In business and in life, it’s an unfortunate fact that behaviors tend to change with circumstance. This shows itself most frequently as need or lack of something changes decisions, behaviors, and all too often, values. So the real question is, do you compromise your business values based upon dire circumstances? I’m not passing judgment one way or the other because my observation tells me actions, if not convictions, that change with context is an elementary part of human nature. It’s tough to do the right thing when the business picture is under strain.
Don’t believe me? Run these examples across your cerebellum:
- As labor strikes linger on, the lack of a paycheck or lack of corporate income tends to weaken the resolve of either labor or management, respectively. This is happening right now as an NBA (National Basketball Association) strike lingers on. Kobe, Lebron, Dirk and D-Wade can withstand a lot and stick to their guns; they’re superstars commanding ridiculous salaries. The average benchwarmer at the league minimum, while it still might be more than you or I make in 5 years, well, he’s getting nervous right about now as this week is his first without a paycheck. Owners seem to have the ability to withstand more than the players when it comes to lost revenue.
- My son has a number of other kids he seems to hang out with, and the favorites show up depending upon who is available. Charles (names changed here to protect the innocent) is the number one friend provided Jake, John, and Stevie aren’t around to play. When that happens, Charles is a dork and gets brushed to the curb. Poor Charles, kids can be cruel. Sammy never seems to make the cut. Jack thinks he’s a sped so breathing lonely air is better than bringing Sammy over. Ever seen this behavior with your kids?
- Honest politicians, an oxymoron we’d like to believe, and corporate fatcats just cannot help themselves get a little edge when it’s available. In his new book Throw Them All Out released yesterday (as of this writing), Peter Schweizer tells the sordid tale of legal insider trading among our lawmakers, who would buy or short stock, land and anything else just before a committee that they were on was about to pass legislation that would dramatically impact the selling price of said security, then sell after the change happened and reap hundreds of thousands in a day. Nancy Pelosi, John Boehner, John Kerry, Harry Reid and Denny Hastert are just a few of the big name Congresspersons up to their eyeballs in the stink of this one, and these are the same people who hypocritically attack Wall Street Greed. Similarly Warren (corporations should all pay more taxes) Buffett used his insider position in the TARP bailout meetings to profit Berkshire Hathaway to the tune of $1.7 billion. This is like the old joke about the dog, why do you think they did it? Because they could.
- It’s looking increasingly like Penn State University officials along the line up to and including legendary head football coach Joe Paterno may have turned a blind eye to ongoing child molestation on campus after doing to bare minimum to report it, presumably to not upset the apple cart and endure a scandal. Ironic stuff.
- Though these stories are often buried in today’s media, we also hear about heroic acts every day where people were thrust into difficult or dangerous situations beyond their control and they acted to save the day, and in some cases die trying. Rescue workers who died on 9/11 and people like Dave Sanders who acted as a human shield for high school kids in Columbine, CO in 1999 when deranged students opened fire demonstrate that situations bring out the best in us too. Let’s hear a few more of these stories, please.
How Solid Are Your Business Ethics?
One of my former employers prior to entering the wonderful world of kill-what-you-eat self-employed heaven faced a daunting ethical dilemma. The company was hurting for business and had an opportunity to win a major contract with a firm stemming from that bastion of economic stability, Greece. Problem: the President of the firm asked us to defraud the Greek government on import tariffs by creating a fictitiously low invoice for services. Old Papos de Fraudulos told my boss that everybody in Europe does this. Oh by the way, we really needed the business, as in might go under without it.
Ahh, Satan tempted the business it did, but there is a happy ending to this story and I am proud to have been a part of it. In a highly risky if not suicidal (it seemed at the time) decision, I persuaded the owner of my company that this was not in our long term best interest and frankly was the wrong thing to do, regardless of how accepted it may have been. We refused to dummy the invoice. To his credit, my boss didn’t need a lot of convincing, and his name was on every paycheck. We ended up getting the business anyway, passing the test as it were. Now we didn’t walk away from a multi-million dollar contract, we were not stupid, but we did it our way.
The Choice for Business Owners
Trying times are coming your way if they’re not already here. You’ll be faced with business dilemmas about ethics, customer care, fiscal practice, employees, suppliers and more. Shortcuts will be presented as a way to make things happen now to stop the bleeding or take advantage of a new opportunity to grow. My advice is simple.
My advice is simple and it starts by evaluating every decision with these 5 questions:
- Which option will be the most effective?
- What is the worst case scenario or downside risk?
- What unexplored alternatives are there?
- What is the cost of indecision and inaction?
- Can I sleep at night knowing company and personal values are intact?
Adapt to situations with changing decisions that spring forth behaviors, actions that may change with circumstance that often may mean the very survival of your business. Make sure those decisions remain consistent with your values as an organization and as an individual, values that serve as a boundary and ensure that your deeds propel your company forward long term instead of crippling it.
Behaviors are situational, but values are eternal.