Genuine Curiosity

Author Dwayne Melancon is always on the lookout for new things to learn. An ecclectic collection of postings on personal productivity, travel, good books, gadgets, leadership & management, and many other things.


Tone at the top

"You must be the change you want to see in the world."
--Mahatma Gandhi


Gandhi's words represent a formidable challenge for us.  Not only in our role as global citizens, but a challenge to us as managers, leaders, and corporate citizens.

Lately, I've been doing a lot of work with auditors who are dealing with the plethora of regulations that companies have to comply with these days. One of the first things auditors look for when assessing the effectiveness of a corporation's policies is "tone at the top."  Essentially, this means they look for evidence that upper management is providing an ethical compass for the organization.  Tone at the top is created with clear communication of expectations from corporate executives, accompanied by congruent behavior throughout the company.  In essence: communicate your expectations, say what you mean, and do what you say.

In the CFO Magazine article, "Tone At The Top," Steven Shallcross says it well:

"One of the big reasons companies with difficulties have failed is that they lacked that basic discipline of understanding where they're going, how they're going to get there, and how much it's going to cost. But well-run companies do that day in and day out," he says.

This is important for big things like financial reporting, fiscal responsibility, and other aspects of corporate governance. However, I think it's just as important for the little things in our world as managers.

Our employees and associates will all be better off if we establish the proper 'tone at the top' in the areas for which we're responsible.  Ultimately, your company and customers will be the beneficiaries.

As I reflect on this, I recognize that mastery in this area is difficult to attain, but I believe it's a worthwhile effort.  I also feel a personal desire to work to improve in this area every day.  What does improving mean?  That will be different for each of us, but here are a few things I came up with that are relevant to me:

  • Communicate expectations explicitly - clarity improves the results you get
  • Don't take commitments lightly - deliberacy in making commitments enables excellence
  • Ask for help when you need it - using the resources available to you is a sign of strength, not weakness
  • Share what you know with a giving spirit - through sharing, trust is built and relationships are strengthened
  • Deal with difficult situations as soon as you recognize there is a problem - procrastination will not improve the situation, and the conflict isn't likely to go away

These are just examples - why not make your own list?  As Shallcross reminds us, we must strive to do what we say - to 'be the change we want to see in the world' - day in, and day out.

So -- what's your tone at the top?  What can you do each day to change it for the better?