Archive for the ‘Values’ Category

Only the present is real

Were you to live three thousand years, or even thirty thousand, remember that the sole life, which a man can lose, is that which he is living at the moment; and furthermore, that he can have no other life except the one he loses. 

This means that the longest life and the shortest amount to the same thing.  For the passing minute is every man’s equal possession, but what has once gone by is not ours. Our loss, therefore, is limited to that one feeling instant, since no one can lose what is already past, nor yet what is still to come – for how can he be  deprived of what he does not possess? 

So two things should be borne in mind. First, that all the cycles of creation since the beginning of time exhibit the same recurring pattern, so that it can make no difference whether you want the identical spectacle for a hundred years, or two hundred, or forever.  Secondly, that when the longest- and the shortest-lived of us come to die, their loss is precisely equal. For the sole thing of which any man can be deprived is the present; since this is all he owns, and nobody can lose what is not his. 

Meditations, Marcus Aurelius, 121-180 A.D.

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On July 24, 2007, the General Accountability Office (GAO) released a study including public testimony on the vital role that nonprofits are playing in the delivery of Federal services. The following in the introduction to the report.

U.S. nonprofit organizations have a significant role both in the economy as a whole and as providers of services. While the majority of nonprofit organizations have relatively small operating budgets, together their impact is large. For example, researchers estimate that the sector’s spending in recent years was roughly 11 to 12 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product and, in 2002, the sector had over 9.6 million employees, about 9 percent of the civilian workforce. Further, the sector has grown; the number of charitable organizations reporting almost tripled over the last two decades.

The federal government increasingly partners with nonprofit organizations as they bring many strengths to these partnerships, such as flexibility to respond to needs and access to those needing services. These organizations receive significant funds from government sources to provide services. Researchers have attempted to quantify these funds. For example, one estimate is that the federal government spent about $317 billion on nonprofit organizations in fiscal year 2004.

However, the lack of data makes measuring federal funds to nonprofit organizations difficult. Many funds come through indirect routes, such as through state and local government, adding to the difficulty of determining funding and measuring performance. Although IRS is generally responsible for overseeing the tax-exempt status of these organizations, there is less focus at the federal level on the comprehensive role of nonprofits in providing services using federal funds.

Our preliminary look at how the federal government interacts with the nonprofit sector indicates that several policy issues have emerged; examples follow:

  • Coordination and collaboration—the increasing importance of collaboration between all levels of the government and nonprofit organizations.
  • Internal governance issues—the need to strengthen internal governance of nonprofit organizations.
  • Capacity—the need to improve smaller nonprofit organizations’ capacity to address weaknesses in finances, administration, and human capital.
  • Nonprofit sector data—the need for improved data on the sector’s size, financial status, and funds from federal sources.
  • Administrative and reporting requirements—the many requirements to be accountable, which while important and necessary, require information in different formats and with increasing complexity.
  • Fiscal challenges for nonprofits—the instability of some nonprofits’ financial position.
  • The complete report including testimony before Congress is: here.

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Staff turnover for any organization has a tremendous cost. According to Leigh Branham in The 7 hidden reasons employees leave: How to recognize the subtle signs and act before it’s too late, the top seven reasons why people leave jobs are:

  • Reason #1: The job or workplace was not as expected.
  • Reason #2: The mismatch between job and person.
  • Reason #3: Too little coaching and feedback.
  • Reason #4: Too few growth and advancement opportunities.
  • Reason #5: Feeling devalued and unrecognized.
  • Reason #6: Stress from overwork and work-life imbalance.
  • Reason #7: Loss of trust and confidence in senior leaders.

Notice that none of these reasons have anything to do with salary.

The implication for leadership is clear. New order leaders must:

  • Build cohesion
  • Inclusion must become the norm
  • Attend to the needs of multiple stakeholders
  • Change the organization’s perspective from one of deficit-thinking to one of abundance and compassion

Take away: What is one small thing that you can do today that will put your organization on the path to building an environment where people are honored for their personhood, valued for their contributions, and coached to succeed?

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marriageOn June 29, 2005, Spain became the fourth nation in the world to offer legal marriage to same-sex couples. The law states: “Matrimony shall have the same requirements and effects regardless of whether the persons involved are of the same or different sex.”

Before Parliament voted to approve this bill, Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero gave a stirring speech during the plenary session of Congress in support of the measure to ensure equality and freedom for all. The full text of this speech follows:

Freedom and Equality (La Libertad y La Igualdad):

Today, my government definitively submits for Senate approval the Bill, modifying Civil Law, which gives the right to form a marriage contract, a fulfillment of an electoral campaign promise.

We recognize today in Spain the rights of same-sex couples to enter in a marriage contract. Before Spain, they allowed this in Belgium, Holland, and, as of two days ago, Canada. We have not been the first, but I sure you that we will not be the last. After us, there will be many more countries motivated, honorable members, by two unstoppable forces: freedom and equality.

It is just a small change to the legal text, adding but a paragraph, in which we establish that marriage will have the same requisites, and the same rights, when the couple is either of different sexes, or the same sex. It is a small change in the letter of the law that creates an immense change in the lives of thousands of our fellow citizens.

We are not legislating, honorable members, for a far away and unknown people. We are extending the opportunity for happiness to our neighbors, co-workers, friends, and our families: at the same time, we are making a more decent society, because a decent society is one that does not humiliate its members.

In the poem “The family” our poet Luis Cernuda lamented:

“How does man live in denial, and how in vain by giving rules that prohibit and condemn.”

Today, Spanish society responds to a group of people that for years have been humiliated, whose rights have been ignored, whose dignity has been offended, and whose identity and freedom has been denied. Today, Spanish society grants them the respect they deserve, recognizes their rights, restores their dignity, affirms their identity, and restores their freedom.

It is true that they are only a minority, but their triumph is everyone’s triumph. It is also a triumph of those who oppose this law, even as they attempt to ignore it, because it is the triumph of freedom. This victory makes all of us a better society.

Honorable members, there is no damage to marriage or to the family in allowing two people of the same sex to get married. Rather, these citizens now have the ability to organize their lives according to marital and familial norms and demands. There is no threat to the institution of marriage, but precisely the opposite: this law recognizes and values marriage.

Aware that some people and institutions profoundly disagree with this legal change, I wish to say that like other reforms to the marriage code that preceded this one, this law will not generate bad results, that its only consequence will be to avoid senseless suffering of human beings. A society that avoids senseless suffering of its citizens is a better society.

In any case, I wish to express my deep respect to those people and institutions, and I also want to ask for the same respect for all of those who approve of this law. To the homosexuals that have personally tolerated the abuse and insults for many years, I ask that you add to the courage you have demonstrated in your struggle for civil rights, an example of generosity and joy with respect to all the beliefs.

With the approval of this Bill, our country takes another step in the path of freedom and tolerance that was started by the democratic Transition. Our children view us with incredulity when we tell them that many years ago, our mothers had less rights than our fathers, or we tell them that people had to stay married against their will, even though they were unable to share their lives. Today we can offer them a beautiful lesson: every obtained right, and liberty has been the result of the struggle and sacrifice of many people of whom we must recognize and be proud.

Today, we demonstrate with this Bill that societies can better themselves, and can cross barriers and create tolerance by putting a stop to humiliation and unhappiness. Today, for many, comes the day evoked by Kavafis a century ago:

“Later was said of the most perfect society, someone else made like me, certainly will come out and act freely.”

— bright futures all around.

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editorialI don’t care a fig about our next president’s personal religious views. The candidate can worship the Great Pumpkin, for all I care, as long as he or she doesn’t assume that the rest of us do too, and that the Great Pumpkin told him to do things such as, to take a case at random, invade Iraq.

But I certainly want to know what any presidential candidate thinks government should and should not do to protect freedom of religion and freedom from religion. The candidate may be a person of deep faith or a godless atheist, but what matters to me is the candidate’s willingness, and ability, to ensure that the law protects the rights of other people to have their own deep faith or godless atheism, and keep them from messing with one another.

I pledge allegiance to the first amendment, which I interpret to mean that government shouldn’t traffic with religion—neither promote it nor persecute it—and this means that, in the public arena, the candidate should not use religious rhetoric, which does nothing but harm, fogging over the clear lines of argument on the issues and eliciting irrelevant and irrational choices in the electorate.

As someone once said of objectivity in science, just because we cannot produce a perfectly sterile environment is no reason to perform surgery in a sewer. In the context of the presidential elections, this would mean that the candidates should debate the issues entirely on their own merits, not with reference to whatever religious (or other) feelings or beliefs may have brought them to their conclusions.

Of course religious (or non-religious) beliefs will play an important part in their judgments about such matters as abortion and euthanasia and stem cell research and the rights of gay and lesbian people to marry, and a less obvious part in judgments about poverty, war, justice, and even about health care, the homeless, and global warming. But those judgments must stand, and be judged, on their own merits, regardless of what beliefs underlie them.

I don’t care how they got to where they stand; I care about where they stand.

This is what I think should happen. What will actually happen is, alas, just the opposite. But let’s try to keep the surgery as far out of the sewer as we can manage.

Source: The Great Pumpkin Goes to Washington, By Wendy Doniger, Professor, History of Religions, University of Chicago, Divinity School. January 30, 2007

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mvvPeter Drucker, the 20th century management guru, believed that the seeds to successful organizations all started by answering five powerful questions. These questions address the ways an organization intends to create value for its customers and is therefore applicable to all organizations, not just businesses. It requires answering the following:

  • What is our mission?
  • What are our core competencies?
  • Who are our customers (clients) and non-customers (non-clients)?
  • What do we consider results for our organization?
  • What is our focus?

The answer to these powerful questions is often not obvious, nor can it be discovered without a healthy “give and take” discussion. This means that formulating answers to these questions must be a forward-looking exercise – systematically assessing emerging trends, future changes in the environment, and current or emerging social problems that may be turned into opportunities.

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business_ethics2Business ethics in the workplace is about prioritizing moral values for the workplace and ensuring behaviors are aligned with those values — it’s values management. Yet, myths abound about business ethics. Some of these myths arise from general confusion about the notion of ethics. Other myths arise from narrow or simplistic views of ethical dilemmas.

Myth 1: Business ethics is more a matter of religion than management. Diane Kirrane, in “Managing Values: A Systematic Approach to Business Ethics,”(Training and Development Journal, November 1990), asserts that “altering people’s values or souls isn’t the aim of an organizational ethics program — managing values and conflict among them is …”

Myth 2: Our employees are ethical so we don’t need attention to business ethics. Most of the ethical dilemmas faced by managers in the workplace are highly complex. Wallace explains that one knows when they have a significant ethical conflict when there is presence of a) significant value conflicts among differing interests, b) real alternatives that are equality justifiable, and c) significant consequences on “stakeholders” in the situation. Kirrane mentions that when the topic of business ethics comes up, people are quick to speak of the Golden Rule, honesty and courtesy. But when presented with complex ethical dilemmas, most people realize there’s a wide “gray area” when trying to apply ethical principles.

Myth 3: Business ethics is a discipline best led by philosophers, academics and theologians. Lack of involvement of leaders and managers in business ethics literature and discussions has led many to believe that business ethics is a fad or movement, having little to do with the day-to-day realities of running an organization. They believe business ethics is primarily a complex philosophical debate or a religion. However, business ethics is a management discipline with a programmatic approach that includes several practical tools. Ethics management programs have practical applications in other areas of management areas, as well. (These applications are listed later on in this document.)

Myth 4: Business ethics is superfluous — it only asserts the obvious: “do good!” Many people react that codes of ethics, or lists of ethical values to which the organization aspires, are rather superfluous because they represent values to which everyone should naturally aspire. However, the value of a codes of ethics to an organization is its priority and focus regarding certain ethical values in that workplace. For example, it’s obvious that all people should be honest. However, if an organization is struggling around continuing occasions of deceit in the workplace, a priority on honesty is very timely — and honesty should be listed in that organization’s code of ethics. Note that a code of ethics is an organic instrument that changes with the needs of society and the organization.

Myth 5: Business ethics is a matter of the good guys preaching to the bad guys. Some writers do seem to claim a moral high ground while lamenting the poor condition of business and its leaders. However, those people well versed in managing organizations realize that good people can take bad actions, particularly when stressed or confused. (Stress or confusion are not excuses for unethical actions — they are reasons.) Managing ethics in the workplace includes all of us working together to help each other remain ethical and to work through confusing and stressful ethical dilemmas.

Myth 6: Business ethics in the new policeperson on the block. Many believe business ethics is a recent phenomenon because of increased attention to the topic in popular and management literature. However, business ethics was written about even 2,000 years ago — at least since Cicero wrote about the topic in his On Duties. Business ethics has gotten more attention recently because of the social responsibility movement that started in the 1960s.

Myth 7: Ethics can’t be managed. Actually, ethics is always “managed” — but, too often, indirectly. For example, the behavior of the organization’s founder or current leader is a strong moral influence, or directive if you will, on behavior or employees in the workplace. Strategic priorities (profit maximization, expanding marketshare, cutting costs, etc.) can be very strong influences on morality. Laws, regulations and rules directly influence behaviors to be more ethical, usually in a manner that improves the general good and/or minimizes harm to the community. Some are still skeptical about business ethics, believing you can’t manage values in an organization. Donaldson and Davis (Management Decision, V28, N6) note that management, after all, is a value system. Skeptics might consider the tremendous influence of several “codes of ethics,” such as the “10 Commandments” in Christian religions or the U.S. Constitution. Codes can be very powerful in smaller “organizations” as well.

Myth 8: Business ethics and social responsibility are the same thing. The social responsibility movement is one aspect of the overall discipline of business ethics. Madsen and Shafritz refine the definition of business ethics to be: 1) an application of ethics to the corporate community, 2) a way to determine responsibility in business dealings, 3) the identification of important business and social issues, and 4) a critique of business. Items 3 and 4 are often matters of social responsibility. (There has been a great deal of public discussion and writing about items 3 and 4. However, there needs to be more written about items 1 and 2, about how business ethics can be managed.) Writings about social responsibility often do not address practical matters of managing ethics in the workplace, e.g., developing codes, updating polices and procedures, approaches to resolving ethical dilemmas, etc.

Myth 9: Our organization is not in trouble with the law, so we’re ethical. One can often be unethical, yet operate within the limits of the law, e.g., withhold information from superiors, fudge on budgets, constantly complain about others, etc. However, breaking the law often starts with unethical behavior that has gone unnoticed. The “boil the frog” phenomena is a useful parable here: If you put a frog in hot water, it immediately jumps out. If you put a frog in cool water and slowly heat up the water, you can eventually boil the frog. The frog doesn’t seem to notice the adverse change in its environment.

Myth 10: Managing ethics in the workplace has little practical relevance. Managing ethics in the workplace involves identifying and prioritizing values to guide behaviors in the organization, and establishing associated policies and procedures to ensure those behaviors are conducted. One might call this “values management.” Values management is also highly important in other management practices, e.g., managing diversity, Total Quality Management and strategic planning.

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