Business Ethics: Don’t Close Your Hand on the Canary
By: W.T. “Bill” McKibben, Senior Counsel, The Great Lakes Group
Suddenly it’s October, and we are into the fourth and last quarter of 2012. This point in time gives us pause to examine why we are here; a time to remember that we are the canaries in the coal mine. Our job is to sniff out and head off the slightest hint of anything that might damage the reputation of our organization or our client. The trick is earning a place of trust that gives us access to thinking and planning at the highest level. We need a place at the right hand of the CEO; a place where we can nip off reputation damage in the bud.
Over more than four decades in communications I have watched the consequences break bad when we lose our focus on this role. It never starts out as a big deal, just some little thing. An action that might escalate into a problem, but it probably won’t, so it’s easy to let it go. Anyway, every time you raise a point it challenges one of the other players and they may not see the danger. It’s easier to let it pass, to close your hand on the canary.
A move that risks breaking the one rule that we should all have emblazoned on our conference room wall, Warren Buffett’s advice, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” Don’t allow anything stand in the way of your role as reputation guardian. I’ve had more than one client refer to me as their “Corporate Conscience,” and not always in a kindly tone. I even lost a client on one occasion when I raised ethical issues; never an easy outcome, but easier than losing a client because something that you let pass damaged or destroyed their reputation.
In recent years I have turned my focus to promoting the ethical business model. The idea that an organization that puts their employees, their customers, their vendors, their community, and the environment first has no need to worry about their lenders or their shareholders because the first five will assure them the best possible shot at profitability. Check out “Firms of Endearment”, a book detailing a study that shows that firms following those markers were eight times as profitable over a ten year period as the S&P 500 average.
Can anything guarantee profitability? Of course not, just that all things being equal you have a better shot if you follow the markers. It’s a message that resonates well. It’s a message we need to deliver to those entering the world of business, and those entering corporate communications and communications agencies. I welcome any chance to spread that message. Maybe we should all have a pretty yellow canary singing in our reception room to keep us focused on that message.
Published: October 3, 2012 By: