4.3. Business tools and Corporate Guidelines

Ethics and values are major concepts.  How can a business ensure that the corporation’s values and ethics are portrayed through their corporation?  That is the purpose of a mission statement; it becomes a roadmap for decisions, choices, and behavior. What is a mission statement?  Mission statements are formalized summaries of values and aims of company (Oxford dictionary, 2020).  Companies also use a mission statement to define their direction, make operating decisions, and communicate to employees, vendors, shareholders, and other stakeholders. In fact, most companies have a formal, written mission that they include on their Web site. A mission statement is different from an advertising slogan or motto. It is based on the company’s ethics and values and provides a broad direction as to what the company stands for. For example, Harley-Davidson’s mission statement is to “inspire and fulfill dreams around the world through Harley-Davidson experiences” whereas FedEx has their values and mission statement together:

“FedEx will provide superior financial returns for shareowners by providing high value-added supply chain, transportation, business and related information services through focused operating companies. Customer requirements will be met in the highest quality manner appropriate to each market segment serviced. FedEx will strive to develop mutually rewarding relationships with its employees, partners, and suppliers. Safety will be the first consideration in all operations. Corporate activities will be conducted to the highest ethical and professional standards (FedEx, 2020).

Many companies put their mission statement or philosophy online—others use a printed manual. The mission statement is made available for the following reasons: employees can use it to aid them in ethical business decision making, investors can evaluate the company’s ethics before making a decision about becoming involved with it, and customers can choose whom they will do business with based on their ethics and purpose

The Power of Your Reputation

In November of 2008, Tomb Raider: Underworld was released for multiple gaming systems. Knowing how important a game’s reputation can be for sales, public relations firm Barrington Harvey—in an attempt to massage the Metacritic score, a less-than-ethical move—asked reviewers to hold their scores until after the first weekend of the game’s release. “That’s right. We’re trying to manage the review scores at the request of Eidos.” When asked why, a spokesperson for Barrington Harvey explained, “Just that we’re trying to get the Metacritic rating to be high, and the brand manager in the United States that’s handling all of Tomb Raider has asked that we just manage the scores before the game is out, really, just to ensure that we don’t put people off buying the game, basically.”  (Fahley, 2008). Eidos, the company that published the game, tried to take an ethical shortcut—they wanted to be sure that the game’s reputation could not precede it—but paid for that decision with a great deal of negative publicity that adversely impacted their reputation. Your overall character as judged by other people is your reputation (reputation, 2009). Consider some celebrities who have had unethical acts negatively impact their reputation: Tiger Woods, known as one of golf’s greats has been reduced to tabloid fodder since the news of his extramarital affairs; Michael Phelps, the only person to ever win eight gold medals in a single Olympic Games, has become the poster boy for marijuana use. Both had stellar reputations and were considered role models. Now both are working to gain back the trust of the public.

Build Your Reputation: Be an Industry Expert

A great way to build your reputation in a specific industry is to become an industry expert: write a blog, tweet regularly about industry issues, be a guest speaker or panelist at industry conferences or events online or in person. Experts in their filed earned this reputation by building and maintaining their personal brand  which, in turn, will help you build your client list (Hall, 2020).

When you work in sales, you are selling yourself; you will have greater success with customers if you are someone they want to “buy.” When customers buy from you, they are investing in your reputation. George Ludwig, author of Power Selling, explains that “you’ve got to live out your identity consistently in every facet of your life and make sure prospective clients bump into that identity everywhere they turn.” (Zemanski, 2009). In other words, every action you take affects your reputation. If you fail to follow up, forget details, or even if you are consistently late for meetings, you may become known as unreliable. On the other hand, if you consistently deliver what you promise, you will be known as reliable; if you always meet your deadlines, you will have a reputation for punctuality.

You’re Only as Good as Your Word

Unfortunately, not everyone in sales is ethical or honest. David Chittock, president of Incentra, Inc., discusses one encounter in which a customer shared her view of salespeople: “The prospect’s body language told me she wasn’t just uncomfortable—she was downright hostile to me. Finally, she shared this sentiment out loud: ‘I have to be honest with you. I think that all salespeople are liars, and I don’t trust any of them, and I don’t trust you.’” He goes on to explain that “many (if not all) of our prospects, view salespeople with suspicion, assuming that in attempting to make a sale, we will be self-serving, manipulative, and possibly even untruthful.” (Chittock, 2009). Chittock and his employees overcome that suspicion by making promises to their customers and then keeping them—sure, it sounds simple, but too many salespeople are willing to promise their customers the moon in order to close the deal. Stephen Morse, a highly successful Silicon Valley sales engineer, echoes Chittock’s messaging in that “if you don’t have the trust of a prospect, he or she isn’t going to buy from you. So honesty, despite the fact that it may not put you or your solution in the best light, is really important. Honesty engenders trust.’(Salesforce, n.d., para 5).

Where the Rubber Meets the Road: Facing Challenges

Imagine that you are the buyer for Chez Food, a popular pan-European restaurant on the West Coast. You have good relationships with your suppliers, especially your produce person.  As the holidays approach, Alex, your produce supplier, approaches you with a gift. They tell you that they really appreciate both your business and your friendship, and they hand you two tickets to a Caribbean cruise. The company policy is clear: you are not supposed to accept gifts from suppliers, but you argue with yourself, what could be the harm? After all, you were planning to keep buying from them before they offered you the tickets; it is not as though they are asking you for anything, anyway. What will you do? Your ethical obligation, of course, is to refuse the tickets—politely. Your relationship with Alex is important, but doing the right thing—and keeping your job—is important too.

At some point in your selling career—in fact, probably at many points—you will be faced with a situation that challenges your ethics. At these times, it is best to follow your code of ethics and the company’s code of ethics; when in doubt, do not make an exception. If you’re having trouble finding the motivation to refuse a gift or accurately detail your résumé, remember that you will very like be found out—and when you’re found out, you will be very lucky not to lose your job. More important, when you fail an ethical challenge, you trade in your integrity.

Policies, Practices, and Cultures

You might be wondering how a company provides guidance to all employees about what behavior it expects from them. Imagine a global company like Wal-Mart, which has over two billion employees worldwide (Walmart, 2020).  How do all the employees know what is considered ethical behavior by the company? Can they take as much time as they want for lunch? Are they able to take off as many days as they wish? What expenses qualify for reimbursement? All the policies of a company are included in its employee handbook.

Every company has a highly specific code of ethics governing the actions of its employees. This manual, the employee handbook (sometimes called the code of ethics or code of conduct), outlines the company’s policies concerning gift giving, nondisclosure of company information, and other areas of behavior. Starbucks’ code of ethics, Business Ethics and Compliance: Standards of Business Conduct, for example, explains when employees may and may not accept gifts: “You may not encourage or solicit meals or entertainment from anyone with whom Starbucks does business or from anyone who desires to do business with Starbucks. Giving or accepting valuable gifts or entertainment might be construed as an improper attempt to influence the relationship.” (Starbucks, 2009). An employee handbook will also include the company’s sexual harassment and nondiscrimination policies, an explanation of procedures including breaks and scheduling principles, a list of benefits for part- and full-time employees, a breakdown of disciplinary policies and grounds for dismissal, as well as rules concerning phone, fax, mail, Internet use, and the permissible use of company vehicles. The handbook will additionally contain information like the history and goals of the company, conflict of interest, bribes, and common sales conflicts. While all employee handbooks are slightly different, all include the guidelines and policies that define ethical behavior in that company or organization.  A page out of IBM’s employee handbook around gratuities or gifts looks like this:

money from a supplier, customer, or anyone in a business relationship. Nor can they accept a gift or consideration that could be perceived as having been offered because of the business relationship. “Perceived” simply means this: if you read about it in your local paper, would you wonder whether the gift just might have something to do with a business relationship? No IBM employee can give money or a gift of significant value to a supplier if it could reasonably be viewed as being done to gain a business advantage. If an employee is offered money or a gift of some value by a supplier or if one arrives at their home or office, a manager should be informed immediately. If the gift is perishable, the manager will arrange to donate it to a local charitable organization. Otherwise, it should be returned to the supplier. Whatever the circumstances, the employee or the manager should write the supplier a letter, explain IBM’s guidelines on the subject of gifts and gratuities. Of course, it is an accepted practice to talk business over a meal. So it is perfectly all right to occasionally allow a supplier or customer to pick up the check. Similarly, it frequently is necessary for a supplier, including IBM, to provide education and executive  briefings for customers. It’s all right to accept or provide some services in connection with this kind of activity—services such as transportation, food, or lodging. For instance, transportation in IBM or supplier planes to and from company locations, and lodging and food at company facilities are all right. A violation of these policies may result in termination. “(Snoeyenbos, Almeder, & Humber, 2001. p.133).

conflict of interest is “a situation in which a person, such as a public official, an employee, or a

professional, has a private or personal interest sufficient to appear to influence the objective exercise of his or her official duties.” (McDonald, 2007). There are four types of conflicts of interest that you may encounter in your career: family interests, gifts, private use of employer property, and moonlighting.

  • Family interests create a conflict when a relative of yours is either someone from whom you might purchase goods or services for your employer or when you have influence over the potential hiring of a family member of yours. It’s best to avoid these types of situations as it can be difficult to make an objective decision.
  • Gifts create a conflict of interest when they are given to you by someone with whom you do business. Gifts are frequently given at the holidays and may include something small like a case of wine or something more extravagant like a trip.
  • Private use of employer property can be anything from stealing pens to using your work computer to work on editing your vacation pictures to driving the company car on a weekend getaway and then reporting the mileage on a corporate expense report.
  • Moonlighting is holding down a second job. While that might not sound insidious at first, if you work two jobs in the same field, it is almost inevitable that you will run into ethical problems. Who gets your best ideas? Where does most of your energy go? Moreover, if you have inside knowledge of two different corporations, working not to let that information influence you will be terribly difficult.

A bribe, according to Merriam-Webster, is “money or favor given or promised in order to influence the judgment or conduct of a person in a position of trust; something that serves to induce or influence.” (Bribe, 2009).  Soliciting, accepting, offering, or giving a bribe is illegal—even if your offer is refused, you are committing a crime. Bribery can take place in many different venues. Pharmaceutical companies attempt to persuade doctors to prescribe their products by buying them meals and giving them pens and other trinkets as well as trips to medical conventions. Business gifts are considered a form of bribery when they are given by someone who could benefit from having influence on a decision maker. For example, if you are the buyer of electronics at Wal-Mart, you are not able to accept any gifts from vendors or prospective vendors as it might appear to influence your buying decisions for the chain.

A noncompeting agreement (sometimes called a covenant not to compete, or CNC) prevents an employee from entering into competition with the employer once his job has ended—in other words, it prevents you from taking a job with a competitor after you’ve quit or been fired. A noncompeting agreement may also prevent former employees from starting their own businesses in the same field. The reasoning behind the CNC is the fear that a former executive could take his insider knowledge and trade secrets—as well as his contacts—with him to a new position. No employer wants to expose its strategy to its competitors.

What Is Whistle-Blowing?

Jeffrey Wigand, former head of research and development for Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation (the third-largest tobacco company in the United States), is one of the most famous whistle-blowers in America. He says of himself, “The word whistle-blower suggests that you’re a tattletale or that you’re somehow disloyal. But I wasn’t disloyal in the least bit. People were dying. I was loyal to a higher order of ethical responsibility.” (Salter, 2007). Wigand’s testimony against the tobacco industry, his claims that executives at Brown & Williamson knew that cigarettes were addictive, lied about it under oath, and destroyed documents related to that fact, led directly to the lawsuit brought by forty state attorneys general against tobacco companies. Whistle-blowing, the act of publicly exposing the misconduct of a company or organization, is a courageous act. Wigand’s reputation was destroyed by a punitive smear campaign conducted by the industry he spoke out against, and the stress resulting from that and the trial destroyed his marriage. Brown & Williamson filed a lawsuit against him for revealing confidential company information (the suit was dismissed as a condition of the $368 billion settlement against the tobacco industry. (Wigard, 2009).  However, Wigand blew the whistle in order to save thousands of lives. The true story was made into a blockbuster movie in 1999 called The Insider.

Of course, whistle-blowing exists on a less grand scale. Whistle-blowing doesn’t always involve risking your life, and it doesn’t always involve bringing a corporation to its knees. At its heart, it is action taken to reveal wrongdoings in hopes of seeing justice done.

Ethics and the Law

The ever-changing landscape of technology has created new opportunities to test ethics; spammers, scam artists, and identity thieves have created the need to clearly define legal, and in some cases, ethical behavior online. An increasing number of cases of fraud committed via social networking sites have taken place. There have been cases of people who create Twitter profiles in the names of other, real people.

News anchor Keith Olbermann and Tony La Russa, manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, have both been victims of such hoaxes (Citron, 2009). If tempted to such behavior yourself, remember: you are what you tweet. Your reputation will be affected by all the things that you do—make sure that you’re making yourself look good.  (This will be covered in more detail in a future chapter.)

Culture and Ethics

When you are working in a different country, or with professionals from other cultures, there may be different ideas as to what is appropriate and ethical. The Japanese, for example, have a culture of corporate gift giving; kosai hi (literally “expense for friendly relations”) (Lafayette de Mente, 2004) refers to the Japanese business practice of maintaining large expense accounts used for entertaining clients and nurturing other professional relationships. This money is, for example, often used to buy golf club memberships as gifts for people with whom Japanese businessmen and women have valuable working relationships. When you come face-to-face with these different customs, it is important not to be insulting, but you also cannot ignore your company’s policies. “When in Rome” will only carry you so far. A good rule of thumb is this: if you wouldn’t be comfortable telling your boss about it, or if you’d be embarrassed to tell your mom about it, don’t do it. If you are working for a company that does business in more than one country, odds are they will have a liaison from each country that can help you to navigate the intricacies of cultural difference.


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The Power of Selling Copyright © 2021 by Dr. Michelle Clement is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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