by Julian Goldsmith

Don’t be a sheepdip manager

Sep 10, 20123 mins
IT Leadership

All is fair in love and war. Where the corporate world is concerned, a war footing is more usual.

The end justifies the means. As long as the results are achieved, who minds if you bend the rules?

After all, when you are in the bear pit, there are no rules that mean anything. When you are playing with the big dogs, you have to remember that dogs don’t have a sense of morality.

These phrases are all in pretty common usage in the world of work, which hints at how easily we all accept occasional rule-breaking as a necessary part of succeeding in the marketplace.

Unfortunately, this approach has led to some pretty earth-shattering economic disasters in sectors, such as the banking industry.

A report out by the Chartered Institute for Personal Development refers to a sheep-dip approach, where managers are trained to a superficial level about the value of moral integrity in the corporate world, but penetrate below the surface and the bad-old attitudes remain.

In a statement, Peter Cheese, CEO at the CIPD said:

“Today’s leaders need to be self-aware, have a strong moral compass, and understand that their behaviour is key to whether an organisation’s values are worth more than a passing reference in the annual report or on the company intranet.”

I would say this goes further and for an organisation to have a durable moral integrity, it is a manager’s task to feed it through to the rest of the team.

There are good reasons for this. If the whole workforce reflects the moral code of the organisation, this will be seen by customers, who will trust in the credibility of organisation. Their loyalty to it will be strengthened. It only takes one negative experience at the shop-floor to sour that relationship.

IT teams are being exhorted from all sides to align themselves with the business. If they can discipline themselves to always act in a way that conforms to the organisation’s moral values, this alignment will naturally fall into place.

Quality assuranceis a fundamental principle for creating robust, fit-for-purpose IT, but it requires the same commitment in the face of temptation to compromise on standards, as moral fortitude and should be regarded as operating hand-in-glove.

Unfortunately, for managers like CIOs, the only way to impart that moral discipline further down the food-chain is to lead by example. Cut corners and your team will see it as a sign it’s ok for them to do the same.

It’s no easy task to be the evangelist for corporate orthodoxy, especially when board-room peers may want to pressure you to wander from the righteous path, for good business reasons. But, let’s face it, CIOs are probably in the sweet spot for this role, because they are increasingly being seen as the guardians of corporate governance and the custodians of information integrity.

Other senior managers are guided more by the demands of the market. CEOs are driven by business growth, CFOs by fiscal health. Marketers must move in tune with customers’ demands of the moment. Sales people are driven by revenues. All of these influences can be used as a justification to lay corporate values aside for short-term gains.

Luckily, the most successful CIOs are characteristically uncompromising in their commitment to delivering business-ready IT and are at home at the pulpit communicating their vision of an appropriate and effective IT strategy to the rest of the business.

Applying that dedication to making their teams into models of corporate morality shouldn’t be too difficult.