Some people might say that ethics and sales do not mix well. Sales people have seemingly always had a negative stigma. From snake oil to used cars, history is full of examples of salespeople who put making money above doing what is right. When this is done right, success is bound to follow.
Lee Iacocca, the former head of Ford who went on to successfully rebuild Chrysler, was instrumental in the production of the Ford Pinto (Bazerman & Tenbrunsel, 2011). During this time, there were a number of documented safety concerns regarding the Pinto which never reached Iacocca’s office for fear of delaying the launch. Iacocca was a strong leader who wanted results, not excuses. While his behavior was not intentionally unethical,
Iacocca and his executives created an atmosphere where success was an imperative, causing those in the trenches to make poor, and even unethical decisions in the name of business success. Recently, Wells Fargo had a similar issue with sales goals so outrageous that employees created fake customer accounts out of fear of losing their jobs combined with poor incentives to produce (Reuters, 2018).
In business, ethics needs to start at the top. Ethical leaders need to be involved in the decision making of those who work for them and assist them in making moral and ethical decisions (Northouse, 2015, p. 338). By setting the tone of the organization, leaders directly influence the thinking of those around them. As in the case of Wells Fargo, company management was so focused on growth that they set unrealistic sales quotas on their sales personnel.
If these quotas were not met, employees would be let go and replaced. The directive for these sales goals came directly from then-CEO John Stumpf who was seemingly only focused on reaching the goals, not on how they were reached (Berliner, 2017).
According to Northouse (2015), the guiding principles of ethical leadership are respecting others, building community, serving others, showing justice, and manifesting honesty (Northouse, 2015, p. 341). While it seems that these may be simply common sense for most people, companies and their sales managers need to be conscious of implementing policies which can create an air of complacency with regards to ethics. Policies must be implemented which espouse ethics. If we ensure that our policies always have the best interest of our customer at heart, it makes it less likely that we would be caught in an ethical quandary.
It is certainly possible to be in sales and simultaneously be ethical. Managers and leaders need to set clear guidelines and polices prohibiting ethical conduct. Rewards for performance need to be tailored to ensure that only those who compete honestly and in the best interest of their customers are rewarded. The days of leaders dictating goals without reasonable direction as to how to achieve them should be in the past. By encouraging open communication at all levels, leaders can help to maintain a moral and ethical environment, free from deception and fraud, and create an environment that serves the best interests of those that matter most – the cutomers.
Bazerman, M. H., & Tenbrunsel, A. E. (2011, April). Ethical Breakdowns. Retrieved from Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2011/04/ethical-breakdowns
Berliner, U. (2017, August 31). The Two Way. Retrieved from National Public Radio, Inc.: https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/08/31/547550804/wells-fargo-admits-to-nearly-twice-as-many-possible-fake-accounts-3-5-million
Northouse, P. (2015). Leadership: Theory and Practice. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, Inc.
Reuters. (2018, February 7). The Fed. Retrieved from CNBC: https://www.cnbc.com/jay-lenos-garage/