By Robb Hicken/ BBB’s chief storyteller
When members of the Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce met for their monthly luncheon, they had no idea they were going to be inducted into the armed forces.
Each table will be representing an élite military team. As part of your training you are to go into a remote region and bring order. This is the only instruction plain and simple, says CEO Dale Dixon, of the Better Business Bureau serving the Snake River Region.
“As you approach the village, you are told the local priest is conducting a wedding,” Dixon paraphrases from the pages of a USA Today article. “You see a woman. Her arms are tied and she is dragged into a tent. This is an arranged marriage.”
The article, about a group of business executives that participated in a Marine Corps ethics-training mission, describes the cries of dismay, the passivity of the priest and community members, and the sheer terror in the bride’s eyes.
“The priest quickly tells you that this is part of the culture and it is perfectly legal, and it h as been going on for thousands of years,” Dixon says. “And, if you get in the way in any manner, you’ll be doing irreparable harm to any relationship between the United States and this country.”
Dixon then turns to the crowd – “now, you have 15 seconds to come up with what you would do.”
As guest speaker, Dixon poses questions like these to groups across the Snake River Region on a weekly basis, challenging people to consider what is the right thing to do.
“What is the ethical stance and standard,” he says, after the group voiced opinions to protect the woman, to standing down, to pull back. “The business people in the group came to the conclusion that it was legal and had been done for thousands of years, and so it was legal.”
The Marines, despite being drilled with the values of accountability and responsibility, then asked the businessmen to analyze their judgments
“They want to fall back on the narrow technical definition of the mission they receive from higher, just like they do in the corporation,” the article reads. “They can’t believe the Marines shove it back in their face and say, ‘Wait a minute. You’re falling back on the rules, and you’ve missed the values and the ethics in play here.’”
Dixon encouraged today’s business executives, like those in Idaho Falls, to look at their own families, and analyze how critical it is to instill ethics and values in family members.
“As business owners, we’re not going to be faced with these types of situations on a daily basis,” he says. “But, when we are continually critically thinking about these decision in a lifelong perspective it puts us on course to make these big decisions when they come our way. And do what is right, especially when its hard.”
The butterfly effect is that the little things matter and should be addressed when they arise.
“The little things really do matter,” he says. “We have to pay attention to those little things because they really do matter.”
In Fred Meyer’s bulk food section, recently, Dixon said he noticed a man recently walk up to a bin of chocolate covered nuts, grab a handful, and walk off.
“Did I just see someone steal?” he says.
Awestruck, Dixon said, he should have called it out right there – thief! This is where you should have worked on this opportunity in a long-range view.
“How do we handle it,” he asks. “Are we preparing to make those tough decisions.”
Human nature is to judge ourselves by our intent, but judge others by their actions. As business leaders in the community, it’s greater than that.
Self-regulation is crucial in the business community. It’s never the intention that makes it to the front page of today’s newspapers. It’s the opposite.
Because the people do the right thing every day, they don’t get into the news.
“It’s the single out of the ordinary act of someone breaking the rule that makes the front page, that news,” Dixon says. “Business behaving badly is not the normal, it’s that’s happening all the time, but the people on the street don’t see it that way.”
It’s an expensive and costly position to rebuild the image of the small businesses. Leaders spend trillions every year to prove that your business is doing what is right, even though it’s the normal.
“Do you want to merely comply with the rules? Or, do you want to lead?” Dixon asks
It was 1960 when meteorologist Edward Lorenz, working in his lab, stumbled upon a theory known as, ‘The Butterfly Effect.’ Simply stated: Does the flap of a butterfly’s wing in Brazil cause a tornado in Texas?
He was laughed off the stage, Dixon relates. But, researches kept testing the theory and they found out that little tiny things do make a difference down the line.
A few things business owners can do:
Make a commitment and follow through. Are you making and keeping commitments to yourself. It creates a habit.
Be a person of your word. Especially when it is hard.
Be open and transparent. Being so in your personal life, it will translate to your business.
A principles based leadership will not allow businesses to simply slide by because it’s traditional.
“I don’t think anyone wants to be the person who has the reputation of just barely getting by,” Dixon says.
Businesses have a great opportunity to win customers over, because they have taken on the challenge of doing the right thing.