Ethics Coach

Someone Messed Up. Here's How You Fix It.

Someone Messed Up. Here's How You Fix It.
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This story appears in the November 2015 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

I just fired my sales director for dishonesty and need to replace him. Our business is in a male-dominated field, but I want things done right this time. My wife tells me studies have shown that women are perceived to be more ethical than men. Is this accurate?

A: Dishonesty is a failure of character, not gender. Before recruiting the rotten apple’s successor, find out if he created any problems that need cleanup. His way of doing things lowered the bar for those reporting to him. Consider whether there is anything about your company’s sales goals, pay or incentive plan that could inadvertently encourage unethical behavior. Find an issue? Address it immediately.

Before hiring somebody new, reaffirm your ethical standards and practices with your team. Let them know what you expect. Ask if they see company values supporting, challenging or not having an impact on how they sell your products or services. Find out if they feel they have what they need to do their jobs and if there are non-financial rewards -- like recognition and appreciation programs -- that would motivate them. This discussion will give you a clearer picture of the kind of person you should hire to bring out the best in the team.

Now, back to the gender question: Your wife rightly points out that a number of studies highlight areas where women are seen as more ethical and more likely to support ethical business practices. However -- and putting aside the danger inherent in any gender stereotyping -- results are often mixed. For example, in the 2015 Pew Research Center study “What Makes a Good Leader, and Does Gender Matter?,” 31 percent of those surveyed said women in top executive positions are more ethical and honest; 3 percent said men were; and 64 percent found no difference between the genders.

Gender bias is unethical, whether it leads you to believe that female candidates are superior or that men will be a better fit in your industry. Bias undermines how you do business. Moreover, it is discriminatory and an invitation to a lawsuit.

You likely will have your expectations exceeded if your search includes a diverse group of qualified men and women. The more varied the candidates, the better the chance you’ll find a person who walks the talk about ethical behavior and can mentor and motivate your team to deliver great results.

Q: We opened a second location of our business before we were ready. We screwed up a big order, and the customer complained on Facebook. I fixed the problem and replied on social media. The issue is resolved, but how do I build trust with potential customers when I’m coming from behind?

A: Customers trust businesses with reliable words, actions and products and quick remedies to problems. So, don’t fret -- you’re off to a good start. You accepted responsibility for and fixed a major stumble.

Your team plays a huge role in creating the conditions necessary for trust to take hold; their credibility, consistency and commitment to customers will earn that trust. Since the team members in your new location got off to a rough start, make sure the problem didn’t come from (or result in) internal trust issues. If it did, help employees work through the issues and fix vulnerabilities in the system. If they feel resentful, embarrassed or don’t want to help each other succeed, customers will pick up on the bad vibes and flee.

Once everyone’s on the same page, ask for ideas from both locations that will inspire customer confidence and ensure a consistent and positive customer experience. Formalize a plan incorporating the best ideas; this should include taking action to build trust and fuel customer satisfaction as a competency to be evaluated and recognized in performance reviews.

Do all that, and you’ll quickly see that satisfied customers will put word-of-mouth to work to establish your business as trustworthy -- in both locations.

Edition: December 2016

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