Character: The Handmaiden of Innovation

“Would your work practices change if your son or daughter was watching you in order to learn life lessons?” my business partner, John Patterson asked a group of senior leaders.  The company was famous for its profit at any cost mentality and had indicated a desire to become more customer-centric with a long-term view. 

A major conflict had emerged when one of the senior leaders wanted to implement an opt-out product.  Opt-out means a current customer is sold a product or service they did not request and is required to proactively let the company know they did not want the product or service.  Many customers do not micro-manage their monthly statement and thus fail to catch the added fee.  Once they do, they scream at the call center.  Tricking the customer might generate short-term profits but it clearly is not customer-centric.

The incident launched a discussion about the relevance of an impeccable character among leaders of an organization.  Most organizations today are very transparent since social media can overnight spotlight corporate practices that reflect unethical methods or Machiavellian manners. But, the largest issue is the impact on innovation. 

Innovation requires an atmosphere of trust.  When leaders attempt to deceive (anyone) or foster relationships laced with uncertainty, organizational trust wanes.  When leaders camouflage key metrics to yield a more favorable impression to the board or investors, it signals an indifference to character, often introducing employee angst.  Anxiety is the adversary of invention.

Dr. Carol Kinsey Goman’s brand new book, The Truth about Lies in the Workplace: How to Spot Liars and What to Do about Them ( identifies fifty subtle physical and vocal cues that will that indicate destructive workplace deception. She analyzes the role all employees play in supporting lies—how one’s own vanities, desires, self-deceptions, and rationalizations allow us to be duped.  But the centerpiece of her work is the toll a “white lie” setting can take on progress. 

Fostering innovation takes leaders who live their work with the kind of values that would make their mother’s smile and their children proud. The tangled web woven by all manner of deception not only catches profits in its snare, it can cripple the capacity of an organization to grow.   


About Chip&John

Chip R. Bell and John R. Patterson are customer loyalty consultants and the authors of several best-selling books. Their newest book is "Wired and Dangerous: How Your Customers Have Changed and What to do About it."
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