The Federal Trade Commission is going after bloggers to compel them to disclose any value they receive from companies for endorsing their products, which of course has the blogosphere worked up into a fine lather. Seems a tad hypocritical since the primary value bloggers have to offer is information that, for whatever reason, formal media outlets, companies and government organizations have chosen not to disclose. Balking at transparency is hardly befitting. It doesn't affect me any. I don't take anything from anybody except the occasional unsolicited book I am sent by some author hoping I will endorse it on these pages. I may or may not read the book, I may or may not comment on it – good or bad – on Evolving Excellence, and I always give the book away to someone who might benefit from it when I am finished. I don't know exactly what the value of my reputation and integrity is, but it is more than the price of a book.
My purpose is not to talk about dubious blogging ethics, rather it is to give you my take on day to day business ethics, especially in manufacturing. I have spent a lot of time in places like China, Mexico and Brazil where significantly different ethical standards exist. I am struck, however, by the speed with which many American manufacturing managers jump on the pulpit to condemn the folks in such countries. Typically those managers are no more ethical – they just draw the line at a different place.
There is a continuum of kickbacks ranging from calendars, pens, donuts and free lunches at the low end, on up to fruit baskets, ball game and concert tickets and supplier paid dinners with spouses, to golf outings, and nicer Christmas gifts, and then to cash and that scale goes from a few bucks on up to go-to-jail money. Unless your company has a zero tolerance – not even a pen or a donut and everyone pays for their own meals 100% of the time - then your company is just as 'unethical' as the Mexican buyer or government official who expects a bottle of something good and a Christmas card with $50 or $100 every year. You just draw the line at a different level on the continuum, but you really have no claim to ethical superiority.
I am reminded of the very wealthy man who meets an attractive young lady at a cocktail party and asks if she would be willing to travel around the world with him on his yacht and allow him to shower her with designer clothing and jewelry. When she excitedly reacts in the affirmative, he pauses, then asks if she wouldtake $50 to go out to his limo in the parking lot to fool around in the back seat. When she is offended and asks if he takes her for a common prostitute, he answers, "Madam we have already established that. Now we are simply negotiating the price."
I guess the point I am trying to make – and how this relates to lean – is that anyone who thinks that their position, be it as a blogger, a buyer, a manager or an engineer, entitles them to anything more than a paycheck like everyone else in the company is not on board with the whole 'Respect for People' thing. The idea that a buyer works any harder, or is under any greater stress, or is more anything that makes him or her any more deserving of free donuts than the folks working on the line out in the plant is just plain wrong. If anything the opposite is true.
Of course getting to a zero tolerance will be more difficult in those third world countries, and in many of them getting past the idea that whoever holds the title of 'Managing Director' is some sort of tin god might be impossible. But as the adage goes, let he is who is without sin cast the first stone. I believe an honest assessment of ethical policies would be helpful for any company before it starts out on the lean journey. The rationalizations for anything other than zero tolerance might open a few eyes concerning company culture.