Ethical dilemma–What would you do?

After college, Scott took a retail sales job in technology products. Despite his excellent customer service scores, after several months his managers pulled him aside for slouching sales. The managers asked him what could be done to help boost his production. Scott took the opportunity to boldly disclose he had an ethical dilemma. He candidly explained how he could not sell one product over another, costing the customer about 150% more for nearly the same benefit.

Though the managers understood, one said, “Sometimes ethics and business don’t mix.” What?!

The other manager added, “If XYZ Product Company acted with ethics they wouldn’t be in business.” Double what?! This was shocking to Scott for a number of reasons.

While Scott is no angel, he didn’t feel he could rip people off who trusted him and still have a clear conscience, just to please his managers.

Not only are his franchise owners on a completely different values plane than Scott, he also had to grapple with the reality that a major corporation was acting just as deceitfully. Was this true, or were his managers just saying this to try to sway him?

As a young adult, Scott is faced with the massive ethical dilemma to succumb to the system or to stand his ground. Whatever decision he makes here will most likely guide the way he conducts himself in business the rest of his life, and how he will lead those after him.

This is when Scott called me, lamenting how he’s getting lambasted at work for doing the right thing. “Drew, is the world really this corrupt? The pressure is unbelievable, like there’s no support for trying to be honest.”

Of course Scott wants to make it in life, but does he have to sacrifice his personal integrity? “It’s so incredibly tempting to just join them and upsell,” he said, “But I just don’t know if I can live with myself if I do that. What about integrity?”

This is where the young adult meets society.

What is someone like Scott supposed to do? If everyone just went along with such managers, it reinforces unethical business practices and companies, and strengthens a corrupt society. If he does the right thing, will he be out of a job? Doesn’t the average person get infuriated with corrupt companies ripping off their customers without much recourse? Cable companies come to mind. The same thing happens in education and government. The only way anything will change is if enough young adults like Scott take a stand for integrity—but the personal risks are incredible.

What you think?

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8 Responses to Ethical dilemma–What would you do?

  1. Nancy says:

    Scott might thrive (getting a law degree and) working for a non-profit. Build his resume. Ethics and integrity are built, defined, and re-defined over a lifetime. What a great start! He’s asking the right questions. More Scott, please.

  2. Patrick says:

    Scott’s managers should have not said what they said. That really showed their true colors. From a entrepreneurial standpoint, I understand what message the managers were trying to convey but they really made a different impression which has Scott in the predicament he is in.

    Scott is also at a lower level position, so his perspective and goals are different than those in positions above him. Higher level positions focus on the number of sales and revenue generated. That is their mindset and they have to rely on the sales force to make that happen. If a salesman keeps under selling when there is another product that could be sold for more, then there is a problem.

    Scott doesn’t own the store and knows that he will receive an hourly rate for his time. The owners are trying to squeeze as much out of each sale as they can to increase profits to pay for all of their expenses.

    It’s a different perspective and different mindset. That’s where the issue is. Scott doesn’t have that mindset. I feel that if Scott could understand the business side and the importance of selling a more expensive product then he could justify what the owners are trying to convey.

  3. Susan says:

    This is a great lesson for Scott to learn so early in life! If he truly cannot find any benefit(s) to the more expensive products he’s being asked to promote, he should move on. And, in his next job, he will be all the wiser in finding a company with a culture that is a better fit.

  4. Kory says:

    Scott will be the one living with the consequences of his decisions in life. No one else will carry our burdens for us. We should all be conscious of the legacy we are leaving behind.

  5. Russell says:

    If only ethics were about wrong and right, but these decisions are immersed in nuance of culture, social norms, theology, economics and more. Scott’s question about what serves the customer best for the lowest price is compassionate. The management response is as well, but is a compassion of a different interest. Somewhere in between is the true ethic. Can the customer be served with the appropriate benefits while the business also honors its economic imperative? This is what makes discerning God’s will so daunting.

  6. Ela says:

    If Scott has researched the products and can truly find no value in the more expensive product, then he should not sell it. Perhaps there are some ways in which the more expensive product has additional benefits that would be important to certain customers. If there is no way in which the additional value will ever be there for the higher end product, then he should begin searching for an alternative venue in which to work. There are times in which we suffer short term pain for long term gain. Scott certainly should do his best to find alternate employment before leaving the company to be prudent, though he should sell what he believes is right while he is employed there.

  7. Virginia says:

    The question that comes to my mind .. Is Scott’s motives to for being ethical to benefit the customer as well as the company? This could be a chance to explore other options. I would hope they could discuss another strategy to meet the sales goals as well as the customer that would not compromise his ethics.

  8. gerbertznachriya says:

    Tell him, whatever he decides to do, to write a letter to the district managers, executives and whoever is up the chain of command about what’s going on. Believe me, those letters get read. Also, execs spend a great deal of their professional lives worrying about something their company is doing or not doing that’s going to ruin the company, collapse their market share, or get them sued or investigated by the government.

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