Straight Talk

Dec. 21, 2004
Every company needs janitors and janizaries

Janitors, according to Webster's New World Dictionary, originally were doorkeepers. Today they are custodians. Some have responsibility for guarding and maintaining buildings. Some have responsibility for safeguarding company trademarks, unique product characteristics, manufacturing secrets, and company records. Others have responsibility for safeguarding the company's ethics and value systems, its public image, and its reputation. Every company needs janitors who are honest, dedicated, diligent, responsible, and dependable. Janizaries, according to Turkish lore, were soldiers who belonged to the Sultan's special infantry. They were organized in the 1300s by Orkhan, founder of the Ottoman Empire. Later the label janizaries was applied to extremely loyal or submissive followers or supporters. Advisers also became known as janizaries. For example, Franklin D. Roosevelt had an advisory "brain trust" that often was referred to as his Janizariat. Every company needs janizaries who are loyal, trustworthy, and staunch supporters of a company's products, mores, and policies. What do janitors and janizaries have in common? They both were named for Janus, the Roman god who was the guardian of portals and gates. According to Roman mythology, a person symbolically passes through a door when entering a new experience and exits through a door when he or she ends it. Janus was depicted with two faces, one faced forward and the other backward so that he could guard both beginnings and endings. All companies have janitors with custodial responsibility for its rules, its products, its people, and its assets. All companies have janizaries, those loyal troopers who guard its treasures and defend its culture and its mores, who advise, counsel, and administrate. And every company has its Januses who guard its portals, who decide the beginning and endings of things, who evaluate its past and plan its future. But some companies have Januses who are two-faced and deceitful. Company executives who don't know what's beginning and what's ending. Who don't know what the company expects or what it will accept. Who aren't certain what the company values and what it deplores. Who don't know whether each January is a new beginning or a bad ending. A relatively new business in U.S. business is "ethics consulting." Practitioners come from the ranks of social activists, business-school faculty, management-consulting firms, and old corporate executives looking for new areas of opportunity. Corporate America is working harder to improve its image. According to a 1994 survey taken by the Center for Business Ethics at Bentley College in Waltham, Mass., 90% of the largest corporations in the country have adopted codes of ethics to instruct employees about what are and are not acceptable practices in their daily operations. Nearly half of all public and private business schools now have at least one business ethics course. According to the Bentley survey, a third of all major U.S. firms have an ethics officer whose job it is to see that company ethics directives are known and practiced. Twenty percent of those companies have established entire departments engaged in training employees in ethical behavior and monitoring compliance. Employees should be trained to define "unethical" and "illegal" the same way. They must be prepared to deal with tempting and seductive suggestions from co-workers, vendors, or customers. Employees should be trained to be vigilant janitors and janizaries to keep them from becoming two-faced Januses who don't know (or care) what your company considers to be right or wrong behavior. Sal F. Marino is chairman emeritus of Penton Media Inc., an IW contributing editor, and the author of the recently published book Management Rhymes and Reason. His e-mail address is [email protected].

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