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Business Ethics – Who Needs Them: Improve Your Reputation Every Day with the Right Choices

An interesting part of my work is to see how different dealerships operate. Working as a consultant, I get to pop in and view everything with an outsider’s perspective. Remember, most businesses don’t hire consultants to come in when everything is going smoothly; they hire when something is wrong or when change needs to happen. Most commonly, I’m asked to review the practices of the dealership staff and make suggestions for improvement. Rarely do I find any dealership employee actively treating customers or coworkers poorly; the more common occurrence is employees and managers doing things in what we all like to call the “gray areas.”

Ethical issues are something few of us are ever really prepared to deal with when they occur. The big ones we can see and handle (because they usually have major consequences) usually involve courts, judges, and fines. However, the day-to-day quandaries we find ourselves in are not as transparent. For example a short time ago, a potential client offered me $2,500 to complete a project for them. After discussing the client’s objectives and how I would proceed, I quickly realized that what they were asking me to do was very simple, and under my usual rates, I would charge less than half of what they were offering. Nevertheless, they had already decided that they’d pay $2,500 for the completed project. What was I to do here? I’ll get to the answer a little later.

In the dealerships I work with, these kinds of questions are all over the place. How far do we push the add-ons? Is this financing option really the best choice for the customer, or is it best for the dealership? Their car is running fine now, but who knows what will happen 20 miles down the road, what do we say? Is that air filter really needed? I’m sure if you take the time to think about it, you’ll come up with your own situations that I couldn’t even dream.

All dealership managers should recognize these potential problems ahead of time and learn to handle them appropriately and teach their employees to handle them appropriately. We are in an industry where no matter how reputable your dealership is, it only takes one bad employee decision to turn you into a shady car dealer with all of the associated stereotypes. How can you make sure that your dealership keeps their head above the ethical waterline? There are two broad ways to do this.

Outside trainers can provide important help on a variety of subjects, ethics included. They will commonly have training programs available to help teach you and your employees how to identify and manage ethically sticky situations. If you operate in a medium or large city, finding outside trainers should be easy to do. Outside trainers can be efficient and usually cost-effective, but the downside is that they’re probably going to have a one-size-fits-all approach and may not address issues specific to our industry. If you are interested in using an outside trainer for this, but can’t find one then I suggest contacting your local state job agency. They are a valuable resource for all things work related, and you’re already paying for their services through your taxes. You might as well take advantage of them.

The second method is to develop your own in-house ethics training. Ethics training need not be complicated, not nearly as complicated as the ethical dilemmas themselves. This is the type of training that is made for the case-study method. Sit down with your managers, and include employees if you want, and discuss with them all the difficult ethical situations they have found themselves in. Once a good list is complied, expand on the list items a bit to develop the background and story of them. Once this is completed, the training will be a matter of discussion with the trainees as to what is the appropriate response in each situation as well as similar ones.

The big question now is how do you decide what is the appropriate response in the situation? If looking at purely ethical choices in business with no legal concerns to guide us, then I always fall back on what I refer to as the “family rule.” How would you want this situation handled if a member of your family was involved? This will usually guide you to the correct ethical choice. Also within the family rule, you may ask yourself, “Would I want my family to know about this?” or “Would my family be proud of these actions?” If you say no to either of these, again, you are probably making the wrong choice.

Now, you must realize, of course, that I’ve simplified the process a lot here. There are entire books and college courses about ethics in business. However, in all the dealerships I’ve worked with, if they’d followed these ideas, they would have solved almost all of their ethical difficulties and improved their reputation. Always remember that your dealership is only as strong as the opinions other people have of it.

Now, back to my own ethical position from before; I simply asked myself, “Would my mother be proud of me for taking more money than the work was worth?” I quoted my regular rates.

Vol 5, Issue 2

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