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A Better Model

 

Would You Stand Under the Arch?

The ancient Romans had a tradition: Whenever one of their engineers constructed an arch, as the capstone was hoisted into place, the engineer assumed accountability for his work in the most profound way possible: He stood under the arch.”

Michael Armstrong

When I used to teach a unit on leadership for our local Chamber of Commerce I would challenge those emerging leaders to “come to work every day willing to be fired for doing the right thing”.

 I used to tell the people on my HR teams the same thing.

Over the last few weeks that has been a lot out there in the blogosphere that talks about what I might call legitimacy.

I believe that to a large extent leadership, as opposed to management, is founded in legitimacy.

Leadership is entirely relational versus hierarchical.

A transitioning special operator from the US army described it to me this way-

On our teams we have a shared leadership model. It was only when our new officers recognized and embraced that they really needed to earn our trust that we would truly follow them. We could learn from them, but they could also learn from us.”

I would submit that these special operators, the elite of our military which include groups like the Navy Seals and Green Berets epitomize high performing teams and engagement.

 As a manager you have the authority of your position and the benefit of what Covey calls deterrence, authority that comes from rules or position. We would like to believe that management also incorporates Covey’s second level competence, but I am not sure that is true.

At least not competence at the right things.

 In many cases the competence we rely on in elevating someone to a management role is based on application of their technical skills, their competence in emotional and social intelligence are still considered “soft skills”.

In my over 30 years as a human resources professional, C level executive, and management consultant it has been interesting to see emerging and current “leaders” bridle at the idea that they have to earn trust.

For many it is an expectation that trust is embedded in their role.

It is very chic today to dismiss collective bargaining and unions as passé, but any student of the relationship between employer and employed realizes that up until the 1940’s the concept that employers needed legitimacy through the input of their employees was considered ludicrous.

I suspect our new President isn’t big on the legitimacy model….

Many of our current models still have their roots in scientific management-managers manage and people do. If you see people as human capital, what is the likelihood that you are seeking the endorsement of those you “lead”?

Michelle Berg wrote a great post a few weeks back telling us about a conversation she had with a group of marketing professionals about why she “hates” HR. If you read the article what Michelle is really describing is a leadership fail- we ask HR to make up for what she calls shitty leadership.

I agree with her, I have seen a lot of this in my three decades plus career, and the reality is that this really is a leadership fail, not an HR fail.

I remember many years ago when our CEO couldn’t figure out what key metrics to assign me as the Human Resources manager for my management incentive plan, (That’s a topic for a whole separate post).

He proposed that my entire incentive be based on executing a meaningful improvement (ten percent or more), on our employee climate survey.

I would be the only manager who had this goal….

I countered with the idea that I would put the same percentage of my incentive on the line for that single metric as he was…

As you might suspect he wasn’t amused. He also declined to accept my challenge. He wouldn’t stand under the arch.

I think one of the fundamental differences between management and leadership is that commitment to personal accountability and being willing and able to create alignment with the vision.

There are some excellent models out there to accomplish this kind of alignment. Three of my favorites are offered by Stephen MR Covey, Patrick Lencioni, and Malcolm Gladwell.

Covey talks about the three levels of trust and the trust tax that the majority of organizations are paying.

Lencioni lays out a roadmap for what he calls the journey to organizational health, with the two most critical factors being building a cohesive leadership team and creating and reinforcing clarity.

Gladwell talks about legitimacy.

According to Gladwell legitimacy occurs when three elements are present-

• Those who are governed have a voice in the process; their input is sought and heard.

• There is a dimension of predictability and consistency in the application of the law or standards.

• The application of the law or standard has to be administered fairly and objectively, you can’t have disparate treatment without a clear and compelling reason.

There are interesting connect points between these three (at least to me).

Covey describes his three levels of trust and how it is the third level, identity based trust, that is the most critical.

He uses scary words like intimacy, transparency, and shared experiences. It gets even scarier when he describes the idea that credibility is a function of both competence and behavior.

You have to do both.

Lencioni describes trust as the critical foundational element of a cohesive leadership team and organizational health. I am pretty sure he means identity based trust versus deterrence or just knowledge.

I see these elements in Gladwell’s description of legitimacy. Words meet actions, consistently.

There is and has been a lot of discussion about employee engagement these days. There are detractors who say it is all bullshit and then supporters like me who think if you aren’t seeing results it’s because you are doing it wrong.

Lencioni describes three biases that can get in the way of meaningful cultural change and I see them in the way many organizations approach engagement-

·         Sophistication- it is just too simple. I hear from organizations a lot when we introduce fundamental skills training for emerging leaders that there is no “rocket science” to things like setting expectations, giving feedback, taking corrective action, and coaching.

I agree the concepts aren’t rocket science you just have to do them consistently and hold people accountable if they aren’t doing them!

·         Adrenaline- creating organizational health and identity based trust doesn’t happen over a long weekend or a management retreat. It doesn’t happen by conducting an engagement survey either. Engagement is a culture, not a program. It doesn’t belong to HR.

·         Quantification- although we have gotten a lot better at being able to quantify the benefits of engagement it is still a little bit nebulous. I here from people “we did a survey and engagement and/or productivity didn’t improve.”  I ask them if they addressed the issues from the survey and I get the thousand- yard stare. Or they tell me that “gave it to HR to fix”.

Changing a culture is hard and the work never stops. It is also a systemic process. You can’t just approach one part like hiring or compensation and expect to see widespread results.

For the last three decades I have been promoting and teaching the merits of an employment relationship based on Commitment rather than compliance.

My particular model is based on five elements-

·         Respect- everyone has an absolute entitlement to be treated with respect for their personhood.

·         Responsibility- I am a big fan of what our Founding Fathers called personal competency. People should be treated like adults and expected given clear expectations and feedback to meet those expectations.

·         Information- I am a huge believer in context and a link to the big picture. Simon Sinek calls this the Why.

·         Equitable compensation- people perform better when they believe they are being paid fairly for their effort and they understand how those decisions are made. Paying someone fairly is a threshold, not a breakthrough.

·         Mutual Loyalty- when I hear employers lament the lack of loyalty I want to laugh. Employees didn’t invent the term human capital or come up with strategies like outsourcing or offshoring to increase profitability. Loyalty should be measured by contribution, not tenure.

 

These elements are anchored on a foundation of trust. I would go so far as to say you have to have trust at all three levels to experience true engagement.

When the employment environment is optimized in a commitment based model it results in employee engagement.

Surveys still come out every year that reinforce that the most important role played by human resources professionals is compliance. This is consistent from both operational executives and human resources professionals themselves. This is what Michelle was referring to when she called it shitty leadership!

Alternatively, a recent survey of all four generations in the workforce identified the following on employee’s wish list-

• Open and transparent communication

• Respect for them and other employees

• A supervisor/boss that coaches and supports their growth and advancement

• A supervisor/boss that recognizes them and their performance

I don’t think you need to negotiate your culture with employees, but I do think they are entitled to clear expectations, constructive feedback, and fair treatment.

When you provide that kind of context you are allowing employees to join up with you.

On that foundation when change is introduced you do it with rather than to people.

Engagement and legitimacy don’t “belong” to HR, they belong to leadership at every level.

At the individual manager level, I would encourage you to consider the following

·         Ask your internal and external customers how you can help them and make them more successful. If you don’t think you have any internal customers give me a call. We have work to do.

·         Ask your staff what obstacles you can remove to make their job more efficient or easier.

·         Ask the people on the front line how your products and services can be enhanced or modified to make them easier to address their needs.

·         Ask your peers how they think you and your group are doing. You are an internal service provider.

·          Ask your boss how you can help them. This may seem a little obvious, but you will be surprised from how you communicate to taking a task off their list can make a difference.

 At the organizational level, I think we need to address these things with a level of urgency.

While the number of employees who rate themselves as highly engaged had remained constant for a few years (around 30%), those numbers are starting to decline and disengagement and voluntary attrition in an already competitive market are on the rise.

For those of you unfamiliar with disengagement, it is the phenomenon where employees are extremely unhappy, but they stay and “poison the well” rather than look for other opportunities. What is truly scary is they are no more likely to leave on their own power than employees who are neutral.

The data is in and it is conclusive - there is a direct correlation between employee engagement and customer engagement. In fact, the data shows a direct relationship between disengagement and presenteeism and turnover to the tune of $5 trillion annually.

We can’t run away from it anymore….

 

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My Personal Litmus Test

Are You Providing Value?
I am a pretty big fan of James Altucher. If you haven’t read any of his stuff you might want to check him out on LinkedIn or Fortune Magazine or any of the other places that he publishes or his podcasts.
He is sometimes irreverent and always self- deprecating. He talks about his successes, but mostly about his failures.
He says things that a lot of people might find alarming like how owning “stuff” like houses and expensive cars is not advisable because ultimately it owns you.
His latest blog post, The Difference Between Making Millions and Failure I found especially interesting. He sums it up quite simply- add value.
You hear a lot these days how advising people to follow their passion, find their purpose, etc. is all bullshit. I don’t know that I agree with that in the entirety, but I think there is value in asking how what you do and how you do it is going to add value to others or the world in general.
My last blog post explored why I do what I do. I think most organizations, public and private do a pretty shitty job of bridging people, specifically employees, customers, and shareholder/stakeholders. We see them as inherently competing interests.
I have shared before that a significant survey on management and leadership concluded that the single biggest reason most people pursue leadership or management roles is because they want to make more money.
Not make the organization better or grow their people. That is not adding value.
I have occasion to come into contact with a number of not for profit organizations on a regular basis ranging from very large organizations like education and health care providers to local service providers with a much narrower focus.
I use the term not for profit as opposed to non- profit very deliberately. The point that I try to make with these organizations is that profit at its most basic is the amount of revenue that exceeds expenses and there is nothing fundamentally immoral or amoral about how that excess is distributed.
I find that the idea that an organization should goal for and achieve solvency on a regular basis doesn’t always make me very popular. The idea that the organization should be held accountable to have a clear and compelling reason that it exists and perform its services in an efficient manner is seen by many as an elitist or purely capitalistic viewpoint. I disagree.
I think my viewpoint is consistent with Altucher’ s proposition that the absence of that clear value proposition is a fail.
I am a social entrepreneur. I don’t think all profit is equal. I think profit that increases social equality and opportunity is better. The broader the stakeholder base you impact the more value you are creating.
Just so I am clear that I am not singling out not for profits I want to share that I find Seth Godin to be one of my favorite business authors. I don’t put him up on a pedestal or see everything that he writes as either brilliant or that I agree with, but he provided some simple points for would be entrepreneurs that I think have application for every organization-
• If you have never been paid for your product or service it is a hobby, not a business.
• If the only people who have ever utilized your product or service are friends and family it is a hobby, not a business.
I have encountered a number of not for profits who believe that their first and most compelling objective is to raise funds and invite donations to their cause.
On the other hand, I see organizations that do provide meaningful services and a clear and compelling value proposition who are severely criticized because they do things like a successful business-
• Create and execute a business strategy
• Create a strategy to attract and retain the talent necessary to drive the organization and pay that talent competitively.
Those NPO’s get Godin’s point, if nobody is buying your product, you failed the test.
On a simplistic level I have incorporated some of Altucher’ s advice into some of the things I teach.
A great example is feedback. I am a big fan of constructive feedback. People ask how they know their feedback is constructive and I use these guidelines-
•    Constructive feedback is based on observations and facts not reactions and speculation.
•    It focuses on performance not on a person.
•    It can be tied directly to the performance of the person or the team or both.
•    It is timely and specific.
•    Progress is both measurable and obtainable.
•    It is part of a process, not an event.
I believe that feedback that meets these criteria adds value, if it doesn’t meet these criteria it doesn’t and you should keep it to yourself.
I think this should be the litmus test for everyone we hire in our organizations. 
How will they add value and can they articulate that? Candidates that recite their resume and experience leave me bored. That is the minimum standard, the easy part.
I use a nautical analogy when I talk about the hiring and talent acquisition process for most of my clients. 
I tell them in terms of boats you are a canoe rather than a battleship. Every person on your boat needs to be a rower. The only other value add in a small boat like a canoe is being food, and I don’t think consuming people is good.
Our human resource models have been based for years on consumable/disposable employees. Frederik Taylor said people are stupid and lazy. Our employment models have been based on compliance and obedience for generations. We provided security in return for obedience.
And then we discovered outsourcing, downsizing, and automation.
I don’t let individuals off the hook either.
Businesses do not exist to provide jobs and security for their employees. That is hopefully one objective and part of their value proposition, but not that premise exclusively.
That is why I agree with those that say that employees are an equal shareholder (read responsible party) for employee engagement. They also need to add value.
So every day I come to work and ask myself if I am adding value to my clients and my community. That is my aspiration and I think I get it right the majority of days.
What would happen if everyone and every organization adopted that perspective? I wonder…….

 

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Wrong Solution

Sigh, I Don’t Think He Got This One Right
I just read where the President has signed a bill proposing that all companies with more than 100 employees will be required as part of their equal employment opportunity filing to report compensation by gender, ethnicity, and other factors.
My concern is that while this may lead to “transparency” it will not necessarily lead to pay equity.
I am old enough to remember when affirmative action planning actually had teeth to it. The idea was to identify inequities in employment and address them. Not surprisingly white men tended to have much higher representation in the higher level ranks than women or people of color. I will take heat for saying this, but some of it was deliberate some of it was a function of unintended consequences of less than optimal practices.
Promotion to higher level positions in part is a function of experience and training and hiring and selection. Most of us have heard of the “halo effect”, this is our tendency to hire and promote people we are comfortable with, i.e. people like us. Although we have been aware of it for over fifty years I still see it happen frequently. Most organizations quite bluntly do a generally poor job of hiring across the board.
What we found with EEO reporting that in many cases women and minorities weren’t “qualified” for senior roles because they didn’t have the experience necessary to move up. That is where the Affirmative Action part comes in. Every level has “feeder” groups from which the next generation candidates come from. The idea is by changing the composition of the feeder group you can change the candidate pool. Although this playing the long game several organizations I worked with embraced it recognizing that the demographics of the workforce was changing and it was not just a legal requirement it is good business. These days we refer to it as encouraging diversity. While we are certainly in no position to declare victory I think that organizations who sincerely embrace this process see much better representation of the workforce.
I also call it good business. Succession planning at every level is a fundamental component of good business planning. Scrambling to find talent when someone dies, retires or quits is a sucker bet. High performing organizations don’t operate that way.
So now let’s talk about how this applies to pay.
Properly executed good compensation planning takes into account the qualifications, experience, and performance of employees including the context of market conditions. Compensation planning is art as much as science.
Looking at job titles and compensation by themselves without consideration for factors like experience, qualifications, training and performance leaves out some critical data.
While I recognize that some people might be surprised by this I consider myself almost a feminist and a huge advocate of equal opportunity. When experience, qualifications, and performance are equal there should be no disparity in compensation.
As I said before however, compensation is not an exact science. I have shared the lament of many an executive who paid a premium for an outside superstar based on market conditions and performance somewhere else who feels disappointed with what they got. Just look at the musical chairs being played at the C level in organizations every day.
I a perfect world we pay for performance and I am going to go out on a limb and say that government at every level rarely provides a great example of that concept.
Mandating equity rarely works.
I am probably one of the few people I know who doesn’t think Obamacare is an abject failure. It is flawed as I pointed out in my eBook Plan B- An Alternative to Obamacare, (I will even be smug and point out I published it before it became law.
Access to care is appropriate and necessary for the long term. The problem is that the model is strictly compliance based and doesn’t address some of the underlying issues like the lack of personal responsibility and education to encourage individuals to participate in managing their own health. It also doesn’t provide navigation through a very complex health care delivery system that is byzantine to the average person.
Compensation inequity purely based on gender, national origin, or other factors unrelated to performance and market isn’t just wrong it’s dumb!
Less than 30% of the American workforce consider themselves to be engaged or highly engaged at work. As many as 17% are actively disengaged.
We don’t just have a pay equity issue, our whole approach to managing people is screwed up.
There are ways to fix it. Comprehensive and systemic approaches that look at whole people and integrated solutions, not patches.
So Mr. President while I applaud and support your intent this one isn’t a solution I can get behind…
As always I would be very interested in hearing opposing viewpoints…

 

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HR's Elusive Value Proposition..

So What Is HR Exactly?
I was having lunch recently with a client and a very capable human resources professional that I was introducing to him and he posed that question.
He wasn’t being sarcastic or demeaning. His organization has never hired a professional human resources person in their 50-year history so he was genuinely curious about what he could expect from making this kind of investment.
I have to say as someone who has been in and around the profession for 30+ years that still remains and interesting question for me.
Is hasn’t been that long since a national survey of CEO’s and COO’s couldn’t frame a consistent answer to that question. Even scarier to me was that the majority of senior level human resources practitioners responded that the most important role they play in their organization is compliance.
I find that utterly disheartening. With four generations in the workplace, employee engagement stalled at lower than 30 percent, and organizations indicating that the acquisition and retention of talent is a key issue for the foreseeable future and the “top” minds in HR think that compliance and keeping the lid on are our highest value added activities…
Years ago when I was working in manufacturing the Total Quality Movement was just starting to gain momentum. Someone had the brilliant insight that building quality in was way better than bolting it on. Quality professional began evolving from functionaries to internal consultants, building appropriate processes and deploying them throughout the organization rather than the old school end of the line approach. It makes sense.
I have seen a number of those in the HR movement seeking to piggy back on that approach with lots of cross certifications in Black Belt and Six Sigma.
In my mind the problem with that is that those address intellectual processes. They are about building things.
When we are dealing with people we are dealing (or should be) with emotional processes.
The most important part of any high functioning relationship is trust and there is not a recipe for trust.
Stephen MR Covey brilliantly describes the three levels of trust, deterrence, knowledge based, and identity based. As you might suspect he believes as I do that identity based is by far the most important of the three.
Therein lies the problem with traditional HR. Compliance is all about deterrence. Six Sigma, Black Belt, and HR certifications are all about competency. Oops we left out that identity based thing.
I want to be clear that the first two are important elements to getting to identity based trust. Knowledge based has competency and character as foundational elements and you need those to be an effective manager.
Effective managers are critical to every organization and management is different than leadership. Bluntly you don’t need armies of leaders in an organization.
So to answer the question my client posed I would submit my answer-
•    HR helps the organization answer the Why question posed in Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle.
•    HR helps identify the values and attributes that are fundamental to and congruent with the Why. As I have said before creating alignment for people who already share your values is much easier than trying to “fix” people.
•    HR helps identify and deploy the competencies that reinforce the performance that we desire and ensures that those are practiced consistently across the organization. Those include setting expectations, giving feedback, course correcting, and coaching among others. Those competencies belong to managers, not HR.
I recommend that HR gets way better about helping organizations answer their WHY and reinforcing the values and way less about compliance and certifications.
We need to teach managers and emerging leaders about how to trust and be trusted. Trust is not an entitlement. It doesn’t come with a title, position, certification, or degree.
There are skills, attributes and abilities that are foundational to that process and they can be taught and learned and in my opinion those are part of HR’s charter as well.
So in the final analysis HR doesn’t manage human capital, we don’t master compliance. We teach organizations and people how to create an environment where people join up rather than comply and we share a vision and goals…..

 

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Where Have All The Flowers Gone....

I am probably dating myself a bit by borrowing that line from the classic Peter Seeger tune, but I find myself asking that question over and over again, and what I read almost daily from top executives about their search for talent the metaphor seems appropriate.


The they I am referring to are the leaders and managers who still don’t seem to get it. As most anyone who has read any of my stuff knows I have committed my career to building and reinforcing new models of how organizations and people work together.


You can call it an employment relationship, a social contract, or whatever you choose; but what I am referring to is the relationship between employers and employed.
Employee engagement, the level of alignment between individual employee efforts and goals and organizational goals and objectives remains without question one of the most powerful and significant opportunities to improve organizational performance across every key performance indicator.
I am not speaking speculatively; the correlation between those things has been well established by the Society for Human Resources Management, the Gallup organization, and numerous other academic research organizations and professional consulting firms. We still do it as a society fairly poorly, with the number of employees describing themselves as highly engaged ranging around thirty percent in the U.S.
Organizations in large part took a hiatus from focusing on improving employee engagement during the recentrecession because with relatively high unemployment they didn’t feel they needed to attend to it to attract or keep the talent they sought. Now that the economy is starting to pick up you hear employers whining again about the difficulty of finding and keeping the talent they seek.


Here is a tip – highly engaged organizations don’t have that issue. That is one of the myriad of reasons they outperform their competition.
I had a chance to re-read Joel Peterson’s blog posts with two installments on building a high trust culture and it still really resonated with me. Step two for Joel is investing in respect.
Joel is the Board Chair of JetBlue Airlines, a graduate of Harvard B school and a guest instructor at the Stanford B School so he has some street cred…
As he describes it - Respect is, in some sense, the currency of trust – the way it’s exchanged and circulated among people.


That idea particularly resonates with me.
A number of years ago I created my own model of creating and sustaining employee engagement; I call it moving from compliance to Commitment, or little c to Big C.


My model has five elements: Respect, Responsibility, Information, Rewards, and Loyalty
 
Somewhat self servingly you can see why Joel’s pillars speak to me. Respect is the most foundational of the elements to me. Without respect all of the others fail.


Every person that we interact with has an absolute entitlement for our respect for their personhood. It doesn’t mean we have to accept at face value their talents, abilities, or authority; but we owe them respect for their personhood.
I often tell both employees and new managers that you need to respect each person and in hierarchical organizations you need to at least initially respect the position or office.
In this way this is similar to the first level of trust, deterrence, the trust that comes with formal authority.

The second level of trust or respect is knowledge based, this is the trust we receive (or more importantly earn) based on things like education, qualifications, perceived competency.
The third and in my opinion highest level of trust is identity based. This trust comes from intimacy, credibility, and mutual investment. This trust and respect is highly personal and can only be earned and given. It doesn’t come from credentials or position.
We don’t talk much about trust and respect in this kind of language. I have met many managers and leaders who inappropriately assume an entitlement to the highest level of trust based on the first two.


I differentiate leaders because again in my opinion an organization can appoint you a manager, but leadership comes from others who voluntarily accept your guidance and agree to follow your direction.
I also believe passionately in the concept of personal competence as it relates to respect. Personal competence means that we each own the responsibility to engage, to provide our best efforts, and to contribute fully to the best of our ability.
In return our employers and colleagues have a responsibility to set clear expectations, give constructive feedback, and a clear line of sight between our own objectives and goals and that of the organization.


With respect comes personal accountability and responsibility. If you are given the right tools, the right direction, and the right feedback it is incumbent upon you to do the work.
If someone can’t or won’t do the work and meet expectations I find it disrespectful to continue to leave them in a role they are not performing.
The reason I ask whether we will ever learn is that the majority of human resource professionals and their internal clients would tell you that the most important role they perform is compliance.


That sounds a lot like deterrence to me. It is about the rules. It is about systems and procedures and policies, not about relationships and character and credibility and trust.
As a former human resources executive I remain a proponent of the concept of employment at will, which at its most simplistic form is the legal standard that says that either party to the employment relationship can choose to end it without jumping through a number of hoops.
I temper that with a sense of fairness, that says it is important to me that we balance that transactional concept with the relational guidelines of respect, fairness, clear expectations, constructive feedback, and corrective action.


If you read almost anything about leadership or organizational relationships you are very likely to encounter discussion about loyalty. Employers especially like to talk about their expectation of loyalty from their employees. To me loyalty is relational and mutual, not transactional.
Rigidly embracing the concept of employment at will is not a relational employment model, it is purely transactional. Not a basis for engagement.


I am a much bigger fan of an employment relationship based on Congruency which looks for alignment between employees and organizations on these levels:
•    View of the activity
•    View of my ability to do the activity
•    The relationship between values and the activity
•    Commitment to do the “work”
•    Belief in the product or service
When you build things into your model you have a relationship, not a series of transactions.
I write this at this particular time because two very fine young people I know and care about both ended their relationship with their employers.


Those beginnings and endings happen, but both were handled so poorly that it was a reminder of how far we have to go.


So I leave you with this:
•    Listen to Joel- respect really is the currency of trust.
•    Goal for identity based trust. Yes it is more work, but 30+ years of experience assures me you will never have true engagement without it.
•    Commitment is always better than compliance, period.
•    Add congruency to your must haves when you hire, it is much easier to build it in than bolt it on.
•    Never ever forget that respect for a person’s identity is an absolute entitlement. You may have to terminate the performance; you don’t have to take their dignity.

Hope you enjoy the clip
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0LZ2R2zW2Yc

 

 

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