A Question of Business Ethics

I was reading a LinkedIn question about business ethics recently and wanted to share with all of you my thoughts on the subject. While the question of ethics in business is not new, I feel that it is an issue that not only will not go away anytime soon, but will play an even larger role in how businesses are run in the next decade as we continue through economic recovery, and as our society seems to come more and more from a position of “entitlement” vs. “work hard, do the right thing, and you will be rewarded by a job well done.”

I believe the measure of a man is what he does when nobody is watching.

I used to work for a company whose definition of business ethics was “If what you did today was the cover story of your hometown newspaper, would you be proud or embarrassed by it?”

Interesting thought, and one that I took very seriously. Sure we all will do dumb things from time to time, but I would think about what my grandmother (who turned 91 recently) would think if she read what I did. Would she know that I, at the very least, tried my best, or would she be thinking that no daughter of hers raised a kid like that? Another friend of mine, Will Webb from Dupree & Webbin Raleigh, stated it this way “When I come home at night, my wife and my little girl will ask me how my day was. I always want to be proud to tell them about my day…every day.”

Unfortunately, posing a question like that is open to a certain amount of interpretation as I learned quickly that different people read different newspapers in the morning. Some read the Chicago Tribune, others the Wall Street Journal. Sadly, still others read the Enquirer.

What are your thoughts on business ethics, and to what level? I was talking to a client yesterday about an issue they were having with a client of theirs who said that they don’t meet with him enough. What he was really saying was that they didn’t take him out to dinner enough. I learned early on that in sales if someone does business with you because you took them to a $50 lunch, someone else will come along and take them to a $100 dinner and take the business from you. However, for some, the business dinner—or at this time of year the holiday gift—is how they develop relationships with their vendors. Where do you draw the line?

I never seemed to do well with the guy who wanted the fancy dinner or to go out to a bar on a Thursday night. Most of my clients are people who, at the end of the day, wanted to go home to their families, so it was pretty easy to find a line to draw. If you interviewed all of the people I have ever done business with, I don’t think you would find one that did business with me because of a fancy dinner I took them out to, although several would probably tell you that it was getting to know each other over lunch that gave them the comfort level to know that I had their best interest at heart.

 

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