Goodwill Hunting

Truth Or Consequences

Even the smallest white lie can cause major damage to your reputation.

By Laura Tiffany

swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth." It can be difficult to abide by such a vow, especially at work. But the temptation to cut seemingly innocent corners in the truth department can damage your business's reputation--especially if your reputation is the major product of your business.

"I'd bet everyone in business makes at least one ethical decision a day without even knowing it. I do. All I have to sell in my business is my word and my integrity," maintains Rhonda Sanderson, owner of Sanderson & Associates Ltd., a Highland Park, Illinois, public relations firm that specializes in franchises and small business.

But it's not always easy when your client--the person who signs your checks--requests you tell a little white lie. "I've had clients say to me `Can't you just tell them we'll have 44 units open by then?' when they only have 11 open at the time but have sold 33," says Sanderson. "It's my job to tell the client this just isn't the way we do it. Not only will [the press] remember, but they're never going to write about you again, and they're going to say bad things about you.

"In my early days of PR, the company I worked for lost a client because I would not lie for [the client]. That was one of the reasons I left that firm. I won't lie to the press. I need the press--they're my bread and butter," Sanderson explains.

Sanderson started her own company after that 1984 incident but still faces similar ethical challenges as the boss. "I [dropped] a client because he lied to his franchisees. [Ethics is] truly a business decision. If a client treats franchisees or customers badly, or says `Ha, they'll never know,' [that client will] do it to you, too. Many respectable companies still work on a handshake. I don't think I could trust someone I couldn't work with on that level."

Contact Sources

America's Best Self Storage, (425) 861-7050

Boston Knish Inc., (978) 264-0107, bosknish@earthlink.net

Ethics & Compliance Strategies, (317) 849-1411, http://www.ethicscompliance.com

Sanderson & Associates Ltd., 2310 Skokie Valley Rd., #204, Highland Park, IL 60035, (847) 432-2370

SeaRail International Inc., (713) 223-0022, fax: (713) 223-0729

Society for Human Resource Management/Ethics Resource Center, (202) 434-8461, ethics@ethics.org

Walker Information Inc., (800) 231-4904, http://www.walkerinfo.com

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This article was originally published in the July 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Goodwill Hunting.

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