If you ‘ve got a ‘beef’with a co-worker and you work for the New York Times Company, you don’t yell across the room at them, you don’t jet off a scathing memo or e-mail---you put your "moose" on the table.

Each New York Times employee gets a stuffed moose for this very purpose. All you need to start a difficult conversation with someone is the courage to bring your moose to the meeting. The moose lands on the table and means, "Let’s talk it out."

"It works," says Jerry Hayes, news anchor at the New York Times Company’s WHNT-TV in Huntsville, Alabama.

"It seemed silly at first, but now-- it really opens up communication." Hayes recalls an incident when he changed a producer’s script for a newscast he was anchoring. The tension that developed left him and the producer too upset to talk that evening. The next day, they each brought their moose and began with "We need to talk about last night." They settled their differences and went back to work.

The moose is part of a package of ideas the New York Times has implemented to promote civility among its employees. More about the approach is described in its "Rules of the Road" statement posted on the company website. "All employees should conduct themselves in a manner consistent with our tenets of behavior," it reads:

  • Treat each other with honesty, respect and civility
  • Strive for excellence—don’t settle for less
  • Embrace diversity
  • Contribute your individual excellence to team efforts
  • Take risks and innovate, recognizing that failure occasionally occurs
  • Information is power; share it
  • Accept responsibility; delegate authority
  • Give and accept constructive feedback
  • Maintain perspective and a sense of humor

Sean Flanagan, Executive Producer at the Times’ WNEP-TV (Moosic, Pa) says the Rules have softened the language used in his station. He says, people think before they speak.

Hayes agrees that following the Rules has improved relationships among colleagues. He says they’ve also encouraged people to be less volatile. The result has been "not as many outbursts as before."

Janet Weaver, executive editor of the Times’ Sarasota Herald-Tribune in Sarasota, Florida says workers have a compelling reason to consider the Rules. She and other supervisors use the Times’ document in performance evaluations. You can be good at your craft, but if you’re crass to your co-workers, it could affect your raise.

Supervisors at WNEP also use the Rules to evaluate. Executive producer Flanagan says one employee was told recently to watch her language. He admits he hasn’t seen anyone get fired for not following the Rules. But, he says, people think it’s possible. They know the idea comes from the very top of the company.

If you work for the New York Times Company, you have the Rules of the Road to guide you. If your company doesn’t have written guidelines, you could develop your own. Consider these questions:

What conversations do you need to have and with whom?

What guidelines do you need to develop, if any?

How will you measure the effectiveness of any guidelines?

We’ll be interested in any tips you can share. Stuffed animals are not a requirement.