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Is it more important to maximize the bottom line or to maintain your ethical standards?

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When I was doing my MBA over 50 years ago there was a single course on ethical behavior in business. While ethics have been sprinkled around virtually all the courses overall very little has changed. The drive for profit still seems to be more important that maintaining one's integrity. Why is this? What do the leading business thinkers have to say about this?

Ethics
Leadership
Integrity and Trust
Bill Donohoo
3 months ago

8 answers

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I don't see why they have to be mutually exclusive. In Sandler we teach people how to sell more, more often, more easily, to the people they choose, for the price they expect.

There seems little point, to me, going bust ethically.

We should all have a very clear understanding of our value proposition and to be confident to ask what we expect to be paid to do our best possible work.

I cannot imagine anything more profitable than doing great work for a great price. A true win-win scenario.

David Davies - Sandler Sales Management Trainer
3 months ago
Thank you for your response. I have been part of Sandler seminars and I think they are great and teach exactly as you say. - Bill 3 months ago
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My view...David is correct - it's a false dilemma. The only way to sustainably maximize the bottom line is to be ethical - just ask Wells Fargo. I do think there is real focus on injecting ethics into business education. I teach part-time at Ohio University and there is a strong component of ethics in the college of business at the undergrad and graduate level.

Greg Moran
3 months ago
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While I agree wholeheartedly that these are not mutually exclusive, there are occasions when executives are faced with the choice to do what is ethically responsible or opt to increase profits substantially insteas. When Purdue convinced their sales teams, and perhaps their customers as well, that "pseudo addiction" required more drugs to cure the affliction, they opted for higher profits. They could have chosen to increase profits at a slower pace had they been willing to factor ethics and integrity into their decision making process.

Paula Kruger
3 months ago
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Couldn't agree more, Paula. They made a trade-off against ethics. $600M in fines and 3 convictions in 2007 alone - I'd guess at least the convicted executives would look back and say they made the wrong choice. As a paid manager (i.e. corporate exec), they'd actually already committed to follow the law and act ethically (at least as the company defines it in its employment agreement). This is partly what makes it a false dilemma - the intention is that unethical behavior is never a consideration, regardless of its profit potential. Introducing unethical options into strategic consideration is a fundamental violation of the fiduciary duty of a manager. It happens and I understand the structural pressures that make it attractive, but managers who go down that path are like vegetarians saying "I never eat meat, except when I eat meat", only the stakes are way higher - in your example, lives. Thanks for raising the issue...we need this conversation to be happening a lot more.

Greg Moran
3 months ago
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Greg,
I agree with your comments.

One wonders if Academia and Corporations are doing enough to ensure employees always come out on the right side of that choice.

Paula Kruger
3 months ago
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"we teach people how to sell more, more often, more easily, to the people they choose, for the price they expect."

This approach may not be antithetical to being ethical, but given our current circumstances I believe it comes close. The days of foisting products on customers are coming to an end. Environmental limits demand it. Deny this reality at our shared peril. Sell your customers what they really need and treat them well to keep them coming back when they need more. That has to be the path forward. Ethics is obviously much broader than this, but I view this as table stakes in our current situation.

Chris Oestereich
3 months ago
The days of foisting products on customers should never have started; but I agree it exists. Nobody ever bought because of the hard sell, they may have been forced to buy in spite of it though. The foundation of everything we teach is Sandler is choose your clients carefully, choose the clients who respect your value and that you will deliver your best to. - David 3 months ago
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There are many customers out there that will only buy from companies with clear ethical strategies. How many people would go back to VW after the emission scandal?

David Cottrell
3 months ago
Many - Paula 3 months ago
Good point...sadly, many don't vote with their wallet if it inconveniences them. The VW group had an operating profit of EUR 4.2B in the first quarter. I'm amazed how many people still use Uber after its profound ethical lapses. - Greg 3 months ago
Don't forget about Stewart Parnell of the Peanut Corporation of America who kept deliberately pushing salmonella infected peanuts even when he know their health risk. - Bill 3 months ago
That goes beyond unethical. that's criminal behavior. Paula - Paula 3 months ago
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Th narrative of ethics in business might be prominent in develop countries like US where a member of staff can develop concise and become a whistle blower when there organization are giving prominence to bottom lines over ethics. But the narrative is different in developed worlds. Mechanize not considered ethical in US and Europe are easily passed on to Africa where they considered regulations and people concise weak.

Jimoh Abdulrafiu
3 months ago

Have some input?