“SCOOP THE POOP – EVEN IF NO-ONE IS SEEING”

This notice has recently appeared on my dog-walking route in Singapore.

It reminded me of a phrase Bob Diamond, the former CEO of Barclays Bank, cited during a UK parliamentary select committee enquiry into rate-fixing allegations.

“Evidence of culture is how people behave when no one is watching.”

It would be a prized state of affairs if organisations could rely on everyone to behave ‘on culture’ when no one is watching. – a Utopia of minimal supervision costs and a confident assumption of trust in all our dealings. All those books and consultancy reports pointing out the gap between rhetoric and behaviour would be as obsolete as a steam engine. However, their authors can heave a sigh of relief because businesses cannot rely on the self-efficacy of all their employees all of the time when no-one is watching. Self-efficacy is a term attributed to psychologist Albert Bandura meaning our belief in our ability to act in certain ways – everything from our cognitive ability to drive a car to our moral choices and behaviour. Compliance with rules and values may be practised by the majority but let down by the few who decide unilaterally not to “scoop the poop”.

Self-efficacy is not the behaviour we arrive with at birth – it takes years of parent and teacher effort and social relations before little ones ‘get with the program’. People grow up with varying standards of discipline and diverse motivational needs so one person’s adherence to structured obligations may be as strong as another’s love of autonomy or resentment at being told off. This attitude may be rationalised as “these values aren’t worth a dime so why should I try”. Or they may be left for others to uphold because scooping poop isn’t pleasant. A corporate equivalent might be failing to provide adequate feedback to a colleague who isn’t pulling their weight. Why risk disrupting the relationship when we can have a beer and deny it’s happening!

Slippage from agreed standards can be unconscious, careless and minor in consequence. It can also be conscious, deliberate and calculated to achieve significant personal or corporate advantage. And that involves an increasing risk for the business and its reputation leading sometimes to regulatory and even criminal investigation. Take the 2008 banking crisis – more poop-creating than scooping though not by everybody on the team. The reputational damage has been cosmic.

Now we don’t wake up each day asking ourselves how self-efficaceous we are going to be today. But here’s a practical challenge:

TASK Over the next month jot down examples of your roles at work, and socially if you like, when you notice you have failed to scoop the poop. Notice if this is when no-one is watching or in plain view of colleagues, friends, family. Even better, team up with a colleague and agree to exchange observations and co-coach on changing the behaviour.

And join the conversation – let us know how you’re doing.

©copyright Greg Spiro Singapore 2016 all rights reserved

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