated me to write the ethics book in the first place. But from a timing standpoint, we need to be discussing ethics in the workplace, now more than ever. We’re experiencing evolutionary change at revolutionary speed, and ethical and moral guidance is critically needed to help us through the rapid pace of change.
Sherry: What did you learn from the Ethics class experience?
Paul: There are 9-10 classes in the extension certificate—the ethics course is mandatory in order to complete the certification program. It is an ideal time to create a curriculum that responds to all the change that we are going through. Managers and new HR professionals want to address social change, women empowerment, and racial justice, to name a few, as they all dramatically influence who we are and how we change the workplace.
There are so many new directions that impact our learning and the agenda we create to discuss workplace ethics. One new direction that has emerged is how to apply artificial intelligence to the workplace without creating some sort of disparate impact on protected classes. Another aspect has to do with the existence of multiple generations in the workplace and its impact on how we communicate and build effective teams. The early careerists such as Gen Y and Z will make up almost 50% of the population soon. This will transform the workplace in ways we can’t imagine. Our younger professionals will place corporate social responsibility and making the world a better place at a high priority in their decision to join or leave a company. They value environmentalism, respect for the planet, diversity, inclusion, gender pay equity, and their own career and professional development as criteria for engagement in the organizations that they join and commit to. Wise employers will look to value and recognize these important factors when attracting and retaining younger cohorts of workers.
Sherry: It sounds like we have gone beyond compliance for now. Is that your sense of it?
Paul: My ethics discussion in the book starts with the compliance aspect of the Sarbanes Oxley Act (“SOX”) at work and that was important twenty years ago. Today the bar is much higher and at a more global level when discussion is across cultures. We have gone beyond compliance: ethical leadership is personal. How do you turn your company, the workplace, and your leaders into ethically responsible role models? How do we make ethical decisions and determine the right thing to do? In a way, we’re at a point of pure creation, where we’re building the plane while we’re flying it. With little precedent to rely upon, how do we make ethical and moral decisions that do the most good to the most stakeholders – employees, customers, the local community, and the environment as a whole?
Sherry: Values drive ethical behavior. What are you seeing that leads to so much conflict today?
Paul: I talk about accountability and the lack of it – We see example after example of politicians, professional sports teams, and similar high-profile figures not being held accountable. That’s become part of our cultural narrative at this point, making it easy for certain people to infer that “if they can get away with it, so can I.” It’s important that we discuss our concerns so that we can change direction. About a hundred years ago, we first experienced film, followed by broadcast television in the ‘50s, narrowcast cable in the ‘80s, and now monocast digital communications in the 2000’s. We’ve been telling someone else’s story ever since. The entertainment’s been great, but we’ve lost the art of sitting around the campfire and passing wisdom down from the elders to the younger generation. This communication gap creates tension and conflict. The solutions are simple: “emotionally intelligent” interviewing (that focuses on the candidate’s needs as well as the company’s), weekly staff meetings to recognize achievements and celebrate successes, quarterly one-on-one reviews where leaders discuss their subordinates’ short-term goals, educational needs, and career and professional interests, and the like. This human contact element becomes even more critical when managing remote teams.
Most people would guess that the loneliest and most isolated cohort is elderly Americans living in retirement homes. That’s actually the second most isolated group: social scientists have proven that Gen Z – the 24 and younger crowd – is actually the most isolated. Technology has distanced them, not brought them closer. Open dialogues “around the campfire”—both at work and at home—are critical for this younger generation to thrive. That’s where the leadership edge comes into play in the workplace.
Sherry: What did you find was a surprise for you as you reflect on business ethics today?
Paul: I guess the biggest surprise for me is that there is so much un-awareness and many don’t know what they don’t know. We are barely at the “conscious competent” level for we are moving too quickly and it is too challenging to digest all the information. This is the time in our history where we will have to figure out how to discover, digest and determine what data is telling us. It is time to inspire more curiosity in all of us. Selfless leadership needs to come into play, where managers listen with their hearts and eyes in addition to their ears. Managers need to quiet the room, help people focus on what’s important to them in terms of their productivity at work and their career development, simultaneously limiting all the noise around them. Making work safe, having people’s backs, and becoming someone’s favorite boss are great places to start.
Sherry: How do you see the future workplace?
Paul: I am an optimist. It is a dark time for us, for our nation and the planet as a whole, but we can look to the future with a healthy sense of hope. In reality, we have faced worst—global warming, the pandemic, and the strife in Washington are serious, no doubt, but I’d argue that we’re much better off, for example, than the Greatest Generation, which grew up during the depression and then marched off to war in Europe and the Pacific. There are positive signs that we will reinvent ourselves around families, individuals and even in the corporate world.
Leadership will become more personal, purposeful, and intentional. There is a yearning to have a relationship that is defined by a boss you can admire. We will return to a simple solution of human relationships. If technology teaches us nothing else, it’s that no app can ever replace the human touch. In the workplace, the relationship with your boss will be the most critical factor that determines whether you stay or go. And companies will ultimately realize that with their greatest assets walking out the door every night, they’re best off focusing on leadership, communication, and teambuilding. It is time to pause and talk to our colleagues, bosses and mentors because at the end of the day, we want someone to care about us. And we want to care about them. That is why I am optimistic that we will realign and find our balance again in this new digital age.
More about Paul
Paul Falcone (www.PaulFalconeHR.com) is currently the Chief Human Resources Officer of the Motion Picture and Television Fund in Los Angeles. He is a bestselling author of a number of HarperCollins Leadership, American Management Association, and SHRM books, including 101 Tough Conversations to Have With Employees, 96 Great Interview Questions to Ask Before You Hire, and 75 Ways for Managers to Hire, Develop, and Keep Great Employees.
Paul served as head of HR for Nickelodeon, head of international human resources for Paramount Pictures, and VP human resources for NBCUniversal, where he oversaw HR operations for NBC's late night and prime time programming, including The Tonight Show, SNL, and The Office. He has likewise worked in healthcare/biotech and financial services, across non-profit, union, and international environments. Paul is a long-term columnist for SHRM’s HR Magazine and an instructor in UCLA Extension’s School of Business and Management.
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