Morality and Ethics

Mar 16, 1998

Although I don’t consider myself a member (honorary or otherwise) of the morality police, the latest presidential scandal got me thinking about morality and ethics. I’ll limit my political commentary to one statement: I think just about every politician is fundamentally corrupt. By the time politicians actually get elected to a significant office, they have accumulated so much baggage in terms of favors that need to be repaid that a loss of integrity is almost inevitable. Unlike politics, the A/E/P and environmental consulting industry is made up of honest people with a higher moral standard than most. And this in no way conflicts with success. In fact, it’s essential to it. Taking the high road almost always has a better payoff than being selfish and doing what serves you best in the short term. Here’s more of what I mean: Pricing: Should you always charge whatever the market will bear? I don’t think so. Sometimes it’s better to not get too greedy and to do the job for a decent price, instead of squeezing out all that someone will pay. Don’t take advantage of a client relationship or a client’s current situation that puts them at a disadvantage (some sort of crisis). Besides just being the right thing to do, you’ll probably benefit in the long term by getting the client’s repeat business. And this will allow you to increase your efficiency. Purchasing: Should you always try to beat up your suppliers to get the lowest cost on everything they sell you? I don’t think so. It’s better to have a relationship of trust that lets you say “go ahead” in many cases without even getting an estimate from the supplier because you know they won’t try to rip you off. If they do overcharge you, tell them you feel like they’re taking advantage of you, and go get a new supplier. Hiring: Should you always try to hire people at the lowest possible price? I don’t think so. If someone says they expect $35,000-$40,000, and they currently earn $33,000, I’d consider paying them $36,000 for a local move and $38,000 for a relocation. To offer $35,000, thinking you can always go up if you have to, sets the stage for many future “negotiations” at raise and bonus time. It also perpetuates an atmosphere of distrust between ownership/management and the workers. Project management: Should you always seek to optimize profits on every job? I don’t think so. If either the budget or the quality of the output has to suffer, I would let the budget suffer every time. But this is a dangerous statement to make in an A/E/P or environmental firm. Some people misconstrue this logic and think they need to give away the store in the name of good client relations. I don’t believe in just doing anything the client asks for, whether it’s in your scope or not, and whether you can get paid for it or not. Problem resolution: Should you always push for what’s best for you as opposed to the client? No. We have a real simple policy here on consulting projects— keep working as long as you have to until the client is satisfied, as long as they are upholding their end of the deal and returning phone calls, paying their bills, and so on. Ditto for book buyers— if someone is unhappy or wants to return something they bought, we’ll send their money back immediately. Subcontractors: Should you always pay subcontractors the least that you have to in order to get them on the project? I think not. It’s far more important to have a good working relationship with the other team members so they will want to see the project succeed and will do whatever it takes to make that happen. You won’t have these kinds of relationships with your subs if all you ever do is beat them down on their fee. You know what? I’ll bet most of our readers— owners and managers of A/E or environmental firms— agree with me. That’s why I never have any second thoughts about my career choice. Originally published 3/16/1998

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