Why tell me what I don’t want to know?
Walking through the airport a few months ago, I passed one of those back-lit advertising billboards. Half of it was black, half of it was white. The message read, “At Ernst & Young, this is the only way we see ethics.”
I may be paraphrasing a bit. But I remember remarking to myself, “Who the hell are they trying to kid?”
Here’s an accounting firm, one of the largest in the world, having to sell me, er, tell me, that they’re ethical. I guess this is in response to the fact that one of their fallen brethren, Arthur Andersen, had been caught so deep in the Enron debacle that they literally went out of business or merged out of business in a matter of weeks.
Then I began to see more and more of these billboards. Airports all over the country, everywhere I turned, I saw back-lit billboards with Ernst & Young boasting about how ethical they are.
The more I thought about it, the angrier I became. Suppose they were my accounting firm, I thought. Do I want them spending hundreds of thousands of my fee-dollars on an ethics campaign? Who are they trying to reach with this message? What are they trying to prove? What are they trying to hide?
Why do I have to question the ethics of any business or business person? Or better stated, why is that their lead statement?
As a potential customer, I’d be more interested to know how they can help my business financially, or guide me to profitability, or save me a few tax dollars (legally), or help me understand my business based on their experience, or a thousand other positive statements. I’d prefer all of that to an ethical bravado about them.
The ethics issue in this country has begun to reach its peak. When an accounting firm, heretofore perceived to be the foundation of accuracy and reliability, is now all of a sudden having to advertise the fact that they have credibility, what’s next?
Is this the start of a trend? Are car dealers going to start advertising the fact that they’re ethical? What about lawyers? Bankers? Doctors? It seems as though every business has taken an ethical hit over the last five years.
Where will it end? With little kids on the street corner selling “ethical lemonade” for 5 cents?
At a large networking event I was at the other night, I saw a couple of big wigs from some other accounting firm. I asked one man if he had seen the Ernst & Young ethics advertising campaign. He said, “Yeah, I saw it. We ran our campaign months ago.”
Unethical practices have been around for thousands of years. It’s also fair to say that Ernst & Young is a fine organization that has helped hundreds of thousands of businesses in every financial way possible. What they and so many others have done is react to market conditions and pressures, rather than simply conduct their business the same way they’ve done for years and years.
Businesses have become so market sensitive that every time an event occurs they feel as though they have to respond to it. I’m sure their ad agency thought it was a good idea. I’m sure the leadership of the company thought it was a good idea. I’m sure they ran it by focus groups that thought it was a good idea. As an observer and participant of business around the world, I find it laughable and insulting.
Ethics is not a statement. It’s an action, a deed and a philosophy that drives people to do the right thing.
Let’s go back to the most ethical person you know. Your mother may not have preached it, but she certainly wanted you to become the essence of it. She still stands as the true test as to whether it is or it isn’t ethical.
On any action, ask yourself if your mother would be proud of you. If she would, it’s ethical, and visa-versa.
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President of Charlotte, N.C.-based Buy Gitomer, Jeffrey Gitomer gives seminars, runs annual sales meetings, and conducts Internet training programs on selling and customer service. He can be reached at (704) 333-1112 or by e-mail at email@example.com.