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When a Fish Rots, It Stinks from the Head Down

Michael McLelan, Senior Vice President of Business Markets, PowerNet Global Communications

Steve Reinemund, the CEO of PepsiCo, got a surprise phone call from the CEO of Coca Cola, thanking him for an enormous favor. But Reinemund had no idea what that favor had been.

It turns out an unsuspecting Pepsi Co. administrative assistant received a package in the mail containing confidential Coca Cola documents. In keeping with Pepsi’s commitment to high ethical standards, the employee notified the appropriate company manager and the entire contents were immediately returned to Coke’s headquarters in Atlanta. Only two Pepsi employees were directly involved, and they both knew what they had to do right away. No executives at Pepsi so much as glanced at the secrets contained within that envelope. This screams of high ethical standards to me.

Unfortunately, it appears that in times of great stress and economic pressure many companies are tempted to cut corners and fudge on their ethical commitments. Because of fear, real or perceived, companies are cutting back on their cash outgo, slashing expenses, etc. In many cases this has lead companies to reduce commissions or stop paying the agents for the business that has been submitted. Therefore, the agent needs to know the core values of the company with which they do business. Are they honorable and trustworthy?

There is an old Japanese saying that states: “When a fish rots, it stinks from the head down.”

The leadership of the company dictates the ethics of their decisions. It does not matter if the company is large or small, the decisions by the top executives will determine the direction of the company. So, it is therefore people, not the company, that determine the ethics and whether there will be a problem.

It will not take us long to discern whether a partner is ethical or not. And, it will not take long for unethical partners to become known in the industry as untrustworthy.

Are their core values ones we can rely on? If not, then an agent should seek out and only work with companies that have had long-term “right conduct.” Actions speak louder than words. It is imperative that the agent knows the ethics of the company with which he wants to enter into a business relationship. If its core values have been one of social responsibility (for a long period of time), one can at least feel they are making a sound business decision based on facts, not just feelings. With that said, I would make sure that the agent reviews and understands the agent agreement/contract .As I wrote in a previous blog, we still need to “trust but verify.”

Every society has ways of dealing with unethical and untrustworthy partners. Even without a licensing agency, we can exert “peer pressure” on each other to make sure our industry keeps its head high. The telecommunications business is a “good ole boys” industry. Therefore, the men and women who work in this industry know very quickly which companies are good or bad. All companies need to be aware of this fact. If a company compromises its values, the agents will quickly make this known to the industry. Agents will find a way to move their book of business if they feel they are being treated unfairly. Therefore, the accountability is self governing.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “When you are able to maintain your own highest standards of integrity – regardless of what others may do – you are destined for greatness. When you have developed a carefully thought-out code of personal conduct, you will never have to ask anyone else what the appropriate course of action should be. You will intuitively know.”

The type of integrity that Pepsi displayed should be within the very DNA of the corporate character of any company you decide to partner with. You will not go wrong maintaining high ethical core values. Fix your thoughts and actions on what is true, good and right. A good name and a good reputation is better than gold.

We will be discussing ethics in business at the Channel Partners Conference & Expo in Las Vegas, in a session called Channel Ethics 101. In the discussion, we need to call our colleagues and partners to hold fast to high ethical standards, so they too can become known as a trustworthy partner. I highly recommend that you attend the Channel Partners Conference and this session.

Michael McLelan is senior vice president of business markets at PowerNet Global Communications. In this position, he oversees the SMB sales function and the independent agent channel. He also is the PHONE+ Channel Coach and a member of the 2008-09 PHONE+ Channel Partners Advisory Board.


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