How much is “character” (or integrity) worth?

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Michael Stone‘s latest e-letter makes a simple and eloquent point:  “Character matters.”  Character — in this use of the word, relating to your integrity, values and respect for others — goes far beyond business and into the personal realm.  I’m sure not everyone will agree with Michael’s interpretation of the importance of having things in order in your personal life to be relevant for your business and most of us, if we are truly honest with ourselves, will acknowledge some character lapses.  But I agree with him that good character IS essential for successful long-term marketing in this business because character correlates with trust, and trust correlates with brand success, and band success is the basis of marketing success.

Here is a portion of his newsletter:

You can’t always determine if the person you are about to do business with is ethical or not. That’s why every job requires a clear contract. But you do know whether or not you are ethical. Whether or not you choose to operate your business with integrity or not is within your control. Dwight Moody said, “Character is what you are in the dark.”

So let’s talk about that contract. All too often I see contracts that are written with all kinds of gray areas included. The contractor is not sure how to do something or they want the ability to hedge on things down the road to save money. So they write a flowery contract that gives them all the room in the world to build the job any way they want. A good example would be a contract that states, “Contractor will furnish and install new countertops in the kitchen with an installed allowance amount of $7.50 per square foot.” Notice no material specifications, brands, make or type of materials, just a rough number on a square foot basis. Notice also, no mention of the number of square feet of countertop to be installed, let alone anything about backsplashes, edging, finish, etc.

Then there are those who cut corners on the job where it won’t be noticed. We are back to what you do in the dark. A good example would be the amount of blown in insulation that is installed in an existing wall behind plaster or the thickness of blanket insulation that is being installed on a job that wasn’t permitted, knowing full well that it will not be inspected.

Do you treat your clients right? Do you return their phone calls, keep all your appointments on time, and do what you said you would do? How about your employees? This includes having an employee manual so there is no doubt in anyone’s mind what the company policy is on most issues.

As long as we are talking about treating others in a good manner, do you have a manual in place that governs your work with your subcontractors? Do you communicate, keeping them posted and up to date on all the jobs? Ditto with your suppliers. Do you pay both on time and as agreed, or do you constantly look for ways to pay them late, not in full or at all?

How are you treating your spouse and your children? Are you spending good quality time with them or do they come in a distant third behind you and your business? Do you give of yourself to make sure their life is as good as it can be? No YaButs here, either you do or you don’t.

There’s more, but I’ll let you read it directly from Stone’s own site/newsletter.  You can read his blog here.

How does character correlate with really good business practice?

Consider the case of a client who complained two days ago that we failed to provide a proof and had an error in the city name for their advertisement.  I responded that we would check into the matter and I would have an answer by a specific time the following day.  I then emailed the various employees involved in the project, and learned there had been some problems with email communication at our end.  Then, about two hours before the deadline (I set it to allow me to gather all the necessary information), our administrative employee responsible for sending and verifying advertising proofs sent the “smoking gun” of our innocence — a properly signed-off proof with the error quite clearly in the ad.

I forwarded this information, but still called the advertiser and offered a $50 rebate off the $345.00 ad — because I knew our sales representative had noticed the error and tried to communicate the problem, but somehow her email message didn’t get through.

Now, in this situation, our client had character — she acknowledged that, with the signed off proof, the problem was hers to accept. But we also had some character as well.  I decided, once we had sorted the issue out, to ask for payment by credit card — a reasonable request, because the Canadian postal service is in lock-out and it will take at least a couple of weeks I think before the government orders the postal service to return its employees to work.  Cash flow can be critical in these circumstances.

It is a small matter to treat clients right, even if they are “wrong”.  Does it result in additional business for us, short term?  Probably not.  But we still have our integrity — and, in this story, our clients have that as well.  We may never have reason to do business with them again but I think Michael Stone will agree that it is both refreshing and rewarding to maintain your own integrity while working with others who have integrity themselves.  (And not surprisingly, this attitude also is really helpful for healthy marriages and families!)

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