I have been in business a long time.

And all of that time has been in the rough and tumble world of recruitment and staffing. Having worked as a recruiter, manager, and owner of recruitment businesses all over the world, I have seen my share of dubious business practices. Indeed I have, sadly, been witness to many instances of outrageously deceitful and unethical behavior. We have all seen it no doubt.

In business, as in life generally, we expect to confront people who are dishonest. We know they are there, and we become better at identifying them before too much harm is done. But what really gets me is that category of person in business who preaches ethical behavior, even believes they are whiter than white, but when put to the mildest of tests, will collapse in a heap of moral compromise at best, and resort to outright duplicity at worst.

In a strange way I have even come to prefer dealing with crooks who know they are crooks, rather than those people who believe there are degrees of honesty. People who somehow feel you can leverage acting decently against the amount of money involved. You cannot. Honesty is like being a virgin. You are, or you are not. You can’t be a virgin when it suits you.

I remember a conversation with a manager a long time ago that sticks with me as an example. I had recently taken over a business, and inherited some of the middle-management. The situation was that we had billed a client a large fee. The placement was made in Asia and the fee was in Singapore dollars. The client, based in the US, paid the invoice with US dollars, a value that was almost double the original, correct amount. I asked the manager of the office handling the deal “what do you propose to do”? The reply was along the lines of, “well normally I would tell the client about the error, but this is a large fee and we are having a poor month in my office, so I feel we should let it slide”.

Of course I quickly smothered that idea, but I knew I had a serious problem. What is the mindset of a person who will effectively steal from our clients? What is the moral fortitude of someone who will compromise any standard of honesty “because they are having a poor month”.

In recent years I have seen so many examples of this “rubber-band morality”. Clients, candidates, and others closer to home, have managed to surprise even me with how tenuous is their grasp of what is right, and what is wrong. Yes, times are tough and money is tight. But what we have to understand is that it’s in exactly these circumstances that honesty and moral strength counts. 

Anyone can be ‘ethical’ if there is no temptation to test your ethical fibre. It’s very easy to see yourself as ‘honest’ if there is nothing financial at stake to give you pause for thought.

I love the competitive nature of the recruitment business. Anyone I have worked with or against will attest that I ask nor give any quarter in the commercial battle. Winning is important. Success is what we strive for.

But not at any cost.

To me, it's obvious that in business, or indeed any commercial interaction, you play it as hard as you can, but stick by the rules, retain your humanity and ensure that you will always be able to look every person you deal with in the eye.

Don’t be like a client who said to me once, as he lied his way out of paying a bill , “Greg, I am an honest man, but business is business”

Sad and pathetic.

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