Business Ethics & Pride in a Job Well Done

One of my shoe laces gave out today, on the way out the door heading to the airport. Luckily the shoe-shine guy, in addition to giving an excellent shine at a good price, also had reasonably-priced laces which he happily threaded and tied for me.

For some strange reason, it always comes as a shock to me when a shoe lace gives out. The odd thing is that I usually cannot remember how old the disappointing lace actually is. I honestly cannot tell you whether the lace that gave out today is 3 months old or a year old or three years old. Nor do I know what brand it was, or where I bought it. So — setting aside, for a moment, its trivial price — I have no idea who I would complain to if I thought the lace had given out sooner than it ought to have.

Given this lack of accountability, one has to wonder just what it is that motivates makers of shoe laces (or other small, cheap, anonymous products) to rise above the bare minimum in terms of quality. Shoe laces are not, presumably, a highly-regulated industry. So they could presumably get away with using cheap raw materials, keeping costs down and profits high.

One obvious answer is “ethics.” The people who make shoe laces presumably have some pride in their work, and want people to be satisfied with their laces, and feel that it’s their responsibility to produce a decent product.

Another answer might have something to do with supply chains. Maybe I can’t easily hold the maker of my laces accountable, but the store I bought them at can. Maybe the purchasing agents for the store I bought them at asks lots of tough questions and demands access to technical specifications for laces before buying. I hope that’s the case. But that just pushes the question one link higher up the supply chain. Why does the purchasing agent care, given how likely consumers are to express their disappointment, in the event that they are dissatisfied? Again, the likely answer here is “ethics,” a big part of which is the simple motivation to do a good job and treat people fairly.

OK, so this is a trivial little example. But it seems to me that it points to an important lesson. People too often think of the word “business ethics” as implying an attempt to define and achieve saintly behaviour in business. And that’s a mistake. What we’re really talking about are reasonable constraints, and reasonable standards of achievement, in the world of commerce. We’re all out there, trying to make a living, and there are better and worse ways to do that. And whether you’re manufacturing shoe laces or complex financial instruments, the starting point has to be basic pride in a job well, and fairly, done.

5 comments so far

  1. gilessimon on

    Reblogged this on Ethical business blog and commented:
    An interesting article here – ethical business not always about heroic and saintly acts but can simply be about taking pride in doing a job well and fairly.

  2. Robert Czerny on

    How about two additional perspectives:

    At the retail end of the chain, you have a shoe store that sells shoe-laces (separately or ‘packeaged’ with shoes) priced at a fraction of the price of their main product, the shoes. It would be “penny wise pound foolish” to carry poor quality laces (for the sake of a very small difference in cost) and thereby risk future sales of shoes because customers come to regard the shoe store as unreliable.

    That is a non-ethics, business-reasoning approach. An additional ethics perspective would imagine a mission discussion at the shoe-lace plant where workers and management decide to look at the ramifications of producing high versus low quality. They might think, for instance, of the disastrous consequences of someone losing a shoe in an emergency situation. Yes, we can think about corporate social responsibility … even on a shoe-string!

    • Chris MacDonald on

      Thanks, Bob. I think those are both consistent with my point here. I suspect though that your first scenario (the non-ethics one) plays a rather small role. I suspect the number of people who track where cheap, anonymous consumer goods like shoe laces come from is small. Some people may have a place where they habitually buy their laces, but I suspect far more do not!

  3. Judi Keller on

    My shoes usually don’t last as long as their laces! Makes me wonder if the shoe manufacturers expect more from their suppliers than from their core product. Just my 2 cents

  4. Louis CK on Doing Your Job | on

    […] Business Ethics & Pride in a Job Well¬†Done […]

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