Got Ethics? Part II

This is not an article about the kind of shady accounting found at Enron or WorldCom or the anti-trust cases against companies like Microsoft. Rather, today I’d like to look at the ideals and world views that drive companies and individuals to certain destructive, ill-conceived behaviors in the business world. In particular, what drives some companies to embrace a cut-throat approach to doing business and others to take a more holistic, socially conscious approach. In the former category we find the organizations that ruthlessly squeeze their suppliers, undercut competitors, and lie to their customers to make an extra buck. In the latter group we find the companies that refuse to sell their customers personal information, that treat their employees generously, and that deal fairly and honestly with even their stiffest competition.

Let me provide some more concrete examples for us to examine. In dealings over the last few years with Verisign and Network Solutions I have been horrified at their actions. When trying to transfer the registration of a domain name to another registrar, who incidentally charged a third of the price for the same domain registration, they stalled and refused to cooperate in an effort to get a few extra dollars out of me for the privilege of not doing business with them. This is a process that should take at most a few minutes and it took months of phone calls and e-mails. In the end I had to give up and register a new domain name somewhere else. The point is not that they are shady, though they are, but to ask why they would behave like this.

In contrast, I recently dealt with another hosting company and registrar and I had to cancel some services that were no longer needed. This time the company in question, Hostcove, dealt with me fairly and had the process done in a couple of minutes. As a result I wanted to bring them my business in the future. Heck, I almost regretted taking down the site.

So, why would one company fight and scratch for months to hold onto a single domain registration that nets them all of $35 a year while the other quickly lets it go? Is the extra couple of dollars worth the ill will that I now fell toward Verisign and network Solutions? I will never voluntarily do business with them and I discourage others from working with these companies as well. I now regularly direct new business to Hostcove.

It seems that this is a matter of differences in perception of the world in which we operate. Verisign seems to perceive a highly competitive world of limited resources. This breeds a kill or be killed attitude. It also leads to deceptive, unethical, and destructive business practices. Hostcove looks at the world in a different way. Instead of an environment with limited resources where they perceive each interaction as an opportunity to build up themselves and their customers. Seeing success on the part of others does not indicate that they failed. They understand that economics is not a zero sum game.

It is not just businesses that have these attitudes. It occurs on an individual level as well. In my search for full time employment I have seen two distinct approaches to the competition for open positions. The job market is tight right now, meaning there are many applicants for each position. There are opportunities in the application process to try to undercut the competition or take a negative tack. This achieves two things, first it alienates potential colleagues in the form of the other applicants. These are your peers in your profession and you may end up dealing with them many times in the coming years. Putting them down or trying to undermine them now can bite you later. Second, it reveals that you are petty to your potential employer. Nobody wants coworkers that will hog credit, block promotions, and fester like an open sore in the office.

Reputations can be built and broken on little actions. Being respectful, sharing credit, and acknowledging the worth of others will end up elevating everyone in the end. You may lose out on a job opening or a few dollars from lost business in the short run, but in the end the reputation you build and the respect you earn will help your business or career thrive.

Kevin Hall