A few years ago when the now retired Lt Gen David Morrison ordered members of the Australian Army to “get out” if they couldn’t abide by standards of expected values and acceptable behaviours, the video of his speech went viral.
Morrison said in that now famous speech that “the standards you walk past are the standards you accept”. He was calling out those very behaviours of a minority that were letting down the stellar reputation of the Australian Army, and calling on his colleagues to “show moral courage and stand against it”.
Having been a Certified Practising Accountant for almost twenty years, I’m always very happy to be in contact with members of my tribe. Right now, I’m also curious to hear what other members think and feel about the leadership of our professional body. And I’ve listened patiently to their frustrations and concerns about the misguided strategy, abuse of power, culture of intimidation, and outdated governance standards we’ve unwittingly become part of.
And then, after listening, I’ve offered the same advice that my coaching clients have come to expect: If you want change, then you must act.
Each and every one of us has experienced times when we’ve observed something very wrong in our workplace or our community. No one is immune. Whether it’s someone exerting undue power; whether it’s someone acting in their own self-interest to the detriment of others; whether it’s someone completely out of their depth and unaware of the potential impact of their ignorance.
When you find yourself in this situation you may ask why you should be the one to do anything about it? Whether you’ll be labelled a trouble maker, or looked over for opportunities, or adversely impacted if you dare to challenge the status quo? (Or in my case, threatened via intimidating emails that you’ll be the subject of unjust disciplinary action).
And you might wonder whether you even can do anything to make a difference?
In truth, I can’t assume to know the answers to those questions for you. I can only promise you this: an issue seldom evaporates by simply choosing to do nothing.
What I know for sure is that every day brings new choices. You can choose to simply walk past what you see and accept that as the standard you’re willing to be part of; or you can be part of changing that standard for the better. (Except, I should add, in the case of professional members of CPA Australia, who have studied ethics and governance in order to gain their qualification, and have an obligation under their Code of Conduct to speak up against unethical behaviour or behaviours which bring the profession into disrepute.)
Whether or not you’re under a professional obligation to speak up, the chances are (given you’re still reading!) that you want help in calling out some issue you feel strongly about. These three steps can help you navigate that rocky road and build a smoother pathway forward:
- Get clear. Develop a very clear understanding of what the issue is for you. What about the current situation is clashing with your values, effectiveness or expectations (including the law or your governing principles). Grab a piece of paper and write down the words that describe the situation and how you’re feeling about it. Be honest with yourself about what exactly the issue is for you, what sort of response will resolve your concerns, what the alternatives are and what are the non-negotiables.
- Choose your audience. This is where you think about who is best placed to help you. If it’s a work issue it could be your boss, your boss’ boss, your colleagues, your HR manager, a coach or mentor either inside or outside of the business, or even a customer who might hold the key. You might choose to engage with a broader audience, through the media or social media. Whatever the target, it’s important to identify why you believe they would want to help, how they can do that, and then tailor the message to meet that framing.
- Communicate clearly. Once you’ve articulated the issue, and then identified your audience, then consider the timing and mode of delivery that will maximise your impact and likelihood of success. Can you control the timing? Can you meet face to face or by skype for a two-way conversation, or are you constrained to a one-way message? Could you (or should you) involve anyone else in the process to help substantiate your position? Keep your message tight, objective, to the point and don’t forget to ask for what you want.
Whether it’s a request for a payrise or promotion, a consumer complaint or a call to action for members of your tribe, the method is consistent: get clear, choose your audience, ask clearly.
So… over to you!