Today, I am delighted to have sales and marketing professional Brad Shorr as a guest writer on this blog.
Brad has many years of business experience, and in his discussion below, he talks about the need for organizations to hold discussions with their staff about the most effective ways to handle specific situations in which they may encounter potential ethical dilemmas in the course of their duties:
I’ve been a big fan of Andrew’s blog from the moment he told me about his theme, business ethics. It’s a topic that deserves much more attention, and I love how Andrew is able to give us a clear yet high altitude understanding of complex ethical issues.
For my guest post, I’d like to turn the tables a bit and talk about what business ethics look like from the trenches. Since that’s where I’ve spent most of my career, it seems like the logical place for me to go.
It’s been said that ethics is what you do when nobody is looking. In day to day business activities, nobody is looking pretty much all the time. I’ve worked in environments where management requires detailed call reports and looks over employee shoulders continually, but the fact is, people can get away with just about anything if they are so inclined.
Well intentioned or not, in the trenches it is difficult to tell when you’ve crossed the ethical line. Hypothetical: Supposing a customer overpays you by $10 on a $1000 invoice. Would you pocket the $10 or credit it back?
It’s quite easy to justify pocketing the $10. Processing the paperwork will cost the customer more than the $10 in question. I’ve certainly given that customer more than $10 of free service in the past, so this just evens things up. It’s the customer’s responsibility to pay properly, not mine. Ten dollars is nothing – why bother with it at all?
Even when the choice is made to refund the $10, the choice might be made for less than ethical reasons. For instance, the seller might think, I’ll show the customer how upstanding I am. Perhaps in the future I’ll be able to use it to my advantage for a greater gain.
So, even in a simple situation like this, discerning right from wrong requires a good deal of thought and reflection. But the seller could be faced with more complications still. Suppose the customer always pays 90 days beyond terms. Suppose the customer is notorious for taking unauthorized deductions or grinding suppliers’ margins into the ground? Do those considerations affect the decision of how to handle the extra $10?
And what about the big picture? In the trenches, we don’t think about that a lot. But any employee who cares about the success of his firm should. I might be able to justify keeping the $10, yet if my colleagues applied my same reasoning, my firm might overcharge customers by tens of thousands over the course of a year. Conversely, if our firm had a policy to refund regardless of circumstances, we might forgo tens of thousands in revenue leading to a reduction in salaries and bonuses.
In my experience, well intended business people will reach different conclusions about how to handle my hypothetical $10. Does that mean business ethics are situational? Is it possible to devise a rule to cover all variations of even the simple example in this post? I’ve been in business for more than thirty years and to tell the truth, I don’t know the answer to either question.
What I do know is, whether a firm has rigorous ethical guidelines or none at all, discussing ethical issues that occur in the trenches is a must. Discussion serves as a collective conscience. While some may not agree on the ultimate decision, everyone comes away with a new perspective and a deeper understanding. These things make it likely that the next time a problem crops up, it will be handled better and more swiftly.
How would you handle my $10 example? Perhaps we can put my theory to work and see if discussion brings clarity!
Andrew, thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to be a guest author on Good Honest Dollar $$!
About Brad Shorr
Brad Shorr lives in the Chicago area, and is president of WordSell, Inc. He helps organizations strengthen their online business presence with business blogs and compelling web content.
Brad writes extensively on his own and many other blogs, mainly about writing, online marketing, entrepreneurship, sales and business humor.