Why your busi­ness needs re­la­tion­ship stan­dards

The propen­sity to play it safe is seen by many as a nec­es­sary skill for cor­po­rate sur­vival. Stick­ing out your neck for an ab­stract ideal is judged as un­re­al­is­tic.

Jamaica Gleaner - - BUSINESS -

WE JA­MAICANS have a dif­fi­culty notic­ing high stan­dards, even when they hit us right in the face. This habit ruins or­gan­i­sa­tions when leaders are the worst cul­prits.

For ex­am­ple, even our savvi­est busi­ness leaders some­times fall for huck­sters who prom­ise mir­a­cle ‘op­por­tu­ni­ties’ which pro­vide in­stant, ef­fort­less riches.

Case in point: I re­call in­tel­li­gent friends try­ing to con­vince me that Olint and Cash Plus were le­git­i­mate ven­tures be­ing made avail­able to the com­mon man ‘by God’s Grace’. These weren’t iso­lated con jobs. Ap­par­ently, we Ja­maicans have a weak­ness for this kind of ar­gu­ment. We want to achieve suc­cess with­out giv­ing in to the high stan­dard which it de­mands.


In this con­text, I can think of two sit­u­a­tions in which we are chal­lenged.

1) The first oc­curs in the mo­ment when we re­alise that we have just be­come part of a re­la­tion­ship which calls for higher stan­dards than we have lived by. It’s of­ten a shock. In one sit­u­a­tion, a coach I hired threat­ened (in writ­ing) to dou­ble her rates, then triple them, then fire me if I missed an­other ap­point­ment.

In an­other un­re­lated case, my late ar­rival at a meet­ing was met by a locked door.

As hu­man be­ings, we don’t re­act well in these cir­cum­stances. “How dare they?” we ex­claim, then in­dig­nantly try to beat down an ‘op­pres­sive’ stan­dard. We look for weak­nesses, loop­holes and back doors. If there’s a bly or re­la­tion­ship we can find to free us from the obli­ga­tion, we’ll use it. At the very least, we get ev­ery­one to agree: the up­hold­ers (like my coach) are Nazis, no bet­ter than Backra.

Para­dox­i­cally, we all love the end re­sult of high stan­dards. Gov­ern­ment and Rhodes Schol­ar­ships. Win­ners of Champs and Schools’ Chal­lenge. The man­i­cured lawns of the JCAA. Prof­its. The teacher we had in school who de­manded great­ness from us, and got it.

Perhaps we need to adopt a new per­sonal maxim: ‘When­ever I am forced by a new en­vi­ron­ment to meet a higher stan­dard, em­brace the op­por­tu­nity.’

2) But what should we do when the op­po­site sit­u­a­tion oc­curs? In­stead of be­ing hit by a high ex­ter­nal stan­dard, we find our­selves in or­gan­i­sa­tions where stan­dards are erod­ing be­fore our very eyes.

At Wolmer’s, I saw first-hand what hap­pens when in­com­pe­tent lead­er­ship sud­denly re­places its op­po­site. Imag­ine a stu­dent be­ing caned in the mid­dle of pray­ers, in­ter­rupt­ing a scrip­ture read­ing. Even­tu­ally, teach­ers be­gan to give up their role as dis­ci­plinar­i­ans. By the time I reached sixth form, pre­fects were giv­ing twice as many de­ten­tions as teach­ers.

When stan­dards de­te­ri­o­rate, most of us com­plain loudly. How­ever, we may be disin­gen­u­ous. Case in point: We des­per­ately want to have an ef­fec­tive JCF, but also want to be able to safely ‘let off a smalls.’ (Ar­guably, the only rea­son the JDF re­mains rel­a­tively un­sul­lied is be­cause it has fewer con­tact hours with our ci­ti­zens).


In daily cor­po­rate life, it’s just as easy to aban­don high prin­ci­ples. For ex­am­ple, when a CEO or MD dis­plays low stan­dards, few are will­ing to con­front him/her. Un­like our best po­lice, soldiers or fire­men, em­ploy­ees are un­will­ing to put them­selves in harm’s way.

In fact, the propen­sity to play it safe is seen by many as a nec­es­sary skill for cor­po­rate sur­vival. Stick­ing out your neck for an ab­stract ideal is judged as un­re­al­is­tic.

If you find your­self in either of these two sit­u­a­tions, re­sist the urge to walk away. In­stead, fol­low these steps.

1. Gain a deep un­der­stand­ing Cre­ate a clear picture of the be­hav­iours that com­prise the stan­dard. Break it down into small ac­tions any­one can learn so that you can act ac­cord­ingly to fix the prob­lem.

2. Look for col­leagues who agree to the stan­dard

While not ev­ery­one will see the sit­u­a­tion the same, some may. Find oth­ers of like mind and strengthen each other’s re­solve to take a stand and face the at­ten­dant risks.

3. Cam­paign

This is no short skir­mish. The bat­tle to change a cul­ture in­volves much in­tro­spec­tion as pro­tag­o­nists strug­gle to either at­tain a high stan­dard or keep one from dis­ap­pear­ing. To suc­ceed, they must find ways to speak truths on ever larger, more pub­lic stages. Do it well and you can cre­ate an in­ter­nal change move­ment.

But that is only the start. The daily bat­tle is to take risks in the face of dis­agree­ment and ridicule. It re­quires courage to live out of higher stan­dards in both sit­u­a­tions.

While we Ja­maicans are usu­ally not so­cial cow­ards, our work­places are staffed with peo­ple in play-it-safe cul­tures. They sin­cerely be­lieve there is no al­ter­na­tive. They are wrong: there is. We just need to step up and ac­cept the cost of high achieve­ment. It’s no more than an in­ner re­solve to take brave ac­tions in ser­vice of higher stan­dards.

Fran­cis Wade is the au­thor of ‘Per­fect Time-Based Pro­duc­tiv­ity’, a key­note speaker and a man­age­ment con­sul­tant. Missed a col­umn? To re­ceive a summary of links to past col­umns or give feed­back email col­[email protected]­con­sult­ing.com



Soldiers search pas­sen­gers’ bags af­ter a Coaster bus was stopped at a check­point at In­dus­trial Ter­race, Kingston, on Septem­ber 24, 2018. Fran­cis Wade ar­gues that the only rea­son the JDF re­mains rel­a­tively un­sul­lied is be­cause it has fewer con­tact hours with ci­ti­zens.

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