Your son asks you, “Mom, can I talk to you?” and you say, “in a minute,” and your child says “Promise?” as you keep texting or scrolling. You reply, “Promise.”

How likely is it that you will stop what you are doing 60 seconds later, go and find him, and say “OK, let’s talk”?

The promise you are making is to NOT do what you say you will.

You are training your son to NOT expect you to stop what you are doing and find him in a minute. You are not keeping your promise; however, if you did consistently stop and go find him, you’d be teaching him that you are worthy of your promise.

That’s exactly how brands work. When you do what you say you will, you are reinforcing the promise you make—whether you are a brand or an individual.

Brands get more intense about the topic because they use all sorts of strategic tools to create protection around the brand. Departments. Divisions. Organizations.

One of those tools is the brand’s ethics. Ethics are the foundation of your brand’s promise. If you think about it, your brand (personal or professional) cannot exist without ethics.

A brand’s promise is by definition doing what you say you will—day in and day out.

Doing something day in and day out sounds easy, right? Until one person decides to do it differently, even if just a little bit.

Is that a good thing? Is that a bad thing?

It depends. One person might see it as “nonconformist.” Another person might see it as “innovation” and another may see it as “wrong.” The point is, it’s up for interpretation. And it can be rationalized.

In general, that’s the hard part of ethics. How one person interprets or views an ethical stance can be interpreted differently than another person’s stance.

As a mom, you might be looking for a contract to come through and you need a minute to read the response. It doesn’t really take a minute to read a contract. In fact, downloading the file doesn’t just take a minute. In essence, you knowingly lied to your son.

HOWEVER, you can rationalize “one minute,” which might include defending that you are the primary earner in the household, that you’ll get fired if you don’t respond, or that someone else will move in on your opportunity. Rationalization. But if you think about it, telling your son “just one minute” versus not delivering on the mental discipline to either say “I really want to hear what you say but I need to take care of a business matter; can we talk when I’m done in 20 minutes?” seems like a lot of mental work, in a moment where we are already racing to “get through it.”

Our interpretation of how we are using that time is subject to personal views, which can give us permission to cross lines. One might say it’s tough being a mom and that multitasking is an admirable ‘super power’. Another might argue that reviewing a contract while standing in the middle of your family room on your cell phone with SpongeBob in the background is not acceptable while others might see that as “hero status”. It depends on how you interpret the scene.

Ethically speaking, are we doing “the wrong thing” by both our family time and our business time? Maybe. Maybe not. It depends.

Let’s look at it in reverse. Should you always answer your phone while working if it’s your child? Are we rationalizing it by saying “I need to answer. What if something is wrong?” What if you made a policy at work—no answering your personal calls and something DID happen to someone’s child? What if a client pulled their business because they were offended that your employee took a call on a meeting? Interpretation. Rationalization.

When you take a simple moment like scanning email for a contract while standing in your kitchen, you can feel your stomach tighten. Same when you thought about someone not being able to help their child while at work.

The hard part about this article is that there is NO right answer without context, dialogue and clear guidelines.

Ethics requires a constant state of awareness and the mindful practice of breaking down what the right thing ought to be—for your brand, and your brand promise as it relates to your audience and your position.

As an employee, it means unpacking your role and your responsibilities in service of delivering your employer’s brand promise. Then you must ask yourself how you FEEL (gut, not brain) about what is the right thing to do for the good of the brand.

As a CEO or business owner, it means examining your primary responsibilities against the sustaining longevity of the brand you are responsible for—in the big picture, and the smallest everyday detail.

How do we keep pace but slow down to make ethical decisions? Here are four habits to build good ethical consideration, which will consistently lead to ethical outcomes.

  1. Ground Yourself: Ask yourself what the primary goal is at the moment, and then long term. Say it out loud. Twice.
  2. Gain Empathy: Determine if the decisions you are contemplating have the potential to affect others. Picture the others. How will they be affected? How is the goal affected?
  3. Look Ahead: How does your decision affect future outcomes? Try to think through milestones, name them.
  4. Keep It Real: Take rationalization head on. Deconstruct it. Picture explaining the outcomes to your friend outside the situation.

These four habits work with a team, a board, individuals, and family. Using the four habits will help everyone become more mindful about actions and decisions. The more you discuss and practice the four habits, the stronger your ethical culture will become.

The stronger the ethical culture, the stronger the brand promise. The stronger your brand promise, the more likely you are to have dependable, repeatable and sustainable revenue.

Article as recently posted in WIM WOmen in Manufacturing Blog by Brooke Foley