x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Wisdom of Chairman Jim found in Little Yellow Book

The Life: A light-hearted ethics guidebook, a hotline and ethics ambassadors are some of the ways US engineering company CH2M Hill ensures it underscores ethical behaviour and empower staff.

Tom Pennella of CH2M Hill says employees are given annual training on how to use the Little Yellow Book. Christopher Pike / The National
Tom Pennella of CH2M Hill says employees are given annual training on how to use the Little Yellow Book. Christopher Pike / The National

The words "Little Yellow Book" might evoke images of a stream of political ideologue, but the content from Chairman Jim's work is slightly different.

Unlike Chairman Mao's Little Red Book and Muammar Qaddafi's The Green Book, which outline political guidelines to run a country, Jim's Little Yellow Book is all about best practices on running a company on ethical grounds.

One such message from the author Jim Howland, who co-founded the American engineering giant CH2M Hill in 1946, is simple and to the point: "Admit your own mistakes openly and in good humour. Everybody will feel better".

"It is a light-hearted way to get across instructions on business conduct and how we work with clients and third parties," says Tom Pennella, a senior vice president and managing director for the Middle East and North Africa at CH2M Hill based in Abu Dhabi.

Howland, who died in 2008 at the age of 92, wrote the pocket book also known as Management Quotations from Chairman Jim in 1978 as a way to ensure integrity, check internal corruption and empower employees.

The company also has Web and phone reporting systems through which employees can register concerns.

"These measures are great starting points for ethics training, but the real key here is … an ongoing ethics training programme … from the [chief executive] to the new hire," says Frank Bucaro, a business ethics expert based in the United States.

At CH2M Hill, employees are given annual training on how to use the phone hotline to report complaints or concerns such as the misconduct of an individual.

But in many local companies, there is no appropriate training on how to handle such tools, according to Mahmood Ahmad, a legal director of corporate practice at the DLA Piper law firm in Dubai.

"Sometimes employees do not feel confident about using [hotlines], as they are worried about retaliation," he says.

The way to avoid that is to assure staff that hotlines are managed by an independent works committee and train employees to speak out against injustice, said Mr Ahmad.

At CH2M Hill, reported problems are handled by the company's internal legal and insurance departments, while employee confidentiality is ensured.

"It seems to be working," says Mr Pennella, adding that his company employs 30,000 people globally.

Staff can also report concerns through a Web and phone reporting system known as MySafeWorkplace, which is managed by an independent third party.

"It … offers employees complete anonymity if that is the route they wish to take in reporting any concerns," says Mr Pennella.

For CH2M Hill, which is associated with projects such as the Emirates civil nuclear power programme, the Sharjah desalination plants and Qatar's 2022 FIFA World Cup and reported a net income of US$113 million (Dh415m) last year, Jim's Little Yellow Book remains a cornerstone of the company's guidelines.

Available in Arabic, English, French, German, Mandarin, Polish, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish, the booklet is a collection of pithy messages on people, organisation, ethics and communication accompanied by cartoons drawn by Bill Shrader and Bob Wehmert.

The messages and the pictures, however, are a direct translation rather than an interpretation adapted to the cultural norms of the regions.

"Mr Howland was a caring and an intelligent man," says Mr Pennella, who has been working with the company for 27 years and met the co-founder a few times.

"He presented himself in a confident, humble and self-effacing manner."

The messages laced with a dry wit in the Little Yellow Book reflect the author's character.

In one of the cartoons, a flabbergasted man, who can readily be recognised as Julius Caesar by his robe and a crown, is shown to be confronting a Roman general, who is holding aloft a sword.

"Respect should follow those who voluntarily move down or sideways on the organisation chart," the message below reads.

"One of the reason so many kings and emperors met violent death is that their jobs were for life, thus the only way to get a change at the top was to eliminate the top man."

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