When Doing What Is Right Collides With Doing What Is Profitable
Integrity or Profit?
We have all had good and bad bosses; effective and ineffective bosses; bosses who inspire and bosses who drive you to despair.
In my career I have found that there are valuable lessons to be learned from both good and bad bosses. From many of my good bosses, I have learned lessons on how to motivate and value people and how to improve processes and how to do things better. From some of my “challenging” bosses, I have learned by observing what not to do or how not to manage.
Throughout my career, I have followed the pattern that when I am in a private meeting or a management meeting, I owe it to my employer to argue as vigorously, with proper respect, for the position I believe to be in the best interests of the company, the employees and the customers.
However, when a decision is made and we leave the meeting, even if the final decision is counter to what I thought was the best direction, I have the responsibility to fully support the decision without any hint of my disagreement or grumbling, as long as the decision is ethical and legal. My only other option is to find a new job since staying and grumbling has never been an option I have considered to be valid.
Fortunately, in over 95% of the cases, the decisions made, while maybe not always shown to be the wisest business decisions, were not unethical, so I could support them to the rest of the company and market.
However, what do you do when doing what is profitable, either personally or for your employer, collides with what you believe is right? I will share three examples from my experiences, each with a different outcome.
Hiring the wrong person for the wrong reason
As a young manager, I was tasked with hiring technical staff for a growing entity. For every position we had available, there were dozens of applicants. As a result, I could afford to be selective and choose very qualified candidates.
One of the candidates for an unskilled role happened to be from a family who were personal friends and part of our community social group. This person was not the most qualified candidate, but since the job was an unskilled position, I rationalized that I could train him. Since I saw his family frequently outside of work and he really did need the work, the pressure on me to hire him was not always subtle. With doubts that I conveniently filed away, I hired him.
Within only a few days, it became obvious that this was the wrong decision and made for the wrong reasons. The person I hired took advantage of my friendship with his family, did not pull his weight, and made sure his coworkers knew I was friends with his family. I counseled this person on several occasions and told him that he had to do his job and, because his family knew me, it would really be helpful if he would work harder than anyone else. His performance did not get better and I eventually had to terminate his employment.
While the rest of his coworkers were glad he was gone, I had lost the respect of these employees that took me several months to gain back. And, as a result of his termination, his family members became extremely unfriendly to me outside of work. The results were (1) loss of production due to having the wrong person in the job; (2) loss of respect of people who worked for me; and (3) loss of friends and social group outside of work.
The lesson I learned was that my hiring decision was both the wrong decision for the company and was made for all the wrong reasons. I put what I thought was more personally profitable for me ahead of what was best for my employer. Tough lesson that I never forgot.
Your Personal Values Sometimes Trump Doing What Is Profitable
Later in my career, I was part of an aggressive and fun sales team. We were growing rapidly with new technology and challenging the market leaders by converting their distributors and customers. I enjoyed being part of this team.
During one of our regional sales meetings, the sales manager announced what our evening “team-building” activity would be. This was a pretty conservative group and there were plenty of nervous jokes about the planned activity. During a break, I privately went to my regional manager and told him that, while I really enjoyed being part of this team, I could not participate in the planned evening event. I was as discrete and respectful as I knew how, but this was not an event I believed was right for me to participate in. The regional manager did not respond well to my conversation with him.
When the meeting reconvened, the regional manager berated me in front of the entire team and told me that if I was too good to participate in the evening event, I should just leave, get on a plane and fly home because participation in all team events was a condition of employment.
I enjoyed and needed this job, but I also needed to be able to live in a way that was consistent with what I believed was right. I was not making a judgment about what was right for the others, but I knew what was right for me. I stood up, left my computer on the table, and started to walk out of the room, fully intending to go to the airport, fly home and tell my family that I was now unemployed.
As I got near the door, one of the other team members said to the regional manager that the meetings had gone long each day and he would prefer a quiet evening rather than doing what was planned. One after another of my team members echoed their desire to have an early night, rather than the planned event. The regional manager responded by saying since it had been an intense few days of meetings, he would postpone what he had planned and we could do that some other time. He told me that, for now, I could stay.
For reasons I still don’t fully understand, before our next monthly regional meeting, the regional manager was terminated. His replacement was a totally different personality and the issue never came up again.
I learned two lessons from this encounter. First, it is always right to stand for what you believe, regardless of the price you may have to pay. That is a very hard lesson and would not always turn out as well as this event. Secondly, I learned the value of having teammates who would stand with you when you needed it most. Both of these lessons served me well later in my career.
Doing What is Right For Customers Sometimes Requires A High Price
I was part of the management team for a company that provided a valuable product to customers.
During a management planning meeting, my boss made some decisions regarding the direction of our company that I believed was the wrong business direction and, more importantly, reversed what we had been telling customers for some time. I argued for what I believed was right as vigorously as I could. I lost the argument.
I made the choice during this meeting that, if the decision held up, I would need to leave the company as I could not support this decision to customers. Remembering the lesson from earlier in my career when my teammates “rescued” me, I was confident that something would happen or the decision would be reversed, so I would not have to leave the employment of a company I enjoyed.
That did not happen and I was left with the choice to either enthusiastically support the decision or leave. I left without another employment prospect although, in the end, leaving was clearly the best decision for my family, for the customers and likely for the company.
I learned that when we make promises and commitments to customers, we have to do everything we can to fulfil those commitments. There are times when circumstances are beyond our control and commitments are missed. But it is never acceptable to reverse a commitment simply because it is convenient or because we changed our mind.
As I said earlier in this blog, the vast majority of the time doing what is profitable for the company, the customer, and for my family will not collide with what I believe is right for the way I have decided to live my life. However, it is critically important to decide how I want to live my life before I am confronted with the moral choice to prioritize what is profitable over what is right.
- Bob Williams