My 4th year Business professor said something that I’ll never forget, “never make a decision based on money… Because money should always be the outcome of value, and not the pursuit of it”. As I sat there in class and looked around at my fellow soon to be graduates, I immediately realized that most of them didn’t let the magnitude of his statement sink in before drifting into their daydream of throwing their college caps in the air.
His point was that making a decision purely on capital gains will only make you want to make more decisions based purely on capital gains. If you decide to go with a manufacturer of your products only because they will manufacture the product cheaper, you’ve fallen trap to the cleverly deceptive tempter named greed. At first it seems like a smart decision as you’re reducing your costs and increasing your margins, which keeps your shareholders happy right? But the impact of the decision not only jeopardizes the future quality of your product, it also instills a company culture that encourages cutting corners and making any decision to make a buck. Furthermore, it sends a message to your organization that the quality of your product and your customers aren’t that important to you.
The slippery slope declines quickly, as the money-first approach only encourages further manipulation of the “grey” area, and finding questionable ways to continue to increase your capital gains. Many times, those caught with their hand in the cookie jar never realize just how quickly they had changed their moral compass to increase the money they made – for themselves or for their company. Not only that, they’re usually past the point of no return and have found ways to indemnify themselves even if they are caught red-handed (there is a select few who willingly avoid a moral compass and are fully aware of their wrongdoings).
I worked at a steel mill in my summers, during my college years, and I noticed how easily a decision at the corporate level impacted how employees on the production floor conducted themselves. The steel company had issues at the top with ownership out of country. The corporate teams wanted to squeeze every dollar they could from their manufacturing plants and encouraged their plant GMs to make sure “the steel never stopped rolling”. This mantra encouraged people to cut corners and in some cases got people hurt, sometimes really bad.
When I was working, one hot summer day at the mill (it’s even hotter inside the mill!), I was in the area where the product underwent final inspection before being packaged and delivered to the customer. Part of the process was weight and measurement during final inspection. When I conducted final measurement, I realized the pipe was 3 inches too long (the total pipe length was over 30 feet long, and you could walk inside this pipe). I instructed that the pipe be re-routed to the processing plant and that the additional 3 inches cut off. Once I entered this into the computer I had a fellow co-worker come over and instruct me to “fudge the numbers” and push the pipe through (if you submitted anything longer than the permitted length, the system immediately moved the product to a new que to be re-processed). If I re-routed the pipe, my crew on this shift may not hit their quota and the team could be questioned for it. If I pushed the pipe through, my name would be stamped on the pipe for approved final inspection, and I said I wouldn’t do it. He insisted that it go through and logged me out of the computer and proceeded to move the pipe through. I called over the plant supervisor to address the issue, and he took the side of the employee that the pipe length difference was acceptable.
Little did I, or the folks I was working with, realize just a couple weeks before that a customer was installing pipe in the field and was joining two long intersections of pipe; with a tight deadline to finalize the connection to move product through the line later that month. Ironically, when the two teams building the pipeline intersected, they ended up being 3 inches too long and they needed to call in special equipment to cut the pipe down, bevel it, and reinstall it.
The plant supervisor caught wind of this and pulled me into his office the next day (I thought he was going to fire me for insubordination, something I was more than ready for when I made the decision not to move the product through). Instead of firing me, he apologized for his behavior and applauded mine for standing up for something that I believed to be morally wrong and unethical, even as small as it was. He also said he had never apologized to an employee before, especially a summer student, and informed me that he instructed the night shift to take the pipe in question from the stockyard and be reprocessed to the correct length.
The steel company ended up losing that customer a couple months later, likely unrelated to the issue, but the steel company followed up the loss with layoffs to the local plant, putting the future of many working families in jeopardy.
The lesson I learned from both my professor’s statement and my experience at this steel mill was, that even when you think a decision is the smallest step into the “grey” area, it only opens up further opportunities for you to push the envelope a little more to make another questionable decision in the hunt for increased revenue. I only ask that the next time you’re faced with a decision, that the right thing to do, regardless of how scary or the risk involved with making the decision, is the path you take. I promise, the outcomes will equal out in the long run (this includes revenue!).
If you want to read a great story about perseverance, ethical behavior, and the payoffs associated with making the right decisions, I strongly encourage you to read Through the Fires by Robert Owen Carr.