Jim Donald, CEO and president of Starbucks, insists that hour-long meetings be completed in 45 minutes. As a time-management technique, this policy improves efficiency and saves untold hours. But the small decency embedded in this policy is what Donald suggests meeting participants do with the freed-up 15 minutes.

“I want you to take your extra 15 minutes to call someone you usually do not contact every day,” he says.

There is a philosophy of doing business that goes beyond the transfer of goods and services. It calls for a transfer of values in the form of small decencies — business gestures that are cost-free or nearly so, and can make your firm a happier, more effective place to work. They can be implemented without a lot of planning or training. And they are invariably focused on customers or employees.

Some small decencies are obvious:

  • Remember fellow employees' names and call them by name;

  • Respect confidences and avoid gossip;

  • Avoid asking questions to which you already have the answer.

Some small decencies require extra work or courage:

  • Convey bad news in person;

  • Give away recognition when things go well; hoard responsibility when they don't;

  • Seek to understand before seeking to be understood.

Others require a high level of empathy or leap of imagination:

  • Have published office hours where your door is open for colleagues to drop in;

  • If you have to terminate an employee, check if it's his birthday or significant milestone;

  • When you meet with a colleague, signal your willingness to listen by opening a notebook.

These decencies, and more, are described in a new book called The Manager's Book of Decencies: How Small Gestures Build Great Companies (McGraw-Hill, 2007), by Steve Harrison, chairman of Lee Hecht Harrison, a global leader in career-management solutions.

Harrison defines a small decency as “a gesture offered without expectation of reward that in ways small and large change the corporate culture for the better.” He wrote the book to illustrate how high-performing, people-oriented companies create ethical cultures.

We all want our organizations to be well-behaved, ethical and compliant. We want to work in firms that aspire to high levels of integrity. We want the values we hold dear to be embodied in the daily behavior of our organizations, not just enshrined in codes of conduct.

Here's a good example of a small decency. As commissioner of Major League Baseball from 1984 to 1989, Peter Ueberroth attended hundreds of baseball games every year. Most people don't know that every major league baseball stadium has a special box reserved for the commissioner, which invariably has the best views, food and drink. “I never sat in one of those boxes,” Ueberroth says. “Not once.”

When Ueberroth attended baseball games, he sat among the fans. Sometimes fans recognized him, but mostly they didn't. “I was a better commissioner of baseball for having so many conversations with regular fans,” he says.

To win a signed copy of The Manager's Book of Decencies, send us examples of small decencies practiced in your organization. By special arrangement with Registered Rep., Steve Harrison will send a signed copy of his book to three readers who submit the most original or compelling examples of small decencies. (Send submissions to steve.harrison@lhh.com.)

Multiple submissions are permitted. Deadline for entries is June 30, 2007.

John Kador, a frequent contributed to Registered Rep., is a freelance writer in Lewisburg, Pa.