10 Tips for Creating an Ethical Culture One Decency at a Time

Want to create a positive culture in your workplace that will increase morale, productivity, and retention of your best employees? Start by implementing these ten small decencies.

1. Never fire someone on a Friday, or on a significant day, such as right before the holidays or right before their pension plan vests. Always fire the person in person, in private, and do it in their office or a neutral space, so they don’t have to “walk the gauntlet” past coworkers.

2. In meetings, don’t multitask, don’t interrupt, and don’t speak more than 60 seconds at a time. Keep an open notebook in front of you when an employee is talking.

3. Keep meetings short. At Starbucks, the CEO and president, Jim Donald, limits one-hour meetings to 45 minutes–and tells employees to use the extra 15 minutes to call someone they usually don’t contact every day.

4. Greet employees by name–and learn all of their names. Spend two minutes talking with a different employee about non-work topics every day.

5. Make it a point to thank employees for work well done. Slip a handwritten note into their pay envelope, or write thank-you on the back of your business card and leave it on their desk. Compliment three people every day.

6. Have lunch with employees. Cisco System’s CEO John Chambers hosts a monthly hour-long birthday breakfast for any employee with a birthday that month. Employees are invited to ask him anything.

7. Surprise employees with small gestures of recognition. At Cigna Group, executives push coffee carts around the office once a week, serving drinks and refreshments to their colleagues to get a chance to hear their concerns and answer their questions.

8. Take an employee’s job for a day. At one Chicago bank around the busy holiday season, executives worked as bank tellers so the tellers could enjoy a day off for shopping.

9. Another low-cost way to recognize employees who have done a good job is to let them pick their next project or swap a task with someone else.

10. Relieve workplace stress by celebrating holidays not usually celebrated such as Groundhog Day, Arbor Day, Bastille Day, Polish Independence Day, and summer solstice.

Steve Harrison is chairman of Lee Hecht Harrison, a global leader in career management solutions based in Woodcliff Lake, NJ, and author of The Manager’s Book of Decencies (McGraw-Hill, 2007). Harrison welcomes examples of decencies. To submit your ideas, visit www.bookofdecencies.com.

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