The Puppy Who Lost It’s Way: Thoughts on Business Ethics

by Benjamin on December 16, 2009

Matt is one of the first people I connected when I started blogging and experimenting with social media.  I am at awe at both his work ethic and the community he has been able to build at Life Without Pants.  So when he asked who would like him to write a guest post as part of his 50 blog grand tour, I jumped at the chance to participate.  When he agreed to write me a post, he asked me what topic I would like him to focus on while writing the post.  It turns out that I was feeling like a wise-ass that day, so I repeated the line from Billy Madison: “I choose…Business Ethics.”  To my surprise, he was like, “Yea!  That’s great!  I could write a great post about that!”  That great post is below, as part of the Guest Blog Grand Tour. Subscribe to the Life Without Pants blog RSS feed and follow him on Twitter to keep in touch!

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Odds are, if you graduated with a business degree, Business Ethics was part of your curriculum. For a semester, we’re instructed on the right (and more importantly wrong) ways to do business. But somewhere along our path, like a lost puppy, many business owners and professionals lose their way, and the line between what is and isn’t ethical behavior begins to blur.

What I’ve seen firsthand, in several instances, is a common pattern within the “corporate” environment. At a business’s initiation, relationships are golden – they serve as the foundation for any business to establish itself and grow upon. But once some success is achieved, once a company gets a taste of fame and fortune, those relationships that were so important gradually become less and less of a focus.

I spent some time as an account rep at a large ad agency before my move to Chicago earlier this year – a company that defined what it meant to build up outstanding relationships, and then break them down. It seemed so crazy to me that a company could be so willing to abuse their hard earned partnerships – and what I witnessed was the systematic burning of bridges. When one person wouldn’t agree to terms, we’d pull out almost every trick in the book to get the best results.

Our results were top notch –  what we delivered to our clients could not be beat. But at what expense? How many people would we have to piss off to get our way? How many promises would we have to break? Not only were we damaging our reputation, we were crossing the line into unethical behavior.

This type of business may very well be efficient for a while – but as the old saying goes, what goes around comes around – and eventually – maybe not today – maybe not 5 years from now, but eventually, abusing long-term relationships will come back to bite you in the ass.

A lot of big business owners should think back to their college days – back to their semester of Business Ethics. And think back to how their business all began –  when they gave a damn about relationships and valued how important they were to their current success.

Who’s doing it right? The Zappos example rings true again. You want to talk about a company who puts relationships and dare I say, “fun” as the core of their businesses success? Look no further than what Zappos has accomplished. A company founded by a group of friends, and through the years, up until their near-billion dollar sale to Amazon, an organization who never lost sight of their core values. Have you ever heard anyone question Zappos ethics? Exactly…they must be doing something right.

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That’s not to say there won’t be temptation along the way to wander down an unethical path. But be careful who you hurt – you may end up on Steve Buscemi’s “People to Kill” list ala Billy Madison.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan Pogorzelski December 16, 2009 at 8:02 am

I was an English major rather than a Business major in college, though I did work in the business department of a local university for awhile a few years ago. So I’m coming from a place of little formal education when it comes to business practices and ethics, only my own experience out there in the world. Just want to put that disclaimer out there first…

It would seem to me that a lot of what business ethics comes down to is common sense. How do we (or at least should we) treat other people? With respect, with decency, by helping them and really listening and understanding? Guess what — that’s how we should treat customers as well, because first and foremost, they are people. And it’s people who are going to buy or use your product.

What I think is so great about Zappos (and consequently other companies who rate high in customer experience) is that they understand this. It’s not some scheme for better business, but rather they live these values.

That’s what I’ve seen in my own business experiences, at least — both working for companies and as the consumer. It seems to me if more people were focused on values rather than quick get-rich, be successful schemes, they would see a better, lasting return.

But then again, I do believe in unicorns.

Great, great post Matt, and thanks to Ben for having him host you.

Matt Cheuvront December 16, 2009 at 11:02 am

I miss seeing you comment on my posts Susan – I’ll have to keep drawing you in with promises of puppies :)

It does SEEM like it would be common sense, doesn’t it? But it’s funny what the almighty dollar can do to people, and businesses. It does a lot to blur the line between what’s ethical, and what isn’t. As you said, in any business I’ll associate myself with, or start myself – ethical business practice must be at the core of it all. Treating people like people and valuing relationships is extremely important to me, both personally and professionally.

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