I keep on my desk a replica of Jackie Robinson’s plaque from the Baseball Hall of Fame. Like the plaques for the other players there are inspiring statistics about his on-field play.
More impressive than any of the numbers listed, though, is the last sentence of the inscription. The words don’t address his hitting or fielding but his character: “Displayed tremendous courage and poise in 1947 when he integrated the modern major leagues in the face of intense adversity.”
When Branch Rickey, the President of the Dodgers, went looking for a player to break the color barrier, he didn’t simply look for an African-American who could play baseball well. He looked for a man who could do so while facing hostility from the other team, fans and sometimes even his own teammates.
Rickey warned Robinson that no matter what people called him – and Rickey gave him a provocative and long list of epithets – Robinson could not fight back. Why? As he put it, he needed a man with the guts not to fight back. Rickey knew that this would prove Robinson to be better than any of his detractors, and unwavering restraint would also avoid the risks of an incident escalating uncontrollably.
In sum, Rickey had in his head a job description for the man who would break the color barrier. That description was not about just what the person must do on the field, but what character he would have both on and off of it.
I’ve seen a lot of job descriptions in my career, and none that I can recall had such a description. Most are filled with job-specific details and descriptions about general attributes such as ability to manage, educational requirements, years of experience required and so forth. Maybe it’s time to start working with HR and the business unit to add language to job descriptions based on the risks that employees will encounter:
- Will need to adhere to US law even in regions where there is no rule of law
- Must not pay bribes to foreign government officials or permit others to
- Able to strictly follow data protection procedures even when they may restrict other operations
- Ability to resist pressure to compromise corporate values despite pressure to make sales
- Track record of demonstrating integrity, even when inconvenient
- Responsible for receiving and forwarding to management employee concerns about ethical and legal violations, and then shielding employee from retaliation
- Must be able to think outside of the box, while staying within the legal lines
It’s easy for business people to argue with the compliance team about the time and other demands of a compliance program. It’s harder to argue that there’s no room in a job description to include the ethical requirements or the legal challenges that will need to be met.
[bctt tweet=”Should we add language to job descriptions based on the risks that employees will encounter? @AdamTurteltaub” via=”no”]
How much time does it take to add a sentence or two?
More, a job description that includes compliance and ethics concerns forces management and the job candidate to spend time thinking through these issues and asking if the person for the position has both the skills and the character needed.
Not every position will require a person with the strength of character of Jackie Robinson. But isn’t it better to identify those positions beforehand, instead of after it is too late?
So what do you think? Is this achievable? What barriers might there be? How could we get past them?
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