I have been working on a module about values and ethics for The New Consulting School, and remembered I had done an interview with my friend Greg Hartle about this subject. He has founded and sold multiple companies, and brings a tremendous depth of perspective in the area of ethics.
In the conversation, I asked him how we translate general values like “Fairness” or “Honesty” into specific, behavior-based descriptions that let us know if we are putting our values into action.
One tool that he shared was to create an “Always and Never” list for your business.
Always and Never
As an example, in one of Greg’s businesses, an “Always” is:
“Any commitment made to a customer is always documented, shared with the customer and signed off by a manager. This way we all know exactly what has been promised, and we will stop at nothing to ensure it is delivered.”
Here are some examples of “Nevers” from a poll on Facebook. I asked “What would you *never* do in business?” Some replies:
“Have early morning meetings.”
“Cancel a promise to my family to make money.”
“Make a promise that I know I can’t keep.”
“Twist myself and my integrity in a pretzel to land a client.”
“Tell someone they can’t make changes to their own website because they will screw it up.”
And here were some examples of “Always”:
“Let my clients know they matter, their life has purpose, and I value them.”
“Tell the truth.”
“Tell clients their security is too weak.”
“Show up 100% intellectually, Love them, and have fun!”
“Focus on solutions.”
The selective process of absolutes
When choosing absolutes, it really forces you to think.
You can say: “I will never work for a client who is unkind or disrespectful.”
Are you prepared to stand by this if you are about to lose your home, and the only way to save it is by working with said unkind client?
Are you prepared to stand by this if working with said client will lead to your life-long goal of meeting and interviewing John Legend? (Not that I would know anything about that!)
The Hypocrisy Line
The examination of these absolutes gets you bumping up against what Greg calls the “Hypocrisy Line.”
When you cross it, you violate your deepest ethics.
In my line of work as a career coach, I have met many, many people who have crossed over their hypocrisy line and are feeling the repercussions.
Violating your sense of ethics knocks you off balance. It can make you feel scared, or filled with dread. You may suddenly feel paranoid, like someone is out to get you.
Or, frequently, you feel dead inside.
The power is in the examination
I have always had a hard time looking at life in absolutes. There are too many different angles and gray areas, that can be driven by a range of different circumstances.
Even in these shifting sands, there are some areas that you know deep inside are non-negotiables.
Clarifying exactly what these are is the foundation of your organizational culture.
- Take out a piece of paper, or open a document, and create “Always” and “Never” columns.
- Brainstorm as many items as you can think of in each column.
- Re-examine the list with the question: “Can I think of a valid exception to this rule?” If so, take it off the list.
- Whittle down the list to those things that you feel are clear, feasible and useful in guiding the direction of your business.
- If you have a team, you can choose to do this process collaboratively.
- Review your core list of projects, business operations and marketing strategies.
- Ask yourself “In light of my “Always and Never” list, do I need to make any adjustments in my business?”
- Make adjustments.
- Sleep better, and watch your business grow.