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Tales from the gray

Tales from the gray

August 03, 2017

Just a few weeks ago I was in Denver, Colorado facilitating a Turning Point for a client. I needed a printer for the 2-day event so the client could fly home with a clear documentation of the process, wins and next steps. Off I drove to Walmart.

As I was perusing the printers, the sales guy told me a little secret. “Don’t tell anyone I told you this,” he said, “but you can buy the printer and just return it in a few days.” It would fall within the money-back guarantee period, he explained.

Now this was a tough one. I would certainly never steal, but this was technically and even legally ok! They have a return policy, right? And anyway, what’s $40 to Walmart?

But it didn’t sit well with me. I couldn’t do it. Even though it was technically ok, Walmart’s intention was certainly not to offer a free lending service for their printers. I bought the printer and kept it.

Listen closely, because I’m not here to tell you what to do. I’m not even here to preach ethics.

I’m here to tell you that you need your own moral compass. But more importantly, you need a company-wide moral compass. It’s called values.

Why? Because the world, especially the business world, is full of gray. It’s full of white lies, subjective truths, slight exaggerations, and all of those fuzzy areas of choice.

You and your team are faced with ethical challenges all of the time. More than you may like to think. Marketing especially is full of sticky ethical dilemmas. I’m not just talking about those “limited time only offers” that are really valid indefinitely. Or the “only 100 available” when there’s really a warehouse stocked with the item. I’m talking about those hard questions that are genuinely gray.

How much should you tell a prospective customer about a defect or risk? How should you treat an employee who just dropped the ball? What’s more important: “doing the right thing” or maintaining a good reputation?

[Watch the 3 Most Common Ethical Challenges and How to Overcome Them here]

Unless you create a written and enforced moral compass guiding you and your team, you will produce inconsistent results that will hurt you in the long run.

Values aren’t just a nice concept, a millennial “thing”, or an outdated list of vague ideas hiding somewhere in your employee manual. They’re the lifeblood of your company.

They’re how you and your team make decisions. They’re how you engage with customers. They’re how you handle the daily gray that permeates the world of business.

Values are not something you strive for, they’re commandments that govern all behavior.

“If Purpose is WHY you do what you do , then Values are HOW you do it.”

A number of years ago at a building conference I met Dave Bryan, CEO of Blackdog, a successful remodeling company. What he shared with me profoundly affected the way I view values and integrity.

Blackdog, along with nearly every other contracting company faces a common challenge. See, there’s a lot of wiggle room when it comes to estimates. And everyone knows, if you ballpark it too high, you risk losing the potential customer.

Blackdog states one of their core values: “Treat clients, suppliers, trade contractors, and our community with honesty and respect.” Now let’s be real. It’s easy to say honesty and integrity is a value, but when push comes to shove, it’s a lot harder to live by it when you have a potential customer staring at you in the face. But Blackdog employees actually live by it.

They train their contractors, and reward them, for giving accurate estimates, even if they lose the prospect! They’re simply not interested in short-term gains that jeopardize their integrity.


Every company’s value can and should be different. There is no right answer. The point here is to identify and live by your company’s values.

[Check out our guide to identifying your company’s core values here.]

Taking you from where you are to where you want to be,