Doing the Right Thing

by | Aug 29, 2023 | Professional Growth

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”
Peter Drucker

One of the common values organizations promote is to “do the right thing.” We are encouraged to apply this standard when facing a difficult challenge, such as a difficult customer experience. How do we determine the right thing to do?

Our “right thing” guidelines are often unclear, left to judgement and experience. We rely on our wisdom, which is developed over time courtesy of the many people who influence our professional lives. As we make decisions, we strive to balance the needs of the individuals involved and what is good for the organization.

The right thing for the customer. The right thing for the company. Can we serve both masters?

Let’s look at a couple of common scenarios.

Scenario 1

A customer buys one of your products and accidentally damages it. Your company policy clearly states the responsibility is on the customer when they are at fault, and there is no warranty. The customer is furious and is asking for one of your customer service representatives to make an exception, threatening to call senior management if they don’t get their way. Your representative offers to replace the product to appease the disgruntled customer. The customer is satisfied, and the case is closed. Or is it?

  • Did the representative do the right thing?
  • Would it matter if they were a long-term, profitable client versus a new account?
  • If you were managing this representative and learned what happened, what would you do?

Scenario 2

You supervise a work crew building a garage for a customer. As the job is near completion, you notice a minor quality defect that could cause structural damage later. The flaw is not very visible, and the customer would probably never notice the defect. The owner of your company says not to worry, this often happens and is not a big deal. You are a new supervisor, working for an owner who does not like push back, and are unsure what the right thing is to do. You decide not to mention the defect to the customer. Six months later the building has structural issues, and the minor quality defect contributed to the problem.

  • Did the supervisor do the right thing?
  • Would it matter if they were a long-term, profitable client versus a new account?
  • If you were the owner and learned what happened, what would you do?

Is there a common understanding for doing the right thing?

I began my business career believing the customer was always right. Doing the right thing was to make the customer happy. Company policies were guidelines.
As I matured as a leader, I realized my thinking was flawed. Customers were not always right. I had customers who lied to me. My definition of doing the right thing needed to be reconsidered.

I was fortunate to have a mentor who helped me understand what doing the right thing really means. I was working through a customer service challenge and was struggling to decide on an exception request. After explaining what I planned to do, my mentor asked me a simple question:

“Do you want to help the customer or do your job?”

Doing my job was clear — to follow company procedure. Taking care of the customer meant deviating from company policy, and the return would be retaining a long-term client. I weighed the pros and cons of taking care of the customer over company policy and made the exception.

I moved from doing things right to doing the right thing.

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All of us work with people who can be disagreeable. They challenge us, sometimes in positive ways at times they drive us crazy. Author Adam Grant profiles Steve Jobs and his leadership experiences at Apple.

Persuading the Unpersuadable

Read to Lead

Leaders benefit from being active readers, long reads not just social media posts and news feeds. A deep read builds concentration, strengthens your intellectual capacity, and offers wisdom you can share. As you refresh or build your reading habit, diversify your experience — old, new, fiction, non-fiction, audio, hard cover, and e-readers.

My August 2023 favorites:

The House is On Fire by Rachel Beenland
The author tells the story of a catastrophic fire that destroyed a theater in Richmond, Virginia in 1811, killing 72 people. She features four characters, two enslaved African Americans and two Caucasians of privilege, and how their lives were changed by the deadly fire. A reminder of the racism, sexism, and benefits of privilege that affected society two hundred years ago and remain with us today.

It. Goes. So. Fast. by Mary Louise Kelly
One of my favorite journalists is Mary Louise Kelly from National Public Radio. I have always admired her interviewing skills, and her latest book caused me to reflect on how our relationships change over time. She writes about how fast our children grow up and the challenges of balancing work and family. Her classic line is “the time for do overs is over.” Whether or not you are a parent, the lessons are funny, honest, and will cause you to look back as well as forward.