Depending on how you read it, the New York Times headline, “Stock Markets Tumble Amid Worries Over Tech Firms and Trade Tensions,” is either a bad omen or an opportunity for development in the tech world.
1. Be Silent No More
Another New York Times story with the headline, “As Facebook Struggles, Rivals’ Leaders Stay (Mostly) Mum,” is a real head-scratcher. Why in the world would any tech company keep quiet now if they have a history of doing the right thing by their customers?
Glenn Kelman, CEO of the Internet real estate firm Redfin, has a plausible explanation:
I think we just have to acknowledge the entire industry’s complicity with what’s happening with Facebook. It’s almost like we’re Inspector Renault in ‘Casablanca’ where we say we’re shocked, shocked with what’s happening and then a moment later someone hands us our winnings.
Kelman’s courage to admit an uncomfortable truth is refreshing, but is he correct that every tech company is as ethically challenged as Facebook has been?
If you have consistently demonstrated high-character leadership and have the evidence to prove it, this fact should not be a well-kept secret. Make it the focal point of your marketing campaigns ASAP.
2. Talk The Talk
It’s true that values statements are merely words, but they’re the most important words in your company’s communications. If you speak solely about how knowledgable and skilled your team is and how beneficial your product or service is, you’re missing the biggest opportunity of all: capitalizing on the hunger your current and prospective customers have for honest, accountable people at every level of your business.
Why does the annual Gallup poll “Honesty/Ethics in the Professions” routinely rank business executives as among the least honest professionals in the United States? It’s scandals like Facebook’s that contribute to the widespread belief that business leaders have low ethical standards.
You can help to change that by talking the talk, and that means making ethical principles or values the foundation of what your company is all about.
Yes, “honest,” “accountable” and “committed to protecting your confidentiality” are just words, but those are words your customers desperately want and need to hear from you now.
3. Walk The Talk
Can a small number of people destroy a company? Ask Jeffrey Skilling, who rose to become the CEO of now-defunct Enron. Skilling was convicted on conspiracy, insider trading, five counts of making false statements to auditors and twelve counts of securities fraud. If you want to get the story from Skilling himself, however, you’ll have to make an appointment at the Federal Prison Camp in Montgomery, Alabama, where he is serving a 24-year prison sentence for his crimes. His fellow conspirator, Enron founder and chairman Ken Lay, died of a heart attack before he was sentenced for his own role in destroying a company once valued at $70 billion.
That’s a tall order, but it can be done. You can increase the likelihood of hiring honest, courageous people through the job descriptions you write, the interview questions you ask and most of all, the way you consistently demonstrate high-character leadership.
Revealing how you can do the above things is an ongoing project of this column, but rest assured that it is indeed possible to hire for character as well as competence.
Hold The Schadenfreude
All of these prescriptions come with a warning: we should resist the urge to find joy in the suffering of our competitors. Instead of looking at Facebook’s travails as a business opportunity, the emotionally and ethically intelligent response is sorrow for another’s missteps and the resolve to lead with integrity every day, everywhere we go.