Rick Swegan and Debra Dinnocenzo discuss the challenges of ensuring ethical behavior in a distributed work environment. Rick shares insights from his book, The Practice of Ethical Leadership (published February 2024; available on Amazon). Most critically, Rick suggests that leaders must not only have policies, guidelines, and compliance rules, but they must also model ethical behavior and encourage dialogue about ethical issues in their organizations.

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About the Guest:

Rick Swegan is the CEO/Principal of ARCH Performance, an HR consultancy that helps organizations bridge performance gaps in talent development and leadership with areas of expertise in assessment, training, and coaching. Rick brings a wealth of expertise to clients by leveraging his three decades of experience as both a practitioner and a consultant. He partners with leadership teams to deploy their visions through development of their culture, systems, processes, and leadership skills. His clients appreciate his insightful approach to devising actionable strategies for achieving the desired future state.

Rick’s clients benefit from his broad background and expertise, including experience in academia, consulting, national sales, and assessment services. He is diligent in understanding client needs, reflecting and transforming needs to targeted solutions, and delivering programs and services that best support the interests of those he serves. 

Rick is the co-author of the soon-to-be released book, The Practice of Ethical Leadership, available on Amazon. For additional information, visit www.ethicalbottomline.com or https://www.linkedin.com/in/rickswegan/ or http://www.archperformance.com/

About the Host:

Since publishing her first book on telecommuting in 1999, Debra has been a pioneer in the shift to virtual work and remote leadership. Few practitioners in the field have the depth of knowledge and hands-on experience that distinguishes Debra in the hybrid workplace and remote leadership space. As a nationally recognized expert in remote workplace and distance leadership, Debra has spoken widely on related topics, and developed and taught “Leadership in the Virtual Workplace,” an online graduate-level course.

Debra A. Dinnocenzo is president and founder of VirtualWorks!, a consulting, coaching, and training firm that specializes in virtual work issues. Debra is a dynamic keynote speaker, innovative educator, impactful coach, seasoned executive, and successful author. 

Debra is the co-author of the recently released book, REMOTE LEADERSHIP – Successfully Leading Work-from-Anywhere and Hybrid Teams, as well as several other books on remote and virtual teams. 

https://www.linkedin.com/in/debradinnocenzo/

https://dinnocenzospeaks.com/

https://virtualworkswell.com/

Schedule a call with Debra HERE

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Transcript
Debra Dinnocenzo:

Hello, everyone, and welcome to this episode of the remote leadership podcast. As the workplace continues evolving to more hybrid models, I've been focused on identifying the skills, behaviors and techniques that successful leaders are applying in the hybrid workspace. My guest today has experience in the remote work environment, and trains, coaches and assesses leaders who are increasingly leading hybrid teams. I'm delighted to welcome Rick's Swegan CEO and principal of arch performance, an HR consultancy that helps organizations bridge performance gaps in talent development, and leadership, with areas of expertise in assessment, training and coaching. Rick is also the co author of the soon to be released book, the practice of ethical leadership. Thanks for joining me today, Rick, and welcome.

Rick Swegan:

Thanks, Deborah. It's my pleasure to be here.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

So share with our listeners today a little bit about your experience with remote work distance work, telework, and what you've experienced. And then we could talk a little bit about what you see some of your clients assurance,

Rick Swegan:

I'd be happy to. I started my career in remote, if you will, when I was in sales, and I worked for a fairly traditional organization at the time. But at one point in that experience, I had the opportunity to basically work from home while selling to a client organization that was 25 years ago. And since that time, almost every job I've had in my current position has involved with virtual remote work, not been traditional office bound kind of experience.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

Rick you probably didn't 25 years ago call it that, right?

Rick Swegan:

No it was it was 25 years ago, it was just a great opportunity to work from home and not have to go into the office. So simple that right?

Debra Dinnocenzo:

Well, and in my own experience, managing sales groups, I had salespeople distributed, if you will, because they were out in throughout the region that I managed. And they had an office at home. I mean, mostly I wanted them out selling not being at home much. But you know, that kind of just shines a little spotlight on the fact that we've really collectively have had more experience with the remote distance work, telework, whatever terminology you want to us, we didn't use any of it before. But collectively, we have more experience with that than we sometimes recognize. It's just I think, obviously, since COVID, especially. It's just been on such a huge scale that it feels more difficult, challenging, because so many more people are

Rick Swegan:

doing it. Yeah, I mean, I would respond to that in two ways. The the last organization that I worked for, before I went out on my own was entirely virtual. And but no one talked about it as being virtual. It was just the way we did business. Because everyone worked from home offices. And then more recently, and you alluded to this, in my consulting business, I've had more of an opportunity to experience the virtual world kind of on a second hand basis because of all the constraints and problems that were caused by the pandemic. Right. And that's been that was certainly eye opening for a lot of organizations at that time.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

Yeah, what kind of challenges did you see some of your client organizations trying to meet?

Rick Swegan:

You know, the biggest one. And I do a lot of work with utility company, which is obviously during that time was an essential industry. But overnight, they went from being a traditional bricks and mortar organization, to literally huge portions of the organization working from home. So they had to adapt to working via teams or other video processes. They had, they had to change 180 degrees, literally overnight. And it was a dramatic shift for them because they were used to doing shift work. They were used to going into the plant, and suddenly that didn't exist, and it was dramatic change for that organization.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

Well, I'm sure some people still had to be there. Right talk? Sure. Right, the plan and I was working with a client at that time, also an essential industry where all of the leadership had to leave only the essential people that were involved in manufacturing and shipping and so meeting client needs. That was life sciences organization that provided lab equipment to the world, which was vitally important then. So that was truly If, you know hybrid kind of environment, then we weren't calling it hybrid yet, then yeah,

Rick Swegan:

and I know you specialize in leadership the, in the virtual world, the big aha for me, and I don't specialize in this as a run of the middle issue was the importance of emotional intelligence on the part of the leaders as they went to a virtual environment. And what I mean by that, is that in a utility, for example, typically have safety meetings to start every day. And in many cases, you have shift change meetings at the end of the day. So you're meeting with your team on a regular basis. And what the effective leaders in those situations discovered as they had to pay attention to people's feelings, because now they were worried about family, they were worried about kids, they were worried about their health personally, and the the effective leaders addressed that has spent time dealing with that issue, which really wasn't work related, and not the work issues nearly as much. And clearly the ones that picked up that need, were the ones that were effective.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

And they didn't have time to go through any training on emotional intelligence. Right? Not

Rick Swegan:

not a darn thing. No, I mean, it was, although, ironically, the organization these people worked for, did do stuff on emotional intelligence, but it wasn't mainstream stuff.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

Right. Right. So people just adapted, we pivoted, as we said back in the day. And were there any leaders that you were aware of during that time that we're not doing this very effectively, that we're not pivoting, adapting? Or did they generally in the main step up,

Rick Swegan:

I would say in the main, they stepped up, the ones that were probably less effective, suffered more personal stress during the time period, more than anything else, not that they were ineffective in getting the work done, necessarily. But it was far more stressful for them, not to be able to see people to feel disconnected from them personally. They it was just very, very difficult for them.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

Yeah, I saw that as well, in terms of the difficulty meeting that challenge, where people didn't feel like they were prepared, no one was prepared for it. It to me, it drives home the point that we need to all step back and look at, you know, what the reality is of the work environment now, what additional training coaching, do leaders need to get comfortable and competent, to the degree that they don't have to feel the stress of figuring out how to manage all of this, and how to, to do this, particularly for leaders who grew up in the more face to face, although I like to say on site versus face to face, I think when we are meeting with these wonderful technologies that we didn't have even 10 years ago, and we can see each other it does overcome so many of the obstacles we complained about for so many years. And that is face to face. It's not on site face to face, and we need to separate that in our minds from it that it's somehow you inferior, it's not it's way better than how things used to be. And the reality is that you probably know better than I have the the battle for talent right now is such that many organizations need to find critical talent wherever it is, and it might not be moving to where you happen to have your plant or your headquarters. Yeah,

Rick Swegan:

I think all that's true, I would say kind of as a last thought on this from my own business, which is entirely virtual. Everybody that works with me, works from a home office. The pandemic was a godsend, I mean, the the kinds of things that I deliver assessment centers, evaluation of people is far easier to do via the internet. And it has a great cost benefit because we're not paying travel for people were more efficient in many ways than we were previously. less wear and tear on bodies. And and you know, one other side benefit for me personally, people are on time on meetings when they're held on the internet. Unlike go into a plant and you hold a meeting and you're waiting 20 minutes for everybody to show up. People are on time and on schedule when they're on the web.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

Well, that is true. One of the downsides and I always speak to leaders about this This is we tend to start the virtual meetings, if you will, oh, getting right into the agenda. And one of the things that is missing is the the interpersonal Chitty chat, conversation that happens as we gather. So smart leaders, facilitate and provide an opportunity for some of that, which I think is really important. Although every leader I work with right now is overwhelmed and so busy that it doesn't feel like they have time for that. But we do have to also remember that the value of that when we were on site together, or on the occasions, we were our US on site, how to leverage those opportunities to build rapport, and get to know people to

Rick Swegan:

do to me, it's the emotional intelligence piece again, I mean, it's a time consuming issue. But I think the truly effective leaders go with that at a certain point because they recognize the importance of it.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

Right. Right. So I'm curious about your, your upcoming soon to be released book, the practice of ethical leadership. Tell us a little bit about how you came to, to co author that book, and tell us a little bit about your co author? And also if you could kind of speak to? Because I'm curious about does all of the increase in distance work, geo dispersed teams, hybrid work? Have an impact do you think on how organizations manage ethical behavior?

Rick Swegan:

Hey, you asked me about four questions. If I miss something, I'll remind you remind me Thank you. Let's start with the bizarre with the book. So the the book briefly is relatively speaking, a practical exploration of how to organizations reinforce ethical behavior, make sure it occurs in the organization, higher ethical leaders develop ethical behavior. And that's the short version, I can give you more detail on that. It came from, kind of vicariously from Enron, if you will. And Enron I use Enron only as an example of what happens in a lot of cases. When I go out and talk to organizations, one of the things I ask people to do is raise your hand if you consider yourself an ethical, honest person. And how many people raise their hand? Everybody in the room? Okay. And maybe there's one honest person who says, you know, I cheated at one point, but 98% 90 900% of people say yes, I'm ethical, ethical and honest. And I'm sure that's true of the people who worked in Enron. But something went wrong. To the point that you have massive fraud on the part of an organization, they probably

Debra Dinnocenzo:

never asked themselves that question. Well, they probably never

Rick Swegan:

did. But in my mind, the point being the culture didn't encourage it to be asked. So fundamentally, the book starts with that question. I mean, why do people who are otherwise on us misbehave in certain situations? Obviously, we offer some prescriptions about what can be done, etc. And you asked a question about my co author. Yeah, and my co author is a younger German. His name is Florian and Galka, who is a probably 45, I don't know, we've never compared notes that way. And we happen to meet doing an assessment center together started to talk about the topic and one thing led to another. So I think we bring a little bit of a different perspective, because obviously, I'm an American, a little bit older than Florian. He's in a different culture, different language, etc, although his English is fluent. So we have a slightly different perspective there. And we've worked with it. We've worked on writing the book for four years during the pandemic. And we saw one another probably five years ago. And that says, last time, we've actually been physically together.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

So this was a virtual project. Absolutely good, bad and otherwise, right, right, right. Well, when Jason Warwick and I wrote our book that we published during COVID on remote leadership, as a matter of fact, we did that also remotely. As a matter of fact, I had not even met Jason. We knew each other. We'd worked on projects. But we had never actually met on site, real face to face, and didn't until after the book was published. Yeah.

Rick Swegan:

For Florian and myself. It's been an interesting experience because it's been an extended project. And both of us had parents died during the experience when we started. Donald Trump was the president, which has ethical concerns and considerations. We've now gone through multiple wars. So it feels like this has been a ongoing experience, but also a virtual experience where we've been able to connect over extremely personal issues at various points, which I guess is the best part of a virtual situation? Right?

Debra Dinnocenzo:

Well, it certainly sounds like it was an interesting experience to get the book written. So it's done. Is it when when will it be released?

Rick Swegan:

It will come out late. February of 24. Okay,

Debra Dinnocenzo:

great. So, so one of my many questions I asked at the beginning of this was the and before I get to the impact of remote work and, and hybrid work on ethics, in organizations, I'm curious about can you actually train for can you identify ethical people? Can you train people to be ethical? I mean, is it does it just come back to, you know, having clear policies, making sure they're communicated? You know, having the appropriate disclosures, et cetera, et cetera? Yeah.

Rick Swegan:

You're really good at multiple choice questions. Yes, yes. Yes. Once against the answer to that is we struggled initially with all that as well. If you go into the psychological literature on can you hire ethical people? Most of the literature there is questioning the reality of that meaning, you can test for honesty, for example, but does that translate into actual behavior? At work? Right? And most of the psychological literature says, maybe not. You can test as an honest person, but does that mean you behave as on his person? I'm not sure. Likewise, the literature is similar on training for ethics, in meaning that a lot of the training that occurs around ethical issues, sexual harassment, whatever they're held in pretty safe laboratory situations, you get into a lot of socially acceptable answers. So again, the question becomes, is my behavior that I exhibited in training, what I will exhibit back on the job? So that's the classic answer to that. Our belief, and our research suggests the answer to both is yes, you can develop it. And you can hire people for it, but it requires additional sets of tools, and work beyond what has traditionally been done.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

So what do organizations need to start with? I mean, obviously, there needs to be ethics policies, or, I mean, are there some key fundamental things that need to be in place can't just talk about it and say, I mean, obviously, you can have statements, positive statements about, you know, we have an ethical culture, this is important to us. But in terms of, particularly as people are more dispersed, and they're not interacting with each other, I don't even know if that makes much of a difference. So what do you what do you and Florian recommend in your book around? What organizations need to put in place in terms of standards policies? Where do they start?

Rick Swegan:

Yeah, the answer to that I'll give you an answer. But we're not big bugs on compliance and policies. We think organizations need that. But we don't think that's fundamental,

Debra Dinnocenzo:

frankly, except for organizations that have mandatory complaint rights,

Rick Swegan:

right? There's no question about that. But you know, the way we've looked at it, and you can think about the great resignation, not very many Oregon as people go to work for an organization that says we obey the law, and we're compliant. It's not a real Come on. It's much more of a Come on. In the end, the research that's out there on demographics suggests this is this true, to give people a higher sense of meaning. And we believe that is, people want to want to work for organizations that are ethical in the greater sense of that word, terms of contribution to the community contribution to society, etc. So we think that's a key driver. There probably three things that we think are critical, relative to your question. One is leadership from the top that is ethical. I think that's absolutely important. And I'll give you a couple examples of that. Secondly, is well defined values that drive behavior. And thirdly is a culture of transparency and discussion.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

Okay, relative to ethics or anything

Rick Swegan:

relative to ethics relative to the sense that, you know, if you simplify and say, We want to be an organization that does the right thing, and right thing can be defined in multiple ways, right? You have to talk about that. You can't simply dictate to people how to make decisions in a given case, you have to talk about pros and cons, you have to be willing, if I'm a leader, to admit that I struggled with this or to ask for an input on issues. It has to it has to be a discussion, culture can't be a dictated culture.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

So before we wrap up, I still want to hear from you around the impact. You think the growing, distributed, dispersed hybrid remote work environment is impacting ethics or how organizations convey all of this, do all of this ensure ethical standards, ethical behavior, when perhaps they're not seeing people as often? What's your thoughts about that?

Rick Swegan:

Yeah, well, let me let me answer that in two ways. One is, I think it still goes back to leadership at the top. Regardless of whether you're geographically dispersed, not present, etc, let me give you a tangible example of what I mean by that. Chip Berg, who is now I think, the chairman of Levi Strauss, and CEO. We cite him a lot in the book never talked with him. But examples are fundamental there. I've heard him speak. And he speaks about the core values of Levi Strauss, and how that drives decision making. So case in point, after one of the gun violence incidents, he came out publicly with a statement calling for gun control. He thought the values of the organization spoke to him to say we need to make our stance clear, even

Debra Dinnocenzo:

though Levi Strauss doesn't make guns, even though they don't

Rick Swegan:

talk about other. My point being though, he took a values oriented stance on the behalf of the organization, publicly. And I think that's the kind of leader that people follow. And by the way, we can argue, and maybe we can at another point, you know, whether that was the right thing to do, but it was a values driven decision. So I think you have to have that model at the top. Where it gets I think, more complex, when when you're dispersed and your team is dispersed is, and you know more about this than I do, fundamentally, you can't be an ethical leader if you're not a good leader. So do they do it? Does it require me to lead differently if My people are dispersed? And the answer is probably yes, correct. So you fundamentally, you can't, it's difficult to establish an ethical culture remotely or in a traditional organization if you're a bad leader to begin with. So improving leadership skills. And then beyond that, I think, fundamentally, it goes back to again, establishing a discussion culture that's transparent about decisions that are made about right and wrong. That means as a leader, remotely, I need to be willing to go to people and say, here's the decision I made about a particular issue. Here's the rationale behind it. I'd like to hear your opinions on that. It may mean going to them and saying, Here's a decision, I'm in the process of making. I'd like your input on input and seek it's seeking input, and being transparent enough to say, I don't have all the answers, because who are you one of the things you'll hear and I'll use the term now, if we talk about in the book, I have personal opinions about right and wrong, correct? As we all do, right? Which is kind of the core of ethics, we think, and I think particularly, the real issue for an organization is process ethics, meaning you got to talk about the issues, you got to be willing to dialogue about it. You need to be willing to disagree openly. You need to work to be heard, you need to get into an atmosphere of consensus. And you need to grapple with those issues. Not that we will necessarily agree on everything in terms of what right and wrong, but being heard and being transparent about it. We think it's critical.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

You know, one of the thoughts that occurred to me just listening to your last response is that we probably don't think about leaders being ethical, relative to emotional intelligence. But I think what we're seeing now in the workplace was so much more dissatisfaction, so many people not engaged, that it's becoming a matter of ethics to care about people as well not just care about conformance to requirements and doing things that aren't illegal, let alone you know, unethical, but, but truly caring about people, to me is an important critical part of leadership now, and I think is connected in some ways to being a caring and ethical leader. No,

Rick Swegan:

I would agree with that. One of the things that we talked about in the book, at one point is kind of what are the areas that are that leaders grapple with from an ethical perspective, and we list four or five, but one of those is safety. And, and we define safety, not just in physical safety, but in terms of psychological safety. Which means again, going back to your point, I have to be aware of my the impact of my words on others, I need to take into account how they may be responding to things, I need to have the emotional intelligence to be aware of that. And I, you know, obviously have to be an ethical leader is concerned about physical safety as well. Right. So he, I absolutely would concur with that. Yep. psychological safety. Another whole topic. Yeah. And I hesitate to use the term psychological safety, but I mean, well, being emotional well being

Debra Dinnocenzo:

right, right, which is vitally important, right, as people are more dispersed. And, of course, you know, I preach a lot about, you know, trust communication, and performance, obviously. So communication is vitally important, which ties into a lot of what you said about how to raise the awareness about the value that organizations pay face on being ethical. And that is an important message for all leaders to lead ethically, and has lots of manifestations. So I remind us again, when the book is

Rick Swegan:

available, the book will come out in February 24. The subtitle of it is the practice of ethical leadership. It's available on it will be available, it is available now for pre purchase on Amazon, and will also be available through our site, which is ethical bottom line.com.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

All right. Well, thank you so much for sharing your, your thoughts and your expertise on leading and leading ethically I think it raises some really interesting questions about all the manifestations of that for remote and hybrid leaders.

Rick Swegan:

Yeah, I think, you know, if I could leave with a closing thought, I mean, what we wanted to do in the book, more than anything else has raised consciousness of ethical behavior, and ethics, because he don't think and this is not a knock on my compliance friends and colleagues, that organizations by and large, given enough attention, and that's why we see things like Enron and we see this behavior in other places.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

Absolutely.

Rick Swegan:

Thank you so much.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

Well, thank you, Rick.