Why the Golden Rule Must Be Practiced in Business

It's important to recognize that ethics are directly tied to a company's long-term success.

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By Brenton Hayden


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

"Treat others as you would want to be treated," the Golden Rule is short, succinct and powerful.

Having been taught this age-old concept from the time we were young, most of recognize its place in our personal lives.

When it comes to the world of business, though, this rule isn't applied nearly as fervently.

Sure, we'd like to say that we uphold this rule in our professional lives -- but when it comes down to it, do we really? How often do we ensure that ethics are held in the same regard as, say, our financial goals? Are morals ever measured as diligently or given as much consideration as our ROI spreadsheets?

It's easy to dismiss the concept of ethics as less important than other areas of business; to stuff them into our business values page, but to leave them out of the day-to-day processes. But far from being "fluffy" concepts with no real place in the business world, it's important to recognize that ethics are directly tied to a company's long-term success.

Related: The Ethics Coach: In Tough Conversations, Do This

When you think about it from a practical standpoint, applying the Golden Rule in business makes a lot of sense. Treat your customers right and they'll be happier, more likely to come back -- and more inclined to recommend you to friends and family. Treat your workers fairly, and they'll be motivated to provide excellent service, which leads to satisfied and committed customers. And the numbers don't lie. In most industries, companies that are the loyalty leaders have a compound annual growth rate that is more than twice that of their competitors. Likewise, treating your workers well has been shown to lead to excellence, which of course, results in increased profits.

When it comes to the Golden Rule, this simple yet timeless guideline holds more value than first meets the eye. In a world where the question of ethics and moral dilemmas often arises, having a standard that you can refer to in your decision-making process can be invaluable.

Likewise, in today's ultra-competitive marketplace, where companies start and fail at a drastic rate, having a solid set of ethics could be just what your company needs to stand head and shoulders above the rest. With this in mind, let's take a look at how the Golden Rule breaks down practically and see how implementing it into your business strategy and daily operations can pay off.

Building your reputation.

One of the most valuable possessions that you have is your reputation -- and it's important to guard it at all costs. Profits can be lost and regained, but rebuilding a damaged reputation -- that's far more difficult.

Related: How To Be An Ethical Leader

Ensuring that you follow the Golden Rule in your interactions with others and your decision-making processes in business -- is a simple way to keep your reputation intact.

"Each time you live up to the Golden Rule, your reputation is enhanced; each time you fail, it is diminished," writes author and speaker Fred Reichheld in an article in Harvard Business Review.

As it turns out, rising above the situation and treating others decently is just as important in the business world as it is in our personal lives. A cut-throat business strategy may work at first, but as scientist Robert Axelrod argues, over time it will, ironically, "destroy the very environment it needs for its own success."

Build your business sustainably. Don't step on others to climb the corporate ladder. Treat your team, your customers, your vendors, and competitors fairly. Go above and beyond what's required of you. Doing so will help to preserve your reputation and pay off significantly in the long run.

Improving the customer experience.

The secret to a satisfied customer base is your ability to put yourself in your client's shoes.

Henry Ford recognized the value of this simple concept. "If there is any one secret of success --" Ford is quoted as saying, "-- it lies in the ability to get the other person's point of view and see things from that person's angle as well as from your own."

While it's fairly easy for small companies to give customers the attention that they need, as a company expands, this concept usually becomes more difficult. But even as a company grows, it's important for them to remain true to their roots -- to continue to recognize and meet their customer's expectations -- and to provide excellent service. In short, to treat their customers how they want to be treated.

The sobering fact is that customer satisfaction works both ways. "When customers feel mistreated or misled, they give what they got," writes Fred Reichheld, highlighting the reality of dissatisfied customers. "They leave -- if they can -- and complain if they can't. They demoralize your employees. And they badmouth your company, alienating your prospects. They're costly."

Related: Are Business Ethics at a Low Ebb?

How costly? Studies show that people are far more likely to complain about a negative experience than they are to talk about a good one. News of bad customer service reaches more than twice as many people as praise for a good service experience, and a whopping 91 percent of unhappy customers -- will leave and won't come back.

As it turns out, treating customers well is important for their satisfaction and retention -- helping to keep them happy -- and coming back for more.

Leading to a satisfied workforce.

One of the best ways to assemble a team that's driven, motivated and on board, is by treating them well.

A satisfied workforce will be motivated to provide great service to your customers, and they'll be more loyal to your company as well. Not surprisingly, studies show that pure, simple appreciation can go a long way towards motivating employees.

Harry C. Handlin, former President of Lincoln Electric, believed in applying the Golden Rule in the workplace -- and the importance of putting others first -- not only in the more obvious area of customer relations, but the employer-employee relationship as well.

"If, as managers, we treat our employees the way that we would like to be treated, we are rewarded with a dedicated, talented and loyal work force that will consistently meet the needs of the marketplace," Handlin said.

It's easy to spot a company that treats its team well. Workers are motivated, turnover is lower, and customers are happier as well.

Having a satisfied and happy team that's committed to meeting customers' needs is important for sustainable growth. I've seen this concept myself during my time at Renters Warehouse. As founder and CEO, I was committed to providing the best work environment for my team -- and in return, they were motivated and driven to provide excellent service to our clients.

For companies today, dusting off the Golden Rule and putting it to work in your customer service department would be a good start –but I would argue that employing this rule throughout every aspect of your company, and professional career, is an even better approach. Using it to guide your actions in business may not instantly put you on the fast-track for success -- but it will most definitely pave the way for sustainable, long-term growth.

The best companies know that relationships rather than transactions are what matter; something that is at the heart of the Golden Rule. Treat others like people, not numbers and put yourself in their place once in a while. It's not as complex as some of the other business philosophies out there, but it undoubtedly encompasses many of them as well. As it turns out, following the Golden Rule will help you to go far -- in life and in business as well.

Brenton Hayden

Founder of Renters Warehouse

Brenton Hayden is the founder and chairman of the board of Renters Warehouse. A Harvard Business School and MIT Sloan School of Business graduate, Hayden leads a team of over 140 employees and franchises in 21 states with a portfolio of managed properties valued at just under $1 billion.

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