There will be thousands of decisions and judgments made in the coming months and years at your company. Some decisions matter more than others. The kind of decisions I'm talking about are ones that shape the bedrock of your company.
- When you see bad or illegal behavior do you turn the other way, or do you address it head on?
- What do you do when your service goes down (or does not meet expectations) in order to maintain your customers' trust?
- When our Glassdoor numbers are abysmal from current and former employees do you just say they weren't a fit, or do you examine your behaviors?
- When your numbers for the quarter are not looking good, how do you talk about this with your team?
I learned a lot about assessing the character of a company when I was at eBay. At one of our board meetings, one of our directors, Howard Schultz, arrived fresh off a trip to Germany and Poland. He was horrified by his visit to the concentration camps. At the time, eBay sold "Nazi" memorabilia. Howard was opposed and adamant, demanding that the company stop doing so immediately. There was a debate on whether we should cease to sell these items as it wasn't illegal. Howard didn't care about that; he said, "It's about the character of the company."
He was right. When he eventually left the eBay Board we gave him a plaque with that motto. And it's guided me since. I have encountered several "character of the company" moments since, and I have always been comforted with how easy the decisions become when your value systems are clear.
One time, we had an issue where one of the companies in our investment portfolio missed its quarter. A big deal that they had been expecting--and that would have ensured they hit their numbers--came in the next day. There was a lot of discussion about what to do. Should it be included in the quarter that closed the day before, or not? I was very impressed with the integrity of CEO, and the kind of company he built, when he said, "absolutely not."
So, while you are making all the decisions that you have to field, please keep an eye out for the ones that are about the "character of the company." In those cases I hope you will make your decision based on your core values. While we know we have to live to the letter of the law, our character and values require us to live to the spirit of the law, which is a higher standard.