Integrity & Manners in Today’s Business Environment
There are some basic manners that I think we all grew up with that seem to be less than prevalent these days. Frankly, we have a real crisis in our industry, if not the world, with the lack of basic etiquette and our next generation of executives.
Maybe the nuns beat it into me, but I was always taught to be polite, say please and thank you, do nice things for people and to acknowledge nice deeds done on my behalf. Being honorable meant being honest; cheating, lying, stealing were out of the question. I carried those lessons with me into the business world. This also meant keeping my word: calling when I said I would, delivering when I said I would, keeping people informed of progress so their expectations are managed and realistic. If I’m going to miss a deadline, which I hope is infrequently, I try to give as much notice as possible in order to manage expectations. Don’t you?
But sadly, in today’s business environment it seems that some of these basic elements are relics of the past. For example, in the last year or so I’ve been involved in a number of business dealings which I followed up with the age-old etiquette of a handwritten thank you note. I didn’t know that this seems to be not only passé ,but actually “oh-so foreign” to some people in our industry, who apparently upon receiving one, were rendered speechless. Not only speechless, but frozen to inaction. I can’t tell you how many times a simple, sincere handwritten note of thanks, which was sent to acknowledge someone having taken the time to graciously meet me has resulted in… Nothing? No reaction! No response…nothing. It seems to take people by surprise and they don’t how to react to subsequent business related followups.
This is one small example but it is something that’s so basic, and which used to be so incredibly common and expected. Why is it such a surprise as to render people paralyzed? Has this basic act of etiquette perhaps become an antiquated gesture? Have we really come so far as to consider this type of ungraciousness acceptable?
When I first started in business it was considered unacceptable not to send a note of thanks for both business and personal activities. We sent them out left and right…”Thanks for your hospitality!” “Thanks for a great meal!” Thanks for taking time to meet with me!” “Thanks for thinking of us!” “Thanks for the referral!” And of course, “Thanks for choosing us!” In reality, your integrity and reputation as a respected manager and/or sales professional relied first and foremost on people’s impression of your etiquette; a heartfelt “Thank you!” was truly a part of it. The lack of manners and etiquette are so prevalent that not only are there executive courses available to teach business people how to behave, but there’s actually an APP for that!
We’ve been hearing a lot about integrity lately and less and less professionals seem to grasp that integrity has a variety of implications, most of which can help or hurt you as a person or your business. A recent article in Business Insider by George Roberts highlighted how your reputation is tied inextricably to your integrity. Those whose reputations were damaged by their greed and cheating included Bernie Madoff, Barry Bonds, and Lance Armstrong. Any positive reputation these guys had prior to their downfall was completely obliterated by their scandalous behavior. As Mr. Roberts clearly states “your reputation is the only thing that you can take with you throughout your career.” This is something that I have tried to live by for my entire career.
In a not so long ago position with a major hospitality technology company, I had the task of managing my customers’ expectations. When a major upgrade was clearly not going to meet the delivery time frames, upper management continued to perpetrate the ruse of continuing to be on schedule. When I objected to lying to my customers it was explained to me that it was my job to “stick to the company line”. How did they expect me to manage expectations when we were setting unreasonable expectations to begin with?
It became clear to me that this sort of executive behavior was not going to work with my perhaps “too honest” nature. If the company did not meet the expectations that I had laid out to the customer it would reflect not only on my corporate persona but also on my personal reputation. I felt like I was doing the quickstep with my client while pushing product development and management for more accurate dates; this became a constant theme on the account management dance floor. Of course, I understand that sometimes in business you may need to put on a show of sorts and stretch the truth a “little” bit. But this dance I was doing was taking it way too far for me.
I may take these things too seriously, but I honestly believe that having the trust of your client in knowing you have their best interest at heart, either in keeping them correctly informed or in pushing for their requirements, makes you a better sales/account manager or vendor. In my own business if I cannot trust my vendor then, frankly, I need to find a new one.
All this begs the question in today’s tough business environment: What are we doing to ensure our up-and-coming employees understand not only what is expected of them in the workplace from a performance standpoint but also the management of their own reputation and integrity. If George Roberts and I are right, then this just may be the most important thing we can teach the fresh faces in our industry. In an earlier blog written by my colleague Marion Hughes ROGER, she talked about what we’re doing to mentor the next generation hospitality executives. I submit that the building and preservation of integrity is equally, if not more important than any other skill they can learn. Not only will it affect their entire future, but it will also reflect on your company and you as a mentor.
I won’t do business with people I don’t trust. Do you?
How do we train this next generation to be trustworthy and to value that as an important aspect of their professional persona? First of all, let’s start by setting the right example!
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