EB101 - KTP and the Golden Rule © Question:  Keeping the Promise we make to our customers seems so fundamental to becoming a profitable company, why isn’t that the most important thing to every businessperson?

Larry:  It sounds obvious that people would want to keep the promises they make to their customers, if only to make a profit.  The promise to exchange value for value with one another is the cornerstone of commerce.  But some people just don't get along well with others on the playground and scandals like “Enron” have taught us to think twice before treating someone’s promise as a valuable asset, whether it is a product or service we are purchasing, or their publicly traded stock.

When I was a boy, I was taught to “treat others the way you want them to treat you.”  It was called the “Golden Rule” and it was something I heard at home, at school, on the ball field, and virtually anywhere people wanted to work or play together in a friendly, orderly manner.  Although the Golden Rule was not followed by everyone, the majority of the people we came into contact with each day were aware that their actions would be judged by that simple standard.

So when business leaders like W. Edwards Deming and Philip Crosby trained their clients to manage people and processes, they were building upon a generally-accepted foundation of ethics.  However, by the end of their careers, they had to adjust to a deteriorating work ethic, and emphasize the ethical “ingredients” required for their philosophy of management to succeed.  Without a renewal of ethical standards, people could no longer be relied upon to embrace the honesty and accountability required to function effectively at work.

Ethics strengthen our conscience, restrain us from selfish or unfair acts, or help us empathize with another person’s problem so we can do the right thing to help them.  An ethic must be taught and modeled by all parts of a community (or business) for it to remain vital or we will lose our ability to have reasonable conversations and function reliably in the marketplace. When people share the same ethic, they can buy, sell, and generally depend upon one another to do things right and keep their promises.