Most companies are ethical. They don’t raid other corporations, misappropriate millions, or line pockets at shareholders’ expense. But many generate ethical nuances—cases in which the employees fail to honor one another or the customers. Here are some examples:

1. A manager promises employees a reward and forgets to distribute it. She doesn’t realize she is under the influence of Expedient Nod, but agents on the frontline identify the culprit easily—“She lied to us.”

2. A sales rep tells customers they’ll have their products within a week. However, delivery doesn’t happen. The service agents on the front line get an earful. They recognize that Mr. Nod is somewhere between the sales and the fulfillment departments.

3. A supervisor listens to a concern of an employee, and promises to rectify his problem while keeping the conversation confidential. However, as she discusses the concern with other managers and supervisors, the veil of confidentiality somehow “Nods” away. The employee feels betrayed and has trouble surviving in the hostile working environment that results. Others take note of this sacrificial lamb and keep quiet at all costs.

New employees join our company like Gray did and may see ethical misdemeanors that represent business as usual. Will these be the same Nods that you’ve learned to live with, even though they bothered you a few years ago? We lose many of our best employees through the work of Expedient Nod. Some are lost emotionally, some physically, and some first leave the company emotionally, and then leave physically. Those who are lost emotionally have learned to go along with our expediency. They have toughened up to our little honesty games.

A good friend of mine worked for a giant in the Fortune 500 ranks, and she considered herself fortunate to be on its team. She thought that she had found her dream job and that she would never leave. However, as she listened to the everyday noise of how the organization did business, she became disillusioned. At first she was labeled a Pollyanna because she kept pointing out the “little indiscretions.” No one would listen. It was just the way they did things around there. She tried to toughen up, and stop being such an idealist, such a Pollyanna. She found she lost her internal compass and started to go along to get along. She became extra-expedient herself until one day she “woke up” and couldn’t live with what she had become. She left her dream job a broken person.

As Gray listens to the everyday noise of how your organization does business, he’ll become disillusioned. He may toughen up, and stop being such an idealist, such a Pollyanna. He may even lose his internal compass and start going along to get along and become extra expedient himself, entertaining the likes of Mr. Nod like Ruthie, Martha, and Dory do.

Or he may try to get your attention and give you a chance to make things right.

Or he may leave your company in search of the ideal.

Sit back for a minute and think through a typical day. Review all the promises and decisions you make. If I gave you a piece of paper with two columns, could you categorize which promises and decisions require some sort of ethical judgment and which do not? Tough job, huh? Not only tough but also laborious and not something that most of us want to take on.

But when you think about it, we make decisions every day on the spur of the moment, and embedded in many are ethical judgments. Sometimes we aren’t even aware of the impact we’ve had and that’s what gets us into trouble.

We’ve talked about our life as a customer contact professional a lot. It is harried, it is fast, and it’s constantly changing. We are running around with our hair on fire. We are trying to keep 5,000 ping pong balls under water all at the same time. So, it’s easy to understand why our decisions and promises are hurried also, but “business as usual” decision-making and promise-making techniques get us in trouble.

Defining The Expedient Nod

Most leaders have the best of intentions when it comes to upholding high ethical standards and they concentrate on being socially and environmentally responsible. However, they have a blind spot—not believing that Expedient Nod can operate in an essentially ethical company, but he can.

The Expedient Nod doesn’t involve himself in strategic long-term unethical pursuits, he handles day-to-day one decision/ one impact deals—deals in which the manager says “I’m going to do it this way because it is easier.” Expediency is a good thing, and we make decisions because they feel right at the time—they don’t feel wrong. But there may be unintended consequences to our shortcuts.

Expedient Nod isn’t responsible for high-profile major ethical problems. He knows the difference between personal and corporate integrity. He doesn’t deal with collusion because his forte are the decisions that require nothing in writing and perhaps nothing spoken—just individual compromises. He fails to honor that other person—the employee, the manager or the customer.

For example, your company may pay its workers a fair wage, but Expedient Nod talks a manager into suggesting an employee work off the clock for 20 minutes for the good of the customer. Your company may design and sell only the safest products, but Expedient Nod encourages an employee to ignore an opened box of food on a store shelf. Your company may focus on customer satisfaction, but Expedient Nod lets an employee who is untrained in policies and procedures handle product returns, causing customer dissatisfaction.

Sidebar 1.A
An embellishment is not the work of Expedient Nod.
Expedient Nod is not responsible for simple embellishments. Every once in a while certain ethical people (due to conditioning or personality type) love to add interest to stories through details that others may not have perceived.

How do you judge? From the impact. Expedient Nod hurts someone or something, embellished stories don’t.

Detecting Expedient Nod
Expedient Nod’s everywhere. If you haven’t run into him today, I’d be surprised. He may be invisible at your level, but plainly apparent just one level below or one level above.

He’s hard to catch. Even when front-line agents, walk-up service representatives, or supervisors recognize him, they have difficulty getting the attention of their co-workers long enough to throw him out. Everyone is so busy. Besides, Expedient Nod is a little guy. Each of his activities taken individually doesn’t make much of a difference.

John Ellis, from “What Matters Most?” Fast Company, Issue 47, June 2001, Page 74 says “The truth matters. Loyalty matters. Lies matter. Values matter. You know a Dilbert company the minute you walk into it. Dilbert-company employees know the exact calibration of corporate dishonesty.”

Here are some hints for detecting Expedient Nod.

1. When you don’t hear about him—he is there. He is in every organization.
2. When employee cliques form, they may be forming around a perceived ethical lapse. For example, a group of employees who believe that an agent was terminated unfairly may group together in shared indignation.
3. If a new leader comes into a company that operates under the influence of Expedient Nod, she is besieged by questions. Employees e-mail her, “What do you think about Practice A?” and “What do you think about Process B?” Employees are testing to see if their negative feelings about an issue are valid or baseless.
4. Outside consultants may be approached regarding Expedient Nod, because employees felt safer speaking to outsiders. If consultants visit your company, ask them for feedback on what they have heard during assessment conversations.

If you find employees are willing to talk to co-workers, consultants, and new leaders about Expedient Nod, but are not willing to talk to you, find out why.

Does Expedient Nod exist in your organization? Just in case you aren’t sure:
1. Do employees and managers make excuses when the company doesn’t keep its commitment to the customer?
2. Do some people in your organization seem to constantly “nit pick” decisions? (They could be trying to bring attention to ethical lapses that aren’t caught.)
3. Do certain “Pollyannas” get the “eye roll” when they voice their opinions in team meetings and disrupt the flow of decision-making?
4. Do stories of disillusioned employees frequently float around the employee lounge?
5. Do supervisors contradict each other, confusing employees?
6. Do employees hit a dead end when they want to discuss ethical concerns with management?
7. Do customers hear one story and employees another?
8. Do you (or others) sacrifice employee confidentiality for expediency?

If you answered “yes” or “sometimes” to any of these questions, ethical lapses could be costing you. Don’t forget that it is up to you to make a commitment to face these lapses to make an incredible difference.

Sidebar 1.B
An incomplete message is not Expedient Nod.
In a speech to her employees, the CEO of one company says “We care about our customers.” Employees perceive the statement to be hypocritical because they are only seeing part of the picture—customers waiting in line or receiving busy signals when they try to call. “The CEO doesn’t really care about our customers,” they think.

The CEO should have said “We care about our customers so much that we want them to have our products and services at the lowest price possible, and they don’t mind waiting a few minutes because of the value we provide.”

No Expedient Nod here, but the CEO should describe the strategy completely.

In Part Three we will start our discussion of how you can deal with Expedient Nod in your organization.

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