Originally posted on the Tembua website.
Got your attention with that title, didn’t I?
Last week I heard an executive say (with a great deal of cynicism) that business ethics is an oxymoron. She got the expected laugh, but as I looked around, the expressions that floated across the other faces at the table showed she’d hit a nerve.
Everyone followed the recent corporate accounting scandals. It’s not something to be proud of, but a bit of schadenfreude arises when the mighty — and richer — fall. We quietly examine our own financials, verify that procedures are being followed, and resolve to tighten hiring practices.
But I don’t think that executive was talking about the issues that land you in jail. She was probably referring to the little things that tempt all of us and help smooth a shaky transaction or a failed delivery.
Business via the Internet offers a plethora of excuses for late, missed, or partial deliveries. Working across time zones and continents lends truth a flexibility that can become seductive. Without a specific policy, without corporate guidelines, it’s incredibly easy to slide into areas that are grey, then black.
Years ago, the presence of my youngest daughter in the office as part-time help brought the issue into focus for me. I remember her watching when someone asked me what we were going to tell the client. She needed to see that my walk at the office matched the talk at home. I said, “We tell the client the truth,” and then made it official company policy that we would make every attempt not to put a foot on the other side of the line that marks honesty. It’s a policy that everyone here knows.
If we say that our client didn’t get the file because our e-mail was down, it means our e-mail truly was not working. If we say the server had problems, it did. If we say the file went out even though the client didn’t receive it — it’s the truth. It’s not easy to say, “We’re late, someone forgot, there was a problem on our end,” but in the end, it’s better for client relations than lying would be.
Good character — both for individuals and companies — is easily eroded by a flow of lies and half-truths. If trust between a company and a client is damaged, then trust between management and employees is suspect. And lying with innocent eyes is not something I want our accounting staff to learn. We enjoy an excellent reputation that we’ve worked hard to build. How could we ever repair the damage if we were caught in a lie?
In the interests of full disclosure, however, I should note that we have nothing against structuring the truth as we see it. Marketing and advertising courses plus watching politicians spin their versions of an event can be truly educational. We acknowledge that all people paint themselves in the best possible light. But here we stop before we step over the line.