Emotional labor

In his post today, Seth Godin tells the story of a store clerk who was described as competent but who couldn’t engage very well with customers.

A few decades ago, perhaps a clerk’s competence could be narrowly define as her ability to punch the right button on the register and give correct change – what Godin calls “compliance” (just doing your work). But no more. Today, Godin says, we seek employees that can also engage in emotional labor.

Emotional labor + compliance = competence.


I can’t help but wonder: Is “ethics & compliance” the same as “emotional labor & compliance”?

One could argue that merely complying, simply following the rules or just doing what you’re told requires less emotional labor than asking the right questions, looking for better ways and standing up when things aren’t right.

When we say that we are looking for ethical employees, are we actually looking for emotional laborer? For people who don’t check their emotions at the door when the come to work? For people who want to bring their whole self to work? For people who care about our products, services, customers and mission?

I think we do. That said, what are today’s employers doing to attract and retain this type of employee? Have they engaged in the necessary emotional labor?


In large multinationals, the brave decisions of lonely ECOs in far-away business units are often unpopular with local management. But in the halls of corporate C-suites, no one sings the praises of the meek ECO. Legends are made of those who stand up and stand firm.


The ancient Stoics would practice their response to unpleasant situations in advance. From the possibility of meeting a rude person to the certainty of their own death, they would rehearse the event so as to be better prepared to respond with virtue.

In the corporate world, we know that conflict is inevitable yet few of us truly prepare for it. But what if we rehearsed our response to a colleague asking us to punch his time card so he can sneak out early? Or our response to a boss asking us to work on the weekend without claiming overtime? To an inspector asking us to falsify test results? To a government official asking us to hire her nephew during contract renewal negotiations?

There’s a reason we keep our soldiers combat-ready in peacetime. Why not prepare our employees for the conflicts we know they are going to face one day?

Show me how

“Top managers [at Kobe Steel] escaped direct blame for the scandal: The report said there was no evidence that they were aware of the data falsification, though it criticized executives for setting unreasonable production targets and then failing to scrutinize how subordinates met them, or at least appeared to meet them.”


A few decades ago, it was more common to hear managers say things like “I don’t want to know how you meet the targets, just meet them.”

Today, most managers have learned not to say such things. In fact, often now they will finish their sentences and say “Let’s make sure we meet those targets the right way.”

It’s better but, as it turns out, it’s not enough. For many employees, these words must be backed up by actions to be credible. Managers must do one more thing: ask employees how, specifically, they will meet the targets (or have met them).

Managers must demonstrate that how we do things matters just as much as what we do.

It’s the only way to create an ethical culture.

Keep out!

People have been cheating, lying and stealing from time immemorial and we can expect them to continue until the end of times.

Thus, the job of an ethics & compliance professional is not to eradicate these behaviors. It is to create a culture where they are not welcome.

Since culture is an outcome of our processes, our job is to remove from our processes any tolerance for cheating, lying and stealing. People engaging in these behaviors do not get hired, promoted or otherwise rewarded. Our processes either gets them fired or leads them to leave on their own.

COIs: Common & Complex

Today I am hosting a call during which I will be discussing conflict of interest (COIs) situations with my team.

COIs are very common in organizations. Every employee is likely to face one. Some employees fall in love with a colleague, some need a second employment, others might have a financial interest in a customer or received a gift from a supplier.

Being common doesn’t make COIs easier to resolve. While there are similarities between COIs, each is unique to the persons involved. It might be fine for Employee A to receive a gift from Supplier B, and completely inappropriate for Employee C to receive the same gift from the same supplier. My standard response to an employee who calls me and asks “Do you have 5 minutes for a quick COI check?” is “Do you have 30?” I know from experience that I will need to ask her several questions and consider not only the likelihood of a true conflict but also even the appearance thereof. Both should be avoided.

So naturally, E&C professionals find it difficult to resolve COIs. The best way to get better at it is to do it often. Which is why I am hosting this call. Over 160 of my team members have signed up. Our plan is to repeat this exercise every month.

What’s another topic that keeps ECOs awake at night? Let me know in the comments below. Thank you!

What’s the alternative?

“What’s the alternative?” is a great question to ask when we wish things were different.

The answer can reveal what we control and what we don’t.

Then it’s our move.

There’s no room for complaining. It’s either action or acceptance.

So, what do you wish were different today?


Today’s post is exactly 280 characters’ long, to celebrate Twitter’s new character limit. My entire post fits in one Tweet (you can see it here). Many people are complaining about the doubling of writing space on this wonderful micro-blogging platform. My post is for them. Meta, right?