Lesson 12: Ethics and Integrity

In today's society, it seems that we frequently come across people who have a different perspective of what is generally right and wrong or good and bad.  Radio & TV advertising techniques that used to be taboo, are now commonplace.  Whatever works to sell one's services is OK, as long as it is legal.  And contractors today sometimes question how a competitor of theirs can stay in business when they are known for cheating the customer.  Much has changed but some things need to stay the same.

Years ago while having dinner at a trade association meeting, a competitor of   mine told me that he doesn't really worry about satisfying his clients because he never has repeat business.  He is happy just to get paid for his work and go on to the next job.  Needless to say, I was astonished by his narrow-minded comment.  I told him, as well as others who were listening, that every client we worked for was to be our “latest and greatest referral” for our next project.  Obviously my competitor (and I use that term loosely) had no idea what it cost him to obtain that client in the first place or what the value was of that client being a referral for other projects. 

What really struck me was the fact that he was also known for not being a very reputable contractor.   His attitude was such that he thought he had a license to perform shoddy workmanship, to be indifferent to providing quality customer service, to short-change his subcontractors, and to be an unethical businessman.  This was back in the early seventies, a few years before business ethics really became a public issue.  

Back then though, our society was different.  In general, more people had good, sound, basic manners.  People showed more respect for others and they easily distinguished between right & wrong because the difference was considerably clearer than it is in today's society.  Unfortunately, over the past 25 years, we have allowed too much gray to come in to the equation for the purpose of economic expediency.  We simply do not hold ourselves up to the same standards that we should. 

Have ethics in business changed that much?  Are we really diluting the differences between right & wrong? In both cases, I believe the answer is yes.   There are some forces out there today that are pushing contractors to compromise their ethics where they shouldn't.   In some markets, there are more contractors chasing the same amount of business.  And, in order to get the best deal; there are end users who will do just about anything.  Frequently, that “good deal” requires the contractor to compromise his or her ethics…...just to get the job.  After that, they compromise again in an effort to be profitable.  It becomes a vicious cycle and at times, one that the contractor considers to be the only way to make it.   

How though, do we deal with that vicious cycle?  I think one needs to go back to the basics and ask this question.  “Am I a person of ethical behavior?”  But what really constitutes an ethical person in today's business environment?  Is being an ethical person something that can be learned or is it something that a person either possesses…….or doesn't?  The answer, I believe, is two fold.  Yes, it is something you can learn.  But if you don't believe there is a difference between right and wrong in your heart, if you don't practice it in every aspect of your business on a daily basis, when you are faced with a “real moment of truth”, you will fail.  You will fail because it was not a part of who you really were to begin with.

For those of us in the insurance restoration segment of the industry, we are faced with ethical decisions nearly every week.  It is not at all unusual to have an insured ask us to include in our scope of work, the value of their deductible.  Or, maybe they want us to convince the claims adjuster to perform a task that is not really required to put their home back the way it was before the loss.  And sometimes we may have the opportunity ourselves to add a work task that is not required, just to increase our bottom line.  Or, in the case of a water loss, if the structure is dry after two days, why can't we keep the equipment there for another day so that we can then charge the insurance company more equipment rental? Who would really know the difference? That just equates to greater profits and that's what being in business is all about.  Right?  Wrong!

If making a profit is not the answer then just what is the fundamental purpose of a company?  This may not be as simple an answer as some may believe either.  If increasing the bottom line is the primary reason to be in business, regardless of how it is done, then I believe the company is operating in an unethical manner.  When profits are the driving force behind a company's actions and when doing the right thing plays no part in the equation, the company then, is doomed to fail.  And it won't take long for that to happen.  Especially in today's environment.   Remember  Enron?  Remember the people who criticized what those Enron executives did?  How many of those people had also previously compromised with others ……….or compromised with their own morals, to gain some kind of personal benefit.  Yes maybe it was a small thing at the time, but they still did it.  And then they criticized the Enron executives for their behavior.  Oh, how we judge others by their actions and judge ourselves by our intentions!  

People are imperfect, they are inconsistent and yet they are forgiving human beings.  Most importantly though, when they are looking for a Remodeler, they are looking for someone of integrity.  A person of integrity is one who will not sacrifice his or her own ethics when it would be most beneficial to do so.  A person of integrity is who they are when no one is looking.  Consumers need professional Remodelers of integrity and ones that practice good business ethics.  They need NARI Certified Remodelers.

As entrepreneurs, we Remodelers are free moral agents.  And we are free moral agents who are able to make our own decisions and to control our own destiny.  What will your destiny be?

Proceed to the Test