'Walk the Talk:' A Guide to Ethical ManagementPosted 7/9/2009
By Tony Passwater
To maintain a code of ethics in your shop, you must lead by example.
I am sure you have heard the expression, "walking the talk." But do you understand its meaning and application for your business? The dictionary defines "ethics" as "a system of moral principles or values; the rules or standards governing conduct of members of a profession; accepted principles of right and wrong." Simply put, ethics is doing the "right thing" consistently - being fair, honest and legal.
The purpose of this article is to encourage the automotive service and collision repair community to operate their businesses according to the highest ethical standards. The one element that has been difficult for many to accept is that "walking the talk" and ethics in general applies to everything your company does, everything your employees do, and, most importantly, everything you as an owner or manager do.
"Walking the talk" is not about putting rules, laws and penalties into your organization. It is about cultivating the beliefs within the organization to "do the right thing." And you, as the owner or manager, must lead the culture by "walking the talk." Having an ethical culture within your organization begins with leadership and everyone focusing on the "right thing."
Knowing What Is Right
Growing up, we were taught not to steal, cheat or kill. These are pretty easy pillars to scratch off the list of behaviors a company will not tolerate. For purposes of this article - as it may apply to your shop - let us address the "stealing" or "cheating" part.
In your company, is it OK to take a roll of tape home? How about sandpaper, adhesives, chemicals, copy paper, coffee, pens or customer belongings left in the vehicle? For body shops, what about "cost shifting" on an insurance or customer pay estimate? In the service shop, what about replacing a part without properly diagnosing the cause of the customer issue only to find out that wasn't it? All of these can fit into the "steal" and "cheat" category. So other than the "big three" - stealing, cheating and killing - there are many others that appear to be in the "gray zone." This zone seems to get larger as we get older.
To sort out these gray areas, use the existing laws and regulations in place to make the decision regardless of what other influences are present from third parties and other competitors around you. Keep in mind, ignorance of the law is not a justifiable excuse and don't just look at the literal words of the laws/regulations but the intent of the rules.
Carl Sewell in his well-respected guide to business, "Customers for Life," explains that doing the right thing is pretty simple. If you are trying to determine if it is the right thing to do, ask yourself a simple question, "How would my actions appear if they were described tomorrow on the front page of the local newspaper?" This pretty much summarizes that everything we do, we should be accountable for with no rationalization.
One of the most important ways of knowing what is right is listening to your conscience and those of others within your organization. Discuss it and ask yourself, "Is this right?" Staff involvement is the first step in building your "code of ethics" into the culture of your business, and within your managers, owners and all other staff members.
Words Without Actions = Empty Promises
All the discussions, promises and written scripts mean nothing without visual verifiable actions everyone - including the customer - can see. It only takes a short time for anyone to see what is real and what is not. It is like the old adage, "My word is my bond." In the old days it meant everything. Today, giving someone your word doesn't hold the kind of credibility it once did.
How to Test Your Actions
To make sure the actions that are being considered are most likely going to be ethical, a simple ethical action test can be implemented so that your front line people can "act" and not be hampered to make a decision. This test includes the following questions. If you answer "no" to any of them, there may likely be an ethical issue involved:
1. Is it legal?
2. Does it comply with our rules and guidelines?
3. Is it in sync with our organizational values?
4. Will I be comfortable and guilt-free if I do it?
5. Does it match our stated commitments and guarantees?
6. Would I do it to my family or friend?
7. Would I be perfectly OK with someone doing it to me?
8. Would the most ethical person I know do it?
There are some common rationales that are used to avoid doing the right thing. These are not acceptable to an ethical organization, but they will certainly challenge you and your people from time to time:
• "Everyone else does it."
• "They'll never miss it."
• "Nobody will care."
• "The boss does it."
• "No one will know."
• "I don't have time to do it right."
• "That's close enough."
• "Some rules were meant to be broken."
• "It's not my job."
These are but a few, but once you allow your organization to go down this path, the ethical approach is lost very quickly.
Where to Begin
The most important first step begins with you as the owner or manager. Sewell also pointed out, "Talking ain't enough. The boss can't just lecture about ethics, he must show he means it by the way he acts toward everyone ... employees as well as customers." This may be the most difficult step for many.
Someone once said, "Leadership by example is the only kind of real leadership. Everything else is a dictatorship." Your leadership of how to "walk the talk" is key to becoming a truly ethical organization. Always remember everything is important and everyone is watching all the time.
We have found that there are good resources available to assist you and your company. Two books we highly recommend are, "Walk the Talk" by Eric Harvey and Steve Ventura, and "144 Ways to Walk the Talk" by Eric Harvey and Alexander Lucia.
Editor's Note: This article is one of several management articles that will be contributed to AutoInc. this year by Automotive Management Institute (AMI) instructors. A full lineup of AMI instructors are sharing their knowledge throughout the year on a variety of topics including ethics, employee training, customer service, increasing profits and other valuable information.
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