The other day I watched as a young man wearing an Extinction Rebellion T-shirt threw his recyclable cardboard into the general rubbish bin. Okay, it might have been a mistake (the T-shirt or the bin…). But the point is good. Can you credibly hope to bring about behavioural change in others before your own house is in order? 

So, we see the regulators becoming increasingly focussed on employees’ personal conduct. The FCA in particular. But the campaign lacks integrity if it doesn’t make its own bed. Which is to say, if you want to set standards, and hold others to them, you probably need to demonstrate them yourself too. If it is indeed true that there is a place in the FCA office building where staff have defecated on the toilet floor, doesn’t the FCA find itself in a tricky place? (To be fair, it is important to note that it is clearly committed to rectifying the problems.) 

The same is true if you seek to influence your employees' behaviour. In 2019 it’s unusual to find an employer who doesn’t publicly champion, for example:

  • employee wellbeing 
  • high standards of personal conduct
  • diversity, respect and inclusion
  • talent-based meritocracy over privilege...

Step forward anyone who wishes to disown any of those sentiments… 

Do those setting the benchmarks need to be the benchmarks? Because, here’s the thing, your people know if the statements are mere bumper stickers. You see, the people who set the standards are noticed, and we 'leak' our inconsistencies. It harms our credibility, undermines our message, and at worst, creates mistrust and lays us open to a charge of hypocrisy when words don't match actions:

  • Putting on a mindfulness course at lunchtime is all well and good, but it doesn’t ring true if people know you work till 11pm and through your weekend.
  • The speaking up hotline is going to turn cold if people's experience is that, in reality, nothing happens when they raise their concerns.
  • That statement about valuing different approaches doesn't work if, deep down, you know your way is best and they see that's how you do it in the end.
  • Your push for equality falls flat if, in reality, people see it's the person who looks most like you who is being feted, readied for the next top job.
  • And the very noble goal of widening your talent-pool to secure meritocratic recruitment feels a little hollow if the Head of D&I pays for their own kids to attend the best private school.

Too harsh? Probably. Would progressive change stall completely if those calling for it had to be faultless themselves? Almost certainly. But we can try. We just need to be prepared to be humble, and more importantly, honest with ourselves and our people, about where we are, and why we're trying to be somewhere different. Better.  

Whether or not you truly believe in the thing you seek to change in others, it's going to be an uphill battle to convince them if your actions don't match your words. 

I'm off to straighten my duvet.