Bruce Madnick, CPA & Managing Partner, Friedman LLP
Character should be a firm-wide priority regardless of industry. Having worked with clients in many industries over the years, I have come to realize that regardless of the space—retail, manufacturing, hospitality, e-commerce—the ones that were most successful didn’t merely pay lip service to character-related issues. On the contrary, they were a core part of their culture.
Two years ago I bought Robert Sutton’s book The No Asshole Rule for all of my employees. The gist of the book is that, from time to time, everybody has a temporary lapse of character and behaves counterproductively, deleteriously, or inappropriately. Effective management ensures that nobody turns into a long-term or “certified” jerk. If anyone starts down this road, corrective measures need to be taken and consistency in delivering this message of no tolerance for bad behavior is a must. Transparency in an organization leads to comfort. Firms who adhere to this rule—those who realize that nobody is perfect—will effectively strengthen the integrity of their company culture.
An integral part of promoting good character is to ensure that employees know they can be honest with one another. Whether it’s an internal issue or a client-facing one, employees should never be “sacrificed” or thrown under the bus. Conflicts tend to arise when people feel their backs are being put against the wall and, as a knee-jerk reaction, lie or bend the truth to get themselves out of sticky situations. An employee may feel reluctant to discuss a client problem with peers or management because of perceived personal consequences, but such disclosures are necessary in order to complete their duty to the client—all the more so if they’re acting as a fiduciary.
Perhaps most importantly, they should also know that their voice matters. The worst-case scenario is when a leader makes him- or herself impervious to access or advice. Looking at a recent example, President Obama has been referred to in the media as “No drama Obama” due to his staid demeanor and pride on eschewing theatrics. This attitude also extends to his political staff. Unfortunately, this approach closes channels for contrarian voices to be heard. The botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act—both the website snafu and dropped coverage issue—demonstrate the effects of an environment where workers are not encouraged to speak honestly when they identify flaws or mistakes.
Assuming President Obama was deceived and not actually behaving dishonestly, he still failed to foster a work environment where character is a central tenet and where employees can approach senior members of the administration to candidly address problems with the signature legislative achievement of his presidency.
Character in the workplace is universal, not industry-based, and should be a sacred priority for managers. This means fostering an environment where employees are not harshly penalized for minor mistakes that can be corrected. There needs to be a balance maintained between micromanaging and trusting and empowering your people. Where employees believe they can be candid with management and one another, character and productivity can flourish. Where they do not, character is punished rather than rewarded to the organization’s discredit and ultimately creates existential danger. And finally, a character-driven workplace ensures that all employees understand that they have support and a voice that will be heard.
About the Author
Bruce A. Madnick, CPA, and Managing Partner at Friedman LLP, a top-50 New York City – based accounting firm. Bruce has been with the firm for over 25 years. During this period he has guided the partners and staff through an unparalleled period of growth, diversification and profitability. In addition to his firm-wide responsibilities and practice development activities, Bruce maintains client relationships in the manufacturing, retail, service, construction, hospitality, telecommunications and import and export industries, as well as with companies involved in website design and e-commerce.