Happy belated Independence Day! Over July 4th weekend, I felt the sudden urge to sit down and read the Declaration of Independence. As I did so, I began to think about how unbelievably challenging, brave and impressive if must have been for Thomas Jefferson and the rest of our Founding Fathers to write and sign our nation's most important document.
Just think, if they had not signed the Declaration of Independence, we all would have been even more enamored by Prince William and Kate's wedding earlier this year ... and subsequently falling all over ourselves about their visit to the United States. Wow, life would be sad.
In business, independence is something that comes up a lot. It became a common term in the days of Sarbanes-Oxley and got another boost during the financial crisis. I hope that I do not have to convince anyone of its importance, especially when it comes to both risk management and strategy.
Nevertheless, it is not much easier for an employee in a company today to declare independence than it was for our Founding Fathers to declare independence from the British.
I started stewing on the question: How does one actually go about declaring independence in an organization?
Certainly, many chief audit executives have gone that route by having the benefit of a solid or dotted reporting line to the board of directors. Some chief risk officers also have similar arrangements. Both would likely consider themselves as "independent." Does anyone in that role really automatically qualify as truly independent?
After more stewing, I have come to the hypothesis that anyone, in most any role, can actually become independent. They just have to be able and willing to do so.
Despite our wonderful human ability to posture and often convince ourselves of things and views on our own positioning that may not be 100 percent accurate (e.g., "If I left this job today, I would have multiple job offers within weeks" type thinking), very few people can actually go out and legitimately declare independence without first meeting a few prerequisites:
1. Strong Financial standing and minimal to no need for the financial support that they receive in compensation for their job. For instance, if you had to (or were forced to) walk away from your job today, would you be financially secure for 12 to 24 months or whatever the comfortable amount of time to find a new job that you would, one, be satisfied with and, two, be compensated enough by?
2. Protection and job security. Do you have some guaranteed job security that means you cannot be terminated or demoted? For instance, universities grant professors tenure to senior professors, not just as a reward for good research and teaching but more importantly to guarantee them the right to academic freedom, protecting them even when they dissent from prevailing opinion, openly disagree with authorities of any sort or spend time on unfashionable topics.
3. Willingness to both say and stand behind your beliefs and analysis, versus caving to the good corporate citizen tendency to please others by telling management what you think they want to hear. This also means being comfortable and confident holding a view or belief, even when others (especially those senior to you) disagree or hold a different view.
I am sure that more prerequisites exist, though this is a pretty good list to start with. Obviously, these are not exactly easy prerequisites to meet. Even if most people wanted to meet them, it would likely take a lot of planning, discipline and time to do so. For example, how long would it take for you to comfortably and confidently assert that you meet merely prerequisite No. 1?
Yet once the prerequisites are met, then it is pretty basic. All you have to do next is complete the following, leading-practice template for declaring independence (based on the Declaration of Independence of course). Then sign it, read it out loud at your next all-employee meeting and nail it to your office door.
DECLARATION OF EMPLOYEE INDEPENDENCE
Adopted by [your name] on [date]
The Unanimous Declaration
Of [your name]
When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for AN EMPLOYEE to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with MANAGEMENT, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all EMPLOYEES are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, MANAGEMENTS are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the EMPLOYEES AND SHAREHOLDERS. That whenever any form of MANAGEMENT becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the EMPLOYEE AND SHAREHOLDER to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new MANAGEMENT, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that MANAGEMENTS long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such MANAGEMENT, and to provide new guards for their future security.
Therefore, I, [YOUR NAME], [YOUR TITLE], appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of MY intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good EMPLOYEES AND SHAREHOLDERS of THIS COMPANY, solemnly publish and declare, THAT I AM, and of right ought to be free and independent; that I AM absolved from all allegiance to MANAGEMENT, and that all political connection between MYSELF and MANAGEMENT, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as a free and independent EMPLOYEE, I have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent EMPLOYEES may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, OUR RED SWINGLINE STAPLER and our sacred honor.
DAVID M. WONG is director of cross-asset strategy and planning at CME Group, the world's largest and most diverse derivatives exchange.
July 18, 2011
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