A weird thing happened to a friend of mine recently (let’s call my friend Sue). Her company is one of the three largest customers of one of their providers. The provider, we’ll call them Widgets, Inc. had spent thousands of dollars entertaining Sue and some of her coworkers over the last couple of years. During this time, her company purchased a fair amount of their products.
Sue isn’t the decision maker, per se, though she can influence others to make favorable or unfavorable decisions about Widgets’ products and services. I’ve always known Sue to have very high integrity. In fact, I’ve never known Sue to be influenced by expensive dinners or sports tickets.
Over the last two years, Sue has been honest about Widgets’ products, which are pretty good. She’s recommended to her peers that they try some of Widgets’ offerings on more than one occasion. When Widgets dropped the ball, Sue didn’t cover it up. Rather, Sue called them out and demanded appropriate credits. In Sue’s mind, Widgets’ entertaining was their choice and created no contract between Sue and Widgets, Inc.
In planning a recent trip to Widgets’ headquarters, Sue was asked if she would join the Widgets team at their skybox for a Major League Baseball game during the trip. While she felt she would enjoy it, it was more important to Sue that her subordinates be given some of the spoils she had been receiving. When she mentioned this to the Widgets team, they said “the more the merrier” and agreed to invite five people from Sue’s team. This was six weeks before the event.
When Sue told her excited team the news, they each booked an extra night in Widgets’ hometown so that they would be able to attend the game.
Exactly two weeks before the event, the Widgets account manager emailed Sue to explain that there had been a “snafu” and that there would be no tickets for Sue’s teammates. Long story short, Widgets, Inc. overbooked their skybox and chose to jettison Sue’s subordinates in favor of their company’s executives.
Bad move. Had the Widgets account manger ever bothered to really get to know Sue (instead of trying to buy her loyalty with $100 steaks), he would have discovered that she valued integrity over entertainment.
When Sue explained to the account manager that this decision was unacceptable, and that this would hurt their business and personal relationship, the account manager barked, “what about all the dinners we bought you?”
Really bad move. I cannot print what Sue said, so I’ll just explain to the readers that keeping your word, especially when it costs you, is a sign of a true leader.
Needless to say, Sue no longer dines with Widgets, Inc. Her company, does however, still buy Widgets’ products. Sue’s strong belief in integrity won’t allow her to recommend against products that help her company, regardless of how poorly she’s been treated by the vendor.
June 24, 2008 @ 11:12 AM
You’re absolutely correct… in the short term, integrity has little value in the business community when you look for specific examples of those low-integrity individuals who succeed. Naive as it may sound, I believe high integrity wins in the end. Regardless of where high integrity takes you in the business world, it sure feels good to look in the mirror, face your wife and kids, or defend yourself in the afterlife if you live your life with unwavering integrity and honesty.
I applaud Sue everyday for her stance on the Widgets situation (even though she questions whether or not she is taking it too personally). Sue can work for me any day of the week.
June 24, 2008 @ 11:04 AM
Integrity is so underrated in business today, because we are inundated with examples of low integrity managers moving up the ladder, while their high integrity peers stay put.