When Is “Doing the Right Thing” the Right Thing?

“Always do right,” Mark Twain once wrote. Sounds simple enough. But then came Twain’s inevitable zinger: “This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”

And, of course, knowing what is the right thing to do can be complicated.

One of our clients, for example, once offered a new technology to an oil company. The technology was an attractive opportunity because it delivered positive ROI, provided some competitive advantage, and reduced the pollution created by retail gasoline stations–great public relations for any oil company. But it was also a threat because it would reduce gasoline sales to independent dealers. What was the right decision: Take the opportunity or sidestep the threat?

Another client offers pharmacy services to senior living communities. Early on, this privately held company invested heavily in automated equipment to package medications in a way that reduced medication waste but also, in turn, the company’s sales. (Too often pills are thrown out, for instance, because prescriptions are written for new medications before the old ones are used up.)

Our client knew the decision would benefit its customers, however, both the senior communities it serves and the seniors who live in them. Did our client do the right thing?

That same client’s primary and much larger competitor turned down a similar opportunity to drive medication waste even lower for its customers: “We’ll sell fewer pills” was the undeniable rationale. This company is publicly held with myriad stakeholders. Was it wrong for executives to pursue the most immediate avenue of return, even if it didn’t benefit customers?

Do your answers to our questions gratify or astonish? It depends, doesn’t it, on just who you’re talking to.

Now, what do you think? Let us hear from you. Tell us, too, how you think about “doing the right thing” when it comes to your company and its stakeholders.

Editor’s Note: This post was adapted from a previously published article written by Phil Krone, president of Productive Strategies.


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