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Omaha Magazine

Ethics Column April/May 2020

Apr 15, 2020 11:39AM ● By Beverly Kracher

Best of show competitions create excitement and drama. They are also opportunities for revealing the strategies and tools that perpetuate excellence. When it comes to organizations and their ethical excellence, the TMB approach shines through. But what does that mean? It’s: Tone at the Top; Mood in the Middle; and Buzz at the Bottom. 

The cultural tone set by leadership steers an organization to brilliance or disaster. All stakeholders, including employees, customers, and vendors, can tell by the way leaders talk and walk if an organization is happy to cut corners, make side deals, and tolerate incompetence.

Leaders at the top need to be positive role models. They have an obligation to identify the organization’s moral compass and purpose, and then live and breathe it in every word they speak and policy they create. We all look to tone at the top when evaluating best of show.

While tone at the top is necessary, it is not sufficient for greatness. Organizations need mood in the middle. Gallup recognizes this with their recent book, It’s the Manager. They have discovered that “a staggering 70% of the variation between great workplace engagement and lousy workplace engagement can be explained just by the quality of the manager or team leader.” (Clifton, The Chairman’s Blog

Managers translate the tone at the top so it can be reached by everyone else. They need to talk about the organization’s ethical values and commitment; explain how they apply to work groups and individuals; create a sense of safety so employees feel free to speak up when they are confronted with a moral crisis. Managers break the moral isolation and build a mood of community within organizations. 

Buzz at the bottom refers to everyday ethics. It is necessary for ethical excellence, too. Buzz is the pulse of the organization, especially at the frontlines. It’s the way things happen during hallway chats and in face-to-face meetings. It’s the tone used in email and instant messenger communications such as Slack. Frustrated employees can develop a culture that uses humor to create an us vs. them mentality. Even with great leadership and managers, a culture can become toxic because of the negative attitudes shared between peers. Excellent employees uplift each other. They actually live the organization’s values. They enjoy their work, speak well of each other and strive for a culture of trust.

Best of show organizations have all three components of the TMB approach. Their focus on moral excellence is not a flavor of the month but a strategic element of their long-term success.