Why good behavior is profitable

By John Langhorne / Guest Editorial

In my last article, I opened with an overview of the “broken windows study” and used it to review four general types of behavior that account for many unethical practices. If you missed it, find it at http://bit.ly/langhornewindows.

Nearly every national survey conducted on the topic of professional trust shows that large numbers of Americans believe business executives are dishonest. For more than three decades I have been working closely with many small and mid-sized businesses, and my own experience is not consistent with this perception.

I have found businesspeople to be thoughtful, caring individuals who are as often as concerned about ethics and customers as profits. Is this a regional phenomenon? I think not. What is clear is that businesses, like people, must formulate and live by a clear set of ethics if they intend to survive and thrive.

A reasonable assumption is that ethical behavior is profitable – a belief held by many people. I think there is ample evidence to support this belief. Let me elaborate on three ways that ethical behavior is profitable.

Ethical behavior is personally profitable. The literature of psychology is replete with evidence that self-esteem is an essential ingredient of effective functioning. The argument goes something like this: There is one person in the world that you must like and respect. That’s the person you see in the mirror each morning.

The foundations of self-esteem include integrity, competence and interpersonal skill. I think most of us know that people who deceive others are also deceiving themselves, and they begin to lose track of who they are. When that happens, people are in serious trouble.

Ethical behavior is interpersonally profitable. We live in a world of people. Most of what we do in our lives is for people we respect or love. People are the most important element in our world. We build firm and lasting relationships with others through ethical behavior.

Think of those you respect and trust – who are they? Most likely they are people who behave with integrity toward you.

One simple definition of integrity is doing what you say you will do when you say you will do it. I refer to this definition of integrity as the say/do ratio. Each of us knows persons with a high say/do ratio and we know that they deliver. Their word is their bond. Consider the axiom “what you give is what you get.” To a large extent, we create the world around us by how we treat those around us, including friends, colleagues and loved ones.

Ethical behavior is organizationally profitable. We are all experts on how we are treated. Every day each of us touches many organizations. Examine those that you hold in high regard and compare them with those that you have negative feelings toward. Every thoughtful person has a mental list of businesses that they will not trade with, as well as a list that they prefer to use. What determines this list? How we are treated as customers, clients or patients.

For many years marketing research has shown that when a business treats a customer badly, that customer will tell many people about the incident. Fortunately, the reverse is also the case.

Another valuable lesson is, how you treat your employees is how they will treat the customers. Employees call this the “plumber’s rule.” A good measure of the climate of a company is how they treat me at first contact. Some organizations are courteous and helpful, while others make it very clear that you are an unwelcome bother.

I once heard a speaker note that a person is only as good as her ability to make her word valuable through her behavior. In my next article, I will consider what a set of personal ethical principles might look like.

John Langhorne is owner and principal of Langhorne Associates, www.langhorneassociates.com. His most recent book, “Beyond IQ: Practical Steps to Find the Best You” is available digitally at Amazon.