Governance and ethics

October 10, 2015

Lost valueBack in June I posted on Governance and Stakeholders focusing on the damage institutions were doing to their stakeholders through on-going governance failures.  Two of the organisations discussed (not for the first time) were the CBA Bank’s ongoing financial advice crisis and FIFA’s corruption, both on-going scandals.

Press articles over the last few days show neither of these problems is being well managed from either the institutions’ perspective or their customers’/stakeholders’ perspectives. The on-going sagas suggest the root cause of the problems is very much a governance failure, but in areas not previously discussed.

The Six Functions of Governance are:

  1. Determining the objectives of the organisation;
  2. Determining the ethics of the organisation;
  3. Creating the culture of the organisation;
  4. Designing and implementing the governance framework for the organisation;
  5. Ensuring accountability by management;
  6. Ensuring compliance by the organisation.

This post will demonstrate the importance of functions 2 and 3.

Starting with FIFA: the stated objective of FIFA is to further the development of soccer (football) world-wide. A noble objective!  However, to a large extent the culture and ethics within FIFA have become focused on individuals obtaining and retaining personal power for the benefit of the ‘powerful person’ – they may believe they are the best possible person for the job, but the evidence suggests otherwise! The use of FIFA’s resources by people in power to achieve this end has already been well documented and whilst of themselves these actions are not necessarily wrong, they have certainly led to a number of high profile prosecutions for corruption. I would suggest the ethical breakdown was driven by the toxic culture focused on achieving and retaining power.

This type of problem is well understood in many similar organisations that I’m familiar with, where there has been a focused effort by the governing body to create a culture of service to the membership / stakeholders.  This has been achieved by placing strict limits on the amount of time any one person can occupy a position of power. Generally there’s a ‘leadership chain’ of one or two ‘vice presidents’ and then the president.  People on this chain have one year terms in each position and move up the ladder progressively (elections are for the lowest ‘rung’ on the ladder).  Similarly, members of the governing body can serve a maximum of two terms of two years and a minimum of 25% of the ‘board’ positions are up for election each year.

This type of governance framework provides both continuity and renewal, and discourages people seeking power for themselves.  Anyone interested in seizing ‘power’ for 10 to 20 years will go elsewhere and find another organisation to participate in. This continual renewal process ensures there are always new ideas and new sets of eyes to ‘see’ any problems that are emerging, balanced by experience to maintain the longer term objective of the organisation. Ethical standards, competency and other matters remain important within a governance framework focused on facilitating the organisation’s objectives.

It will be interesting to see if the inevitable changes in FIFA will move in this direction and then if they use their funding power to drive similar changes through the regional and national organisations. If there’s no structural change, there will be no lasting change in the governance culture and consequently in the culture of the whole organisation.

CBAThe second focus is the CBA bank. Culture is also an issue in the way the CBA bank is treating the people damaged by the toxic culture it encourages in its wealth management division.  The basic rule for dealing with a failure (particularly of this magnitude) is ‘own-up then fix-up’. You need to acknowledge the error and take appropriate actions to rectify the mistake.

The causes of the problems were structural, and are discussed in The normalisation of deviant behaviours, but it took a Senate enquiry to drag a reluctant acknowledgement of the error.  To avoid sanctions, the CBA also agreed to set up a ‘high profile’ unit to compensate the victims of its wealth management advice.  After many months virtually no-one has been compensated and the bank’s approach would appear to be parsimonious at best.

The ‘fix-up’ part of dealing with a problem requires quick and generous restitution as far as is possible. This is relatively easy where then primary loss is financial but runs counter to the bank’s demonstrated culture of not really admitting error accompanied by short-term monetarism.

A quick and generous solution would be to frame a simple calculation and make an offer. The CBA knows how much money was ‘brought to the table’ by their victims, they can easily calculate what that would be worth now if the bank had advised the people to invest in bank term deposits and  they know the value of the money actually returned to the people. A couple of weeks with a decent spreadsheet and everyone could have received a reasonable offer.  There may be a need to add in some costs incurred in fighting for the victims rights and for other losses and damage but the whole problem could be largely resolved by now.

The cost of this type of option will be insignificant compared to the less obvious but real costs associated with the wages and costs associated with the bureaucratic monster the bank has created, the massive on-going damage to the bank’s reputation and ‘brand capital’ and the contingent liabilities for further legal actions and/or government action driven by the bank’s approach to this problem.

I’m not sure how the logic of the bank’s assessment processes are structured but a report in the press this week that some people had only been offered a fee refund highlights an approach focused on minimising payouts rather then solving the problem.  If advice was so bad a refund of the fees paid for the advice is warranted, the advice was bad and liability for the damage it caused would appear to sit with the bank??

How you change the culture in an institution as big as the CBA from a parsimonious focus on paying out money to maximise short-term profits is a challenge of the CBA Board, but if they fail, sooner or later the CBA will fail because its stakeholder community will decide to do business elsewhere.  Just because you are big does not mean you are invulnerable.


The first three elements in the six functions of governance are there for a reason.  Obviously the objectives of the organisation are its reason for existing and have to come first. Then the governing body has to do the hard work of developing the right set of ethics and the right culture within the organisation’s (making sure its governance framework supports the desired culture) before anything else can really occur. As FIFA in particular demonstrates, failure in these critical aspects of an organisation tarnish everything else is touches.

It is impossible to achieve a ‘customer centric’, stakeholder aware organisation if the culture is focused on power or short-term profits!

The 100 Most Inspiring People in Project Management

September 28, 2015

RecognitionTimeCamp, the developers of TimeCamp online time tracking software that measures time spent on projects and tasks has created a list of the 100 Most Inspiring People in Project Management; congratulations to many friends and colleagues who’ve made the list.

While we’re not sure of the process used to develop the list (the links are mainly to Twitter), I’m flattered to be included at #12!  And it’s good to know my work promoting stakeholder engagement, effective communication and team development is being recognised globally.

New on the Web #2

September 20, 2015
Binnacle: designed to reduce magnetic deviation so a compass remained accurate.

Binnacle: designed to reduce compass error!

We have been busy updating our websites with Posts, White Papers and Articles. Some of the more interesting uploaded in the last few weeks include:

These links are directly related to stakeholder engagement and communication.  A full indexed listing of all of our White Papers, Conference papers, books and articles can be found in our PM Knowledge Index.

Making Ethics Effective

September 14, 2015

EthicsAn organisation can espouse the highest ethical standards but if these are not supported and enforced they are simply nice statements that look appealing. The challenge is to have the right levels of support and just enough enforcement.

Headline news in Australia over the last couple of weeks (with months to run) is the appalling treatment of franchisees and their staff by the 7-Eleven chain.  To survive (and in some cases profit) many 7-Eleven franchisees resorted to underpaying staff by a standard 50%.  The TV expose and press reports indicate multiple breaches of employment legislation, occupational health and safety legislation, corporations law and taxation legislation.  Most of the focus at the moment is on the students who allowed themselves to be trapped into the wages scam.  This post will suggest these people are not the ‘biggest losers’.

The whole 7-Eleven chain was benefitting from the scam.  Head office made more profit, the franchisees reduced their wage bill by up to 50% (their primary cost under the franchise arrangements) and the students received their reduced pay.  Whilst in some cases there may have been elements of coercion used to keep the students employed, everyone got into the deal voluntarily.

The major losers in this scam were people who rely on the workings of the law and run their businesses honestly.  Two major groups are the corner shop-keepers who paid the lawful minimum wage and saw their businesses destroyed because the 7-Eleven ‘model’ undercut costs illegally and the unemployed people who did not get jobs because they had the audacity to expect to be paid their legal entitlements.

People in these groups faced a major ethical dilemma, go out of business (or remain unemployed) or ‘bend the law’ to survive in completion with a chain that was prepared to allow widespread malpractice.  Not an easy decision!

I would suggest the major failing was not the ethics of the 7-Eleven chain: the erosion of ethical standards is usually slow and insidious. The real problem appears to be the government agencies tasked with enforcing the law.  Over several decades government departments have been steadily stripped of resources and these days can only adequately respond to ‘major issues’ –  they are forced to assume ethical behaviour by most people most of the time and even when advised of blatant breaches will generally ignore the issue if it is considered minor.

One example we confront regularly is breaches of the Australian Competition and Consumer Act 2010 – one of the Act’s primary requirements is honesty in advertising, the advertised price of any goods of services should be the minimum price the consumer has to pay.  We routinely see Google advertisements targeted at our training market in Melbourne offering ultra cheap prices.  Click through to the related web page listing the training courses in Melbourne and the price increases, spend 15 minutes filling in registration forms and you eventually see the price you are required to pay (with all of the taxes and changes now added)!   This is a deliberate strategy by unethical organisations – the low price gets people onto their web site, and inertia keeps them there (particularly after spending effort on filling in the forms) so they end up paying far more than is necessary for an equivalent course.  The practice is so widespread, particularly with overseas based training providers, we regularly find people asking us if our prices are ‘real’ and ‘how much will they actually pay’ – the answer is simple, we conform to the law and charge the advertised price.

However, this was not an easy decision to make! We have had to reduce prices and increase advertising to attempt to off-set the illegal practices of others. Complaints to authorities go unheeded because they simply do not have the resources to deal with a relatively minor issue and business suffers.

When ethical standards start to slip several things tend to happen, ethical people move away to somewhere where their standards are not being challenged, less-ethical people move in and further degrade standards and many other people simply learn to ignore the problem (see The normalisation of deviant behaviours). And once unethical or corrupt behaviour becomes normalised, reversing the situation is extremely difficult. Press reports suggest that some 7-Eleven franchisees who have been forced to pay proper wages are now using extortion to demand 50% of the money back from the employee (outside of the premises so the extortion is not recorded), or the worker loses his/her job.

At a national level one hopes the 7-Eleven furore when added to the construction of a refuelling wharf in the Tiwi Islands without environmental approval (the government agency did not have the resources to investigate in a timely way), the blatant abuse of the vocational training scheme by some commercial organisations and numerous other failures will cause a re-think of the way business and government approach regulation.

Certainly the removal of unnecessary bureaucracy, regulations and other forms of red tape is to be encouraged. However, if the government decides a regulation is desirable, proper and comprehensive enforcement should be automatically provided. The failure to enforce regulations penalises the honest, ethical organisations who feel obliged to comply; and advantages the dishonest who chose to breach the regulation and balance the low cost of getting ‘caught’ against the additional profits garnered from ignoring the provision. Prosecuting a few ‘rule breakers’ 5 or 6 years after the event is not an appropriate way to govern – the damage is already done.

What does this mean within organisations and projects?  Effective governance sets the ‘rules and objectives’ for the organisation (see: The Functions of Governance). Management and staff operate within those rules to achieve the objectives. A key element in a well designed governance framework is the feedback loop providing assurance of management accountability and compliance.  This loop needs three elements:

  • A clear articulation of acceptable and unacceptable behaviours at all levels of the organisation, with senior leaders ‘walking the talk’.
  • Proactive surveillance to identify issues and opportunities as early as possible backed up by effective improvement processes (see: Proactive Project Surveillance).
  • Rigorous, but fair, enforcement processes to deal with breaches.

The last point is the most difficult to get right.  The system needs to be open and accountable, apply both natural justice and the ‘presumption of innocence’, deal with the root cause of the breach, avoid scapegoating, and be trusted.  One element is ensuring effective reporting and ‘whistle blowing’ processes are available so that people (both internal and external to the organisation) who believe there is an issue can raise the matter safely – its impossible to enforce rules if people in authority don’t know (or don’t want to know) about the breach.

The good news is that if these types of system are in place, the organisation will develop a self-reinforcing ethical culture.  Unethical people will leave to find somewhere easier for them making way for people who want to work in an ethical environment.  Fairly soon, everyone holds both themselves and other accountable.

However, this situation cannot be taken for granted! The presence of the surveillance and enforcement processes underpin these highly desirable behaviours.  If the organisation makes the same mistake the Australian governments have repeatedly made over the last 10 years of deregulation and simply ‘hope’ everyone will do the right thing it won’t take long for the slide into unethical behaviour to start.  Hope is not a strategy, good governance requires assurance that the organisation’s objectives are being achieved, and effective assurance needs both surveillance and enforcement capabilities.

New on the Web #1

September 9, 2015
Binnacle: designed to reduce magnetic deviation so a compass remained accurate.

Binnacle: designed to reduce compass error!

We have been busy updating our websites with Posts, White Papers and Articles. Some of the more interesting uploaded in the last few weeks include:

These links are directly related to stakeholder engagement and communication.  A full indexed listing of all of our White Papers, Conference papers, books and articles can be found in our PM Knowledge Index.

Defining Stakeholder Engagement

August 6, 2015

Two earlier posts have discussed the concepts of stakeholder engagement.

Stakeholder Engagement GroupThis post builds on these foundations to look at the tools and techniques of proactive stakeholder engagement. Effective stakeholder engagement is a mutually beneficial process designed to enable better planned and more informed policies, projects, programs and services.

For stakeholders, the benefits of engagement include the opportunity to contribute as experts in their field or ‘users’ of the deliverable, have their issues heard and participate in the decision-making process. This should lead to:

  • Greater opportunities to contribute directly to the development of the outputs from the work;
  • More open and transparent lines of communication, increasing accountability and driving innovation;
  • Improved access to decision-making processes, resulting in the delivery of better outcomes;
  • Early identification of synergies between the stakeholders and the work, encouraging integrated and comprehensive solutions to complex issues.

For the ‘organisation’, the benefits of stakeholder engagement include improved information flows, access to local knowledge and having the opportunity to try out ideas or proposals with stakeholders before they are formalised. This should lead to:

  • Higher quality decision-making;
  • Increased efficiency in and effectiveness of delivery;
  • Improved risk management practices – allowing risks to be identified and considered earlier, thereby reducing future costs;
  • Streamlined development processes;
  • Greater alignment with stakeholder interests – ensuring outputs are delivered in collaboration with stakeholders and provide outcomes which meet their needs;
  • Enhanced stakeholder community confidence in the work being undertaken;
  • Enhanced capacity to innovate.

As with any stakeholder management process, ‘not all stakeholders are equal’ some stakeholders should be engaged because they are important to the work being undertaken, others simply need to be kept informed by appropriate levels of communication (for more on this see The three types of stakeholder communication).

The various levels of stakeholder communication, management and engagement are:

  • Inform: You provide the stakeholder with an appropriate level of communication, generally either PR or reporting.
  • Manage: You direct your communication to achieve a desired change in the attitude of the stakeholder or to manage an emerging situation.
  • Consult: You invite the stakeholder to provide feedback, analysis, and/or suggest alternatives to help develop a better outcome.
  • Involve: You work directly with stakeholders to ensure that their concerns and needs are consistently understood and considered; eg, the business representative involved in an Agile sprint).
  • Collaborate: You partner with the stakeholder to develop mutually agreed alternatives, make joint decisions and identify preferred solutions; eg, typical ‘alliance’ and ‘partnering’ forms of contract.
  • Empower: You place final decision-making in the hands of the stakeholder. Stakeholders are enabled (but also need to be capable) to actively contribute to the achievement of ‘their’ outcomes.

Stakeholder CollaborationThe first three bullets above are Stakeholder Management activities, the last three various levels of Stakeholder Engagement. Deciding which level of interaction is appropriate is a key driver of success, in any project, program or other work, some stakeholders will be best managed by simply keeping them informed, whereas the higher levels of engagement such as collaboration and empowerment require stakeholders with sufficient skills and knowledge to be able to actively participate in the endeavour, and importantly the desire to be involved!

The Stakeholder Circle® methodology provides the foundations needed to understand your stakeholder community and decide on the appropriate level of engagement for the ‘high priority’ stakeholders affected by the work. When you get to ‘Step 4 – Engagement’ the additional questions that need answering include:

  • What is the purpose and desired outcomes of the engagement activity?
  • What level of engagement is required to achieve this outcome – consult, collaborate, empower?
  • What method of engagement will you use?
  • What are the timing issues or requirements?
  • What resources will you need to conduct the engagement?
  • Who is responsible for engagement?
  • What are the risks associated with the engagement?


Finally, as with any stakeholder management process, the success or otherwise of the overall process needs to be reviewed regularly and appropriate adaptation made to optimise outcomes (step 5 in the Stakeholder Circle® methodology)


Stakeholder engagement is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to managing stakeholders and needs to be planned into the overall development of the work:

  • Some of the questions outlined above need asking at the very earliest stages of a project or program during the ‘strategic planning phase’ and will affect the way the whole of the work is planned and undertaken.
  • The culture of the organisation undertaking the work will determine how open it is to inviting stakeholder collaboration or engagement, a degree of ‘culture change’ may need to be planned into the work.
  • Stakeholder engagement is always a two-way process, the skills, capability and culture of the key stakeholders will also be a constraint on what is feasible or desirable. You may need a strategy to ‘get the stakeholders on-side’.

Overall time and effort spent on stakeholder engagement will pay dividends (see: Valuing Stakeholder Management), stakeholder engagement is simply the most proactive way of helping your stakeholders to help you deliver their requirements successfully.

The Elements of Stakeholder Engagement

July 20, 2015

Effective stakeholder engagement is a two-way interactive relationship that encourages stakeholder involvement in the organisation for the benefit of both the stakeholders and the organisation.  The trend is increasingly clear; organisations that effectively serve the needs of their stakeholders outperform those that do not.

However, what is also apparent is confusion on the part of many managers as to precisely what stakeholder engagement is, and what systems facilitate effective stakeholder engagement.  This post suggests there are three basic systems that together form the foundation for effective stakeholder engagement in most organisations, but the foundations are just that, necessary underpinnings, stakeholder engagement itself rises above the foundations to create an entirely new way of engaging with stakeholders. Let’s start with a look at the three basic components:

Stakeholder Engagement

PR = Public Relations

PR is probably the oldest of the three foundations (particularly if you include advertising within the overall ambit of PR).  For thousands of years people and organisations with something to sell to ‘the public’ have recognised the need to tell potential customers about their offering and suggest there is a good reason for the potential customer to become an actual customer or client.

Camel Market

Smart merchants realised they needed to give potential customers a reason for doing business with them (rather than someone else) and that competing on price alone was not a good move in a crowded market place.

The role of advertising is in part to make potential customers aware of your offering and in part to create a desire for the type of goods or services you are providing. Effective advertising creates a ‘call to action’ which the customer heeds.

Public Relations (PR) has a different focus.  Good PR is built around creating a positive image of the organisation in the minds of its wider stakeholder community. PR is not directly aligned to sales in the way advertising is, but does seek to make the organisation appear to be one that most stakeholders in its target audience will want to be associated with.  This may be because of exclusivity, or status, because the organisation is seen to be ‘good’, or for any one of a dozen other reasons.  Effective PR has many purposes including:

  • Underpinning its advertising by creating a ‘good first impression’ of the organisation, thereby allowing the stakeholder to take note of its advertising.
  • Explaining the value of the organisation to a wider community minimising resistance to the functioning of the organisation and facilitating its operations.
  • Making the organisation appear to be a desirable ‘citizen’ within its community; etc.

Good PR is of course authentic and reflective of the true nature of the organisation, in the modern age ‘spin’ is easily uncovered and can be very damaging.

The fundamental nature of both PR and advertising is ‘push’ communication – the organisation pushes its message out to the wider community, hopes someone listens, and then measures its impact after the event with a view to improving the ‘message’ and the effect.


CRM = Customer Relationship Management

CRM is focused on providing a great experience to every customer.  The commercial driver for CRM is in part the generally accepted fact that it is far cheaper to retain an existing customer then to attract a new one and in part from a win-win view that the ability to quickly and efficiently service the unique needs of each customer reduces the transaction costs for the organisation.

Customers or clients are clearly stakeholders with a significant interest in the organisation, so focusing effort on providing them with the best possible level of service, delivered quickly and efficiently is a win-win outcome. Happy customers are more likely to recommend an organisation to their friends and colleagues as well as becoming regular clients of the organisation.

Unfortunately the concept of CRM seems to have been hijacked by software systems, overseas call centres and ‘big data’; bought with a view to ‘reducing costs’.  There’s nothing wrong with any of these concepts provided the outcome is improved customer service. Where the outcome is a reduction in service, any cost savings are likely to be offset by reduced business and the cost of attracting new customers to replace the ones lost by poor service.

Whilst CRM at its best is interactive and focused on a win-win outcome for both the organisation and its stakeholders, the stakeholders directly affected by CRM are limited to the organisations customers and clients.


Stakeholder Management

Stakeholder management is process focused; it involves planned interaction with a wider stakeholder community, both to manage the consequences of any crisis as well as providing information and facilitating two-way communication with key stakeholders.

Good stakeholder management is a proactive process, focused on facilitating regular communication and anticipating needs, issues and problems that are likely to arise within the stakeholder community. Tools and methodologies such as the Stakeholder Circle® are designed to facilitate efficient stakeholder management. Stakeholders are identified, there needs assesses and their relative importance determined. Based on this assessment, communication and other interactions are initiated to gather the support and assistance needed by the organisation and to head off or minimise any threats or problems.

The focus of stakeholder management tends to be ‘defensive’, and is aimed at creating the best possible stakeholder environment to allow the organisation to do its work efficiently   The process is interactive, seeking to engage constructively with the organisations stakeholders and looking for win-win outcomes that benefit the organisation and the stakeholder, but is driven by the organisation, from the perspective of the organisation.


Stakeholder Engagement

Stakeholder engagement builds on these three foundations (particularly ‘stakeholder management’) to create a different paradigm.  Stakeholders are encouraged to actively engage with the organisation and contribute to its growth and development whilst at the same time the organisation and its staff engage with their community through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives and the like. These engagement processes build a strong, two-way relationship in which the stakeholders and the organisation work together to build a common future that is both mutually desirable and beneficial.  I will be writing about stakeholder engagement in a future post.



The three foundations of Stakeholder Engagement: ‘Stakeholder Management’, CRM and PR are quite different processes focused on achieving different outcomes.  In a well managed organisation all three functions work together to crate a supportive stakeholder environment and a successful organisation. However, whilst the systems need to be aligned and compatible they are very different and should not be confused.

In particular CRM and Stakeholder Management systems have very different objectives, focus on quite different stakeholder groupings, need significantly different information sets, and have very different measures of success:

  • CRM focuses on customers (or clients). Whilst customers as a ‘class’ of stakeholder are important, generally an individual customer is not. The focus of a CRM system is managing large amounts of data to provide ‘all customers’ with a generically ‘good’, potentially ‘tailored’ experience.
  • Stakeholder Management focuses on indentifying the key stakeholders ‘at this point in time’ that require specific management focus as well as the wider group of stakeholders that need to be engaged (or at least watched). In most situations very few individual clients or customers would be sufficiently important to feature in this list, but there will be lots of stakeholders who are highly unlikely to ever become ‘customers’, for example suppliers and competitors.

The shift to ‘stakeholder engagement’ does not add new systems but does require a paradigm shift in thinking. The key element of stakeholder engagement is opening up to the ‘right stakeholders’ and either inviting them into the organisation, or reaching out to them, to help create a mutually beneficial future – more on this later.





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