Early in my career as a salesperson, I learned the value of business ethics by establishing credible relationships with my customers. Some of the things I did that worked for me included establishing consistent and competitive pricing (always), providing prompt follow-up, and resolving issues in a timely manner.
These may sound like motherhood statements; however, recent newspaper headlines about the fall of leaders and once successful companies validate the importance of these business practices. It is clear that the key ingredient in determining a company’s longevity is ethics.
Think about it. How many friends do you have that you do not trust? The answer should be none and the same is true in business. You do not get to stay in business for four decades like we have or 100 years like IBM without trust between you and your employees and you and your customers.
Marco recently was named as a finalist for the Minnesota Business Ethics Award (congratulations to our valued client Klein Bank who ultimately received the award). That recognition led me to consider what makes a business ethical. In my experience, it takes more than words. All businesses – almost without exception – claim to be ethical. However, actions speak louder than words and good companies consistently conduct themselves in a manner that builds long-term trusting relationships.
Here are a few practices that promote ethical behavior and are the foundation for successful companies:
- Tell the truth. Then, you do not have to remember as much. That’s one of the promotable behaviors Paul Ebnet shared with me and I identified in a previous blog. I encourage our salespeople not to overpromise. This almost always leads to missed customer expectations that compromise the relationship.
- Be a proactive and timely communicator. Leaders will see better results if they address potential issues – even before they arise. After reading a recent newspaper article about Marco, I saw the potential of a piece of information being misconstrued. I immediately sent a voicemail message to every employee providing the facts and dispelling any rumors. This goes a long way in establishing trust, but it also ensures people have the right information.
- Fix even the smallest issues when you see them. Companies have the opportunity to demonstrate exemplary ethics in the smallest ways. If you fix the little things and make sure they don’t become big issues, you go a long way in promoting a culture of trust. We consistently survey our clients and employees to solicit feedback in an effort to catch the little things (every once in awhile we catch a big one, too). Whether it’s a billing error, a product not meeting expectations or a pricing issue, addressing these in a timely and responsible manner solidifies your commitment to a trusting partnership. Leaving things unresolved is an unethical business practice.
- Be willing to go above and beyond to make it right. Being ethical often requires companies to put their personal motivations aside and act with objectivity. When issues arise with a customer, I do my research, listen to and analyze the customer’s request, and propose a reasonable solution. I then let the customer make the final call as to what resolves the issue. In almost every case, it comes down to a discount or money. I consider the dollars that Marco has compromised an investment in long-term client relations.
- Exercise a zero tolerance policy. Once a company is identified as unethical, it’s hard to reverse that mindset. Doing what is right can mean making some tough decisions. An ethical breach once led me to terminate our top salesperson. It was not easy. I knew Marco would feel it financially. In another case, we dropped our largest vendor because of an ethical issue – not related to sales, service or price. Whether it’s a vendor, an employee, or even a customer, there’s no room to compromise trust.
- Validate your claims. An employee survey can go a long way in helping leaders determine if their company is as ethical as they say it is. At Marco, we regularly ask employees to evaluate our ethical performance with statements like “I trust my supervisor,” “My supervisor trusts me to get the job done without looking over my shoulder,” “Management’s actions match their words,” and “I can ask leadership a question and get a straight answer.” Asking employees to respond to statements like this opens our management team to scrutiny, but they also provide an opportunity to validate our claims as an ethical business.
While a company’s ethical expectations start with its leadership team, the company’s ethical performance can be defined by a single employee. That means it is every employee’s responsibility to uphold the company’s standards. A hallmark of our company has been our ability to attract and retain a quality workforce and loyal customers. I believe this to be a direct result of our commitment to doing what’s right.