Copyright © 2018 by Barney Rosenberg
President, Ethics Line, LLC™
The easiest word to say in business is also one of the shortest in the English language: NO
Did anyone ever get into trouble for saying “No, let’s not do that deal.” Or “No, legal says it’s illegal.” Or “No, those are not our kind of people. I don’t have a good feeling about this.” Or “No, this is not an investment we are prepared to make at this time.”
The challenge we face is finding ways to get to YES without a jail sentence hanging over our heads and respecting the organization’s constituents: our customers, our suppliers, our regulators, the prosecutors, and our co-workers. It’s about conducting our business ethically while competing intensely.
- Yes, we can
- Yes, we are
- Yes, we will
- Yes, of course
I have some ideas about how to get to YES. They involved doing things the right way by following what we know is the right path. We know it because there is an alternative definition of ethics that doesn’t come from the Greeks or the Romans. That definition is: “this is how we do things around here.” And it has served us well to do things this way, while remaining open to new approaches as business and the regulatory climate change.
An early mentor in my career was fond of saying that the journey from A to Z may not be possible in a straight line. It may be necessary to tack from A to D to P to arrive safely at Z. There are often boulders in the path of progress. We need to be able to anticipate and navigate around them. We need to be able to look a little farther down the road to plan for our destination – how we will get there and what we will do when we arrive.
I have never been one who believes it’s about the journey, not the destination. I don’t love 10-hour flights. I take them because I want to see Paris, or Athens or Rio de Janeiro. The back of the seat in front of me doesn’t hold a great deal of interest, even if that’s what I stare at to see a movie.
In business, we take many steps to get to a profitable result. We have an idea; we sketch out what the finished product might look like; our engineers develop specifications and transition them to manufacturing; we have quality assurance involved at every step along the way; if we are good at what we do, we have customers who are willing and able to pay us for all the effort; we deliver the goods and stand behind them with warranties and customer service. Does that look like what you do? The process involves a lot of YESs along the way. But the destination is a happy customer.
To get to YES involves a lot of the ABCs of Ethics. You know them. You have come this far with me on our journey and we are almost at the destination. Just one more letter to go: Z