Author’s Note: Aristotle’s “golden mean” tells us that “a person of moral maturity naturally seeks action that would further moral character.” At the same time, John Stuart Mill’s utilitarian view was that “good is whatever brings greatest happiness to the greatest number.”
The defining moment of my professional life managed to match both views, but I strongly favor “the golden mean.” The following story describes the intersection of moral character and utilitarianism.
It was an ordinary Wednesday afternoon when I got the call from Dispatch. As the VP of communications for a broadband communications company, I had a strong media relations program in place that called on the entire workforce of roughly 1,500 people to have their radar attuned for any occurrences that could possibly be or turn into public relations or customer relations issues.
On this occasion, the dispatcher was troubled about a customer issue that had just surfaced. She told me that she had dispatched a two-person field technician team to resolve a technical problem at a customer home. The only reason for two people to be dispatched was that an experienced supervisor was training a new employee.
The technical problem wasn’t unusual, but the customer’s request was. The customer had specified that only a white male technician would be allowed into the home to resolve the problem. One of the two men in the assigned truck was African-American, the other white.
Based on what he, at the time, thought was the right thing to do, that “the customer is always right,” the supervisor decided to wait in the truck and sent the white trainee into the home to quickly resolve the technical problem.
That didn’t sit well with the dispatcher, a middle-aged white female, and she didn’t mind telling me so. I thanked her for the call, thought about it for a few moments, and knew the action to recommend to our CEO, whose office was a few steps away.
After a brief discussion, our decision was made.
As luck, or fate, would have it, the following morning at 9:00 a.m., we convened our monthly leadership forum, a gathering of some 90 managers and supervisors. To start the meeting, my boss, an introverted but compassionate leader, allowed me to announce the following policy decision, which I remember vividly:
“Effective immediately, we will not honor any bias-based request from a customer under any circumstances. And if they don’t like it … well, that’s a piece of business that we just don’t need!”
As I was emphatically completing the final clause of that statement, the entire group rose in unison with a resounding, spontaneous standing ovation. To this day, any time I speak of it or, in this case, write about it, I still get goose bumps from the emotion of that experience.
In the excitement of the moment, the tech supervisor approached and began to thank me – yes, thank me – for the announcement. I told him the thanks should go to the dispatcher who just didn’t feel right about someone showing disrespect for her co-worker.
And that is why I will always advocate that the most authentic brand experience is found at the core of an organization, not layered on by an outside agency specializing in clever slogans.
Mike Kohler is a member of the online faculty of Purdue’s online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 10 courses (20 months) and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.
*The views and opinions expressed are of the author and do not represent the Brian Lamb School of Communication.