Building Business Relationships

Are you struggling to create and keep profitable customers? Columns for Sales and Marketing Management who wants to build business relationships.
Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Five Ways to Jump-start Your Company's Ethics (Abstract)

Five Ways to Jump-Start Your Company's Ethics. Want to make a real difference in your organization? That is going to take some hard, serious work. Here's where to start. [Fast Company]

I agree with Toffler and Fast Company senior writer Jennifer Reingold that it's going to take some hard, serious work improve ethical corporate behavior. In their article, Five Ways to Jump-start Your Company's Ethics, they present some of the weakest ways to address corporate ethics-- but in all fairness, they provide a great starting point for all executives to consider.

Here I have provided the original five points with a large portion of commentary:

  1. Change your vocabulary.  You can talk responsibility, decency, and a thousand other words all day, but it is your actions that provide the measure of ethical practice. (It's ethical practice, not ethical conversation.)  Remember what is consider ethical is often a cultural norm for a certain scenario or situation. Think about what is right and fair, what would you want done if you were in the other persons position.
  2. Take the values-statement challenge.  I'm not big on value statements, hardly even consider them as anything more than a mnemonic for certain expected behaviors. It is very important to be specific, but keep value statements short, symbolizing the value more than talking about it. Use real examples of right and wrong practice in your training activities.
  3. Be a know-it-all.  Seeking the truth is great, but if you have a large organization you must trust your direct reports to provide you the details. Each should be responsible for their own, localize (compartmentalize) action to isolate situation that may occur. Express your interest in the facts, share with employees that you would rather know about loses now than to find them later. Strictly punish anyone who misrepresents data and use information tools to reduce human factors.
  4. Hold a risk brainstorm.  This is a no-brainier, use a SWOT analysis to look at any aspect that improves your chances of success with a given business objective and do it on a regular basis. Also regularly survey your customers opinions of business practice, address any misunderstandings, and avoid a defensive attitude. Relevance is key, address the big problems first.
  5. Slash your pay.  I think pay cuts should be percentage based and taken across the entire organization, when possible executives should take a greater percentage cut. Publicizing greater cuts in the executive ranks is good for business outlook. Reducing your largest expenses first makes more sense to any cost-cutting strategy, but don't doe this without lowering your cost of living.

It would be shallow of me to call the original article weak without providing a few more strategies from my own experiences. While business ethics is a popular topic today, many CEO's are already ethically running their businesses. Media is assuming that the actions of a few (Enron, Worldcom, ...) represent the actions of the over 9 million CEO's world-wide.

  1. Ethics is as much a matter of perception as it is a matter of fact.  You can have the most responsible and trustworthy company in the world, but it only takes a few concerns to hurt your business. Consider how certain actions look to those outside your decision-making team, work to shape both internal and external relationships by sharing the facts of major decisions.
  2. You can only be responsible for the behavior of your direct reports.  As an executive, if you try to bear down on the ethics of every individual in your company, you'll likely accomplish nothing. Understand you can only be responsible for the actions of those who report directly to you and to whom you work in close proximity. Outside this, others must understand they have the same responsibility to keep honest those around them.
  3. Employees will model their decisions on the actions you take.  Your actions, or lack of actions, are regularly scrutinized by employees. They build models of behavior based on the worst of what you do because (a) they seek your approval to get what they want, and (b) you serve as a convenient frame of reference. Be cautious of what you do, delegate actions whenever possible.
  4. Building a sustainable company affords you a greater income over time.  Too many of these scandal cases were rich executives taking short-term risks to produce more capital. The effort taken to pull off these elaborate schemes could have equally produced legitimate activities to fund early retirement for any of them. Keep your cost of living lower than your base salary, build a company that produces both an enjoyable experience and regular income no matter the economic conditions around you.
  5. While loses are minimal, if caught, you have your own duty and honor to consider.  Terms often consider archaic in this modern world, would you rather be known as the person to swindled their workers out of millions-- or the hero who helped thousands live better lives. It is your responsibility to provide for employee, their success should be your reward. A company is a living system, when one person cheats the company or customer, they cheat everyone.
  6. Put into practice trust building activities to cultivate long-term relationships.  Conduct business as if your books were completely open and anyone had access to it's innermost secrets. Don't give customers any reason not to trust your organization by providing the best value service possible. You'll free up a lot of resources and make things very hard for competitors.
  7. Encourage regular ethics and soft skills training.  Don't assume your employees hold the same ethical standards as your executive team. Share with those around you exactly what you expect as far as behavior, but participate in soft skills training and adjust your behavior. (Remember, you might not be considered an ethical person, so listen to employees ideas of ethics too.)

Toffler, along with Fast Company senior writer Jennifer Reingold, is the coauthor of Final Accounting: Ambition, Greed and the Fall of Arthur Andersen (Broadway Books, March 2003).

Justin Hitt helps executives build profitable relationships with customer, employees, and strategic partners. He can be reached by phone at +1 (877) 207-3798 or on-line at

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Building diverse communications channels

The brains behind Howard Dean's Internet-fueled presidential campaign

While I have no comment on the presidential campaign of Howard Dean, it is interesting how his campaign is using the Internet. Fast Company's Linda Tischler provides an insightful sidebar quoted here:

  1. Design the organization to be nimble from the start. A decentralized workforce can respond to local challenges more quickly if it doesn't have to wait for clearance from higher up the food chain. Be willing to let go of total control.
  2. Find ways to let supporters -- or customers -- talk to each other. Make it easy to connect, then step out of the conversation.
  3. Encourage ways for ideas to bubble up from the field. Understand that the more brainpower that is applied to a problem, the better the solution. Unleash the power of the people to be creative.
  4. Recognize that it's not about the technology. True, you need a basic level of technical sophistication to make things work, but the technology should be in service to the idea, not the other way around.

Howard Dean's campaign is described as primarily Internet based. The original article covers the important issue; What about people who don't have Internet access?  A media campaign (or anything designed to influence a selling relationships) must consider multiple communications channels.

Joe Trippi, campaign manager, addresses this issue by holding meetings at Internet cafés and other public places with Internet access-- however, short of providing your customers the connections they need, you must have a healthy balance of traditional marketing like brochures, catalogs, and phone calls.

Various other parallels between a political campaign and a business start-up are drawn, but the key points to take away from this article are:

Justin Hitt, with over 10 years of experience in business to business executive relationships and strategic business intelligence; has reduced costs and improve customer loyalty for professional services and numerous other technology companies. Call +1 (877) 207-3798 or visit his website at

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Last update: 04/08/2004; 2:36:51 PM.

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