“Have some Dignity”was the constant refrain of my long deceased mother when I grew up in bowels of East Dry River. As a hot-headed teenager, I had no clue what the word “dignity” meant, nor did I really care but I associated the phrase with improper behaviour and dared not engage in anything improper anywhere near to my mother.
Recently this phrase has been floating in and out of my mind as I confront the daily indignities of our “developed” country. These indignities run the gamut from poor customer service in a financial institution to the absolutely horrid bed side manners of some doctors and nurses.
Maybe it is one of the concepts at the root of the societal meltdown we are experiencing.
A look at the Core Values expressed by several organizations will show that the word “Dignity” is included but I am skeptical about the extent to which the concept has been widely discussed and analysed within organizations or was it just another “check-box” activity engaged in to report that it was done?
At the core, organizations have a real opportunity to create wider impact by simply having internal conversations about what is the meaning of dignity and how it is manifested in our daily lives.
Is it dignified behaviour to promise a customer that the system will be installed within 3 days and 30 days later, the Customer is still waiting? If you promise to deliver a service you have a responsibility to deliver it time and within budget. Failure to live up to your promise is not only undignified, it negatively impacts the corporate brand. To my mind it should even be considered as a breach of contract and carry with it legal consequences. Somewhere in the organization, there must be a system which tracks the extent to which the organization is delivering on its promises. We cannot discount the important role organizations play in the wider socialization process. The fact that rule breaking has become the societal norm is merely a reflection of what is happening on the micro level in society. Behaviour change begins on a very personal level and in a previous era, there was a consistency of understanding and expectations as individuals emerged from the home into the wider society. That consistency no longer exists hence the greater need for organizations to explain their expectations to employees. The underlying thesis is that the societal change several of us are yearning for will only occur when, on the micro level there is a commitment and an action plan to change the culture. Further the champions of culture are the leaders and until leaders function with dignity, the chaos and duplicity in “Sweet T&T” will continue.
What continues to elude us is the “tipping point” that is necessary to have mass behaviour change. Meanwhile, organizations at all levels need to work with simple concepts like “dignity” and find ways to create traction.
Leaders spend a lot of time talking about the hard concepts of growth, development and profitability. Not often do they focus on the soft skills – our humanity, the factors which make us people.
There is an opportunity here for Communications professionals to place some boring issues on the agenda. Can the organization talk about the number of current employees who have been brought above the poverty line? Can we measure our effectiveness by tracking the number of employees involved in community service? Can we measure our success by counting the number of retirees who are financially independent? Can we tie bonus payments to the reduction of substance use by our employees and their families?
In the final analysis, focussing on a simple concept like “dignity” means promoting the value that people are respected for, who they are and not for how they look or what they own. It means we place a value on being kind and saying “thanks” and “please”.
“Do unto others as you would have them do onto you” has universal appeal and all religions have some version of this golden rule as part of their belief system. The time has come for this to be placed on the corporate and national agenda.