Friday Business Guru: August 28, 2009
The Golden Rule-- 12 "In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
Matt 7:12 (NASB)
Now, as a Christian, I claim that all my life has to follow what Jesus has taught. This would apply even to business related decisions. And, if you are a Christian in business, guess what? Yours should too.
Most people I know that claim to be believers do try to live by this verse, but there is sometimes a failure to really think it through. So, I'd like to hit on applying the Golden Rule in business decisions and behavior.
First of all, I do firmly believe that your business behavior is an extension of your character. As a Christian, you cannot separate how you act at work towards your employees or employer, co-workers or customers, from your Christian life. You aren't two separate people. That being said, there are some differences you do need to realize:
These are business relationships. In most cases you are not building relationships based on mutual faith or interests. You're building relationships based on getting the things you need or want. Both parties are in this situation. I don't go to a car dealer to make friends. I go to buy a car. The salesman isn't trying to be my friend, he's trying to sell me a car. It's a successful relationship if I get the car I want and he gets the sale he wants. If we end up golf buddies but don't transact the business, then it's not a business relationship anymore, and that's not what we were looking for. Now, sometimes you get something you're not looking for, like a friendship where you went for business. That's the exception, not the rule.
These are not life-long relationships. You have these interactions for a season, and then you move on. I don't long for the co-workers I left behind at UPS, though I miss the few that became friends. Out of several hundred, I miss about 5.
Business relationships have an added set of rules. Namely, the rules related to the business involved. For example, a teacher has a set of rules for how they relate to their students and have a requirement: that they teach! You aren't standing in front of a classroom of friends, but of students. Typically you can see this in the fact that these relationships have labels: teacher-student; lawyer-client; salesman-customer; doctor-patient; pastor-congregant; boss-employee; coach-player. You get the idea. If you have a relationship defined by a title, then it has guidelines.
So, how does the Golden Rule apply in these situations? Well, I think we have a tendency to only apply it in a shallow fashion. For example, we start to think “I want everyone to be nice to me, so I have to be nice to everyone.” Is that really true, though? You wouldn't want to hear bad news, so you won't give it? What happens if you're a doctor? I think we need to work on a deeper application of the Golden Rule in relationships. Try to list 3 things you want from business relationships. Here are 3 from me:
Honesty: I want anyone with whom I am doing business to be honest with me. I want my church congregation to be honest with me. Not that I dislike nice, but honest is just much more helpful. As an extension, there's openness: don't hold back information that you know I need or that I'm supposed to have to be able to honor my side of the relationship.
Promptness: this may be my pet-peeve, but be prompt. If you know today something I need to know today, then don't wait until tomorrow to tell me. Likewise, be aware of the fact that you and I both have other things to deal with, so do what you said when you said you'd do it, and I'll do the same. The clock/calendar is not our master, but it is an impartial referee between us.
Clarity: This one is important as well. I don't do well with indirect or elliptical statements. Come to your point. Don't tell me that “well, it might be better if you were more relationally minded” when what you mean is “You hurt my feelings because you didn't send me a birthday card.” Likewise, I don't need to express to an employee or co-worker that “They need to do better about realizing the world doesn't revolve around them” if I don't follow up with something more concrete. Like “Look at your watch/cell phone/the clock on the wall and start and finish on-time.”
Now, am I at the top of my game on these 3? Not quite. I struggle with being honest when it's going to hurt your feelings. Really, no one wants to tell you what you have on looks bad. But it does. Promptness requires me to do better knowing who needs to know what, and that takes time and effort. And clarity is something I'm working on, because I want you to figure it out yourself, but I need you to know now, so I need to be a little clearer.
What can you do about it? Well, if you are responsible for people, here are 3 steps:
Make a list for yourself of the things you need to work on. Don't broadcast it to everyone, but to a trusted group that can help you with it.
Develop clear communication with the people you are responsible for. Clearly communicate to them your expectations and their roles. Do this by finding measurable standards that they are developing the non-measurable traits you are after. For example:
Do you have an employee that seems to disrespect other people's time? Give them a measurable goal of being places on time and scheduling.
Do you have a person that needs to develop their relational skills? Give them something objective to do, like send notes/cards and see if they do it. Then work with them to get there.
It takes time, especially if you are re-orienting an organization. As a subset of this, develop a fairly fixed time to communicate. We all bad-mouth meetings from time-to-time, but they are a necessity.
Hold yourself to your list, and your people to their list. Analyze why you are not living up to your list, and make plans to get there. Analyze why your people aren't hitting their goals, and try to help them get there as well.
Remember that your goal is to think about how you really want to be treated as a person, and to treat your business relationships the same way. My goal is more honesty, promptness, and clarity. What are your three?