Doing the Right Thing has Myriad Benefits for Everyone Touched by the Work of Your Organization
Building a culture of excellence within your organization starts with doing the right thing. Always. Following the law and considering the needs of your company, your client, and your crew. But is always doing the right thing worth the trouble?
Unequivocally, yes. While taking shortcuts can at times be an enticing short-term strategy, sustained success comes from doing right. Always. The right thing sets a standard for those around you, allowing others to see your commitment as an authentic leader. And more broadly, a company that is focused on doing the right thing promotes a brand reputation that attracts and retains customers.
In some scenarios, the right thing can be the most difficult thing. It may require additional effort—more than you might think necessary. It may cost more. It may slow things down. It could cost you some “political capital.” You may even feel pressured to generate excuses or cut corners as an alternative to doing right.
On top of all this, most companies tend to be hyper-focused on the bottom line. That means, if making a few questionable moves leads to a better financial outcome, those actions can easily be rationalized.
Doing the wrong thing—or failing to do the right thing—may be easier and cheaper, but it’s also toxic for everyone involved. However, doing the right thing has myriad benefits for everyone touched by the work of your organization.
Monkey See, Monkey Do
First, not doing the right thing spreads like a cancer through your team. Let’s say you observe a peer doing something questionable, but no one calls them out for their behavior. Well, you’ve now gotten the message that it’s fine for you to do the same. Likewise, when your peers and direct reports see you cutting corners, they’ll follow suit.
Welcome to the conga line of bad actors. As long as the music keeps playing, more and more will join, more will follow. And just like that, not doing the right thing becomes a pervasive characteristic of your workplace culture.
Second, doing the right thing isn’t isolated to only high-profile “life-and-death” scenarios. Leaders have hundreds of opportunities to do the right thing every single day. As the leader of an organization, if I walk through the office, head down, focused on my phone instead of the person walking toward me, and I don’t say “hello” or even make eye contact—I’m wrong.
A moment like that’s not as trivial as you might think. I’ve just sent the message that I’m too important or too busy to even acknowledge a team member. I’m not doing the right thing for my team, and my bad example spreads.
Set a Good Example
However, your good example also spreads. When you consistently lead by doing the right thing, you’re not only maintaining integrity and strengthening your personal brand, you’re also setting a good example for others to follow.
When you do the right thing over and over, in plain sight for all to see, others follow suit. Likewise, if you require everyone to do the right thing and indiscriminately call them out when they fall short, the odds of a high-performing team increase dramatically. You strengthen trust throughout your organization and push people to work at their best.
High-integrity, authentic leaders develop a gravity that pulls people toward them. We all want to be around this type of leader. People tend to imitate what they see their leaders doing.
They follow good if they see good, and they follow bad if they see bad. By committing to do the right thing, you not only evangelize doing the right thing, but you also actually influence every other person with whom you interact.
The Brand Element
The benefits don’t end there. Consumers are also attracted to companies known for doing the right thing.
For instance, take the massive shift to online grocery shopping that occurred at the start of the pandemic in 2020. Like so many others, I became a major fan of the grocery delivery service Instacart. The convenience and safety that comes from ordering groceries from home was a real game changer during “lockdown.”
However, I noticed Trader Joe’s wasn’t on Instacart. That was a bummer for me because I love buying from them. I couldn’t help but wonder why Trader Joe’s didn’t offer online shopping or delivery. Surely it was costing them business!
Turns out, the company didn’t want to invest the money into building the technology platform required for online shopping. Instead, they wanted to invest those dollars in their employees—those who were doing the hard work of showing up during an incredibly difficult time.
Trader Joe’s provided “thank-you” pay increases to workers, which were then doubled only months later. They maintained a high quality of service while taking measures to ensure a safe in-person shopping (and working) experience. And Trader Joe’s is still going strong, beating other grocery retailers like Whole Foods. Most articles analyzing this surprising trend credit the success to their loyal customer base—loyalty that is, at least in part, a result of TJ’s reputation for doing the right thing.
Be Willing to Share
Trader Joe’s certainly has the resources to shift to online selling, like other grocery retailers, but the company’s leaders felt the right thing to do was to invest in their employees. Some would argue that Trader Joe’s is leaving money on the table by staying away from Instacart—posing a risk to the company’s bottom line. But it was a move that paid off, not only with increased market share, but also strengthened customer loyalty.
There’s another lesson to be learned from the Trader Joe’s example. Not only did they do the right thing; they weren’t bashful about sharing it. When you do the right thing, publicize it as widely as possible, especially internally among your team and company.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only TJ consumer who was frustrated that I couldn’t use an online delivery service. But knowing why it was unavailable resulted in stronger loyalty from me. I saw how the company chose to take care of its people—doing the right thing.
It’s not just brand reputation that’s enhanced by a company-wide attitude to do the right thing; it’s also product quality. Leaders who value customer loyalty put more time and effort into quality checks, taking extra steps to ensure that the product and services are fit for the public. When you care about the customer experience, customers not only see it; they’ll feel it too, solidifying and even enhancing the company’s reputation.
Doing the right thing starts with you as the leader. And no, that doesn’t mean you have to be a boss. There’s a difference between a boss and a leader. While they may have the same title, a boss operates with an “I” mentality, whereas leaders are focused on WE. A boss and a leader have many of the same tasks, obligations, and commitments, but a boss’s circle of influence is small compared to a leader’s.
Rather than investing in their people, a boss spends much of their time checking boxes and trying to look or sound smart in front of others. If you fit this description, people may still treat you like their leader, because they have to—but all you really are to them is a boss. They don’t think of you as someone they can count on for inspiration, guidance, and mentorship. No one is inspired by a boss who acts hypocritically and consistently does the wrong thing.
A leader, on the other hand, inspires, empowers, praises, critiques, coaches, develops, and cares. This requires much more time and effort. A leader may not even have direct reports because a title doesn’t make a leader. What leaders do have though is wide influence and respect. Their selfless approach is a magnet for people who want to thrive in a culture of excellence.
Consider the legacy you want to leave behind. Do you want people to remember you as a leader who inspired them? Then remember: at times, you might be inclined to take shortcuts, let things slide, throw your weight around, or fail to do right in any number of ways. But that’s not a long-term strategy for building a culture of excellence.
For more advice on how to build a culture of excellence in your organization, you can find Begin With WE wherever books, ebooks and audiobooks are sold.
Kyle McDowell is an author, speaker, and leadership coach with nearly three decades of experience leading tens of thousands of employees at some of the biggest companies in the United States. With an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, Kyle is widely known for his inspiring approaches to transforming bosses into leaders and reshaping corporate cultures.