CAN YOU BE HONEST without being ethical, or must you be ethical to also be honest? These are not questions just for philosophers; they’re points of bottom-line focus for project managers and others in positions of responsibility within contracting firms.
Corporate culture comes from the top down increasing, not decreasing, in intensity as it flows downhill. What those who are managed perceive as being permissible eventually migrates down to them through words, actions and deeds. Your lower-rung foot soldiers being led by you and your bosses will, by their nature, follow your example. If that example is lying, cheating, stealing by direct or indirect actions, or otherwise engaging in dishonest or unethical behaviors, then that’s what they’ll mimic in order to fit in and to help keep their jobs.
If the company you work for routinely embraces anything less than “Golden Rule” ethics and an expectation of deep personal honesty from your employees, as set by management’s examples, then your bottom line and even long-term survival prospects are being negatively affected every single day.
Companies without honor and ethics attract only similar loser suppliers and clients, and loser employees who are bigger thieves than their bosses are. If you routinely screw your suppliers as much as you can and still have vendors who want to sell to you, those are the vendors who are also crooks themselves. They add large “insurance” factors to their pricing to you, put there just in case you decide not to pay at all one day, let alone after the 90 or 120 days that you normally pay.
This means you’re paying higher prices at worse terms of sale than your competition. By being less than ethical with your suppliers and trying to shaft them out of every conceivable dollar, you’re actually putting yourself at competitive disadvantage, not any advantage at all.
If you routinely try to be a Sneaky Pete and look for every chance, loophole and escape clause in the fine print of contracts to extract the last ounce of blood from one of your victims, uh, clients, who do you think will eventually wind up as your core customer base? You won’t attract the Vatican and the Dalai Lama.
Greedy SOBs and water always seek and find their own levels. You’ll wind up with a customer base with philosophies much like yours. They’ll stretch payments out to the point of contract default, looking for every mistake you made in your contract language so they can sue you or nail you to the wall, hammering you hard for every weakness they can find to squeeze every extra dollar out of you.
What will happen if you routinely cheat your employees out of every dime you can, deny them cursory Golden Rule respect, shortchange them on their timesheets or their benefits and make them pay for things in the workplace that most other companies pay for? Do you really think that they won’t extract fairness and money in creative ways you can’t imagine?
Haven’t you done the same thing in the past when you thought a prior employer was unfairly cheating or working you over for an extra dollar, just because he could? This isn’t stealing in their minds or being dishonest or dishonorable. It’s their way of achieving balance, leveling the playing field and getting what should have been there all along. Whether that mindset and action plan is right or wrong, it’s human nature.
Believe it or not, even in the cutthroat world of contracting, the most honest and ethical companies are the most bottom-line profitable.
So what is the difference between honesty and ethics? Ethics you can teach. Honesty is what you have as part of your core personality. Ethics are gray. Honesty is black-or-white. You must be honest to have ethics, but you can stretch “situational” ethics on occasion to cover the odd dishonest act.
We’re all human and even the most honest of us tells the occasional fib. All you can do is try to be true to your internal moral compass and pass your sense of fair play and decency on to those around you.
The best way to try to guarantee profits, job security and job satisfaction is to work for a company that believes as you do, having employees under you and bosses above you that share your Golden Rule beliefs.
H. Kent Craig is a second-generation mechanical contractor and project manager with unlimited Master’s licenses in boilers, air conditioning, heating and plumbing. He can be reached by calling 919/851-9550, or via e-mail at [email protected].