These Honest People Are Not Impediments to Profit

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Have you seen the real “real” news? A few well-known companies are behaving badly. They made some money in the short term and felt like long-term winners. People were celebrating their success loudly. And the companies themselves were banging their collective chest with pride — look at us. Yet when their lack of integrity and questionable tactics were revealed, all that hype was replaced by scorn. Sound familiar?

You know the kind of company and founder I am talking about — interesting product idea, unbelievable hype, and unrealistic growth promises.

And then comes the shady (and potentially illegal) actions as they try to meet those impossible expectations. This puts conscientious employees in a particularly comprising position. Do your part to fuel the hype-cycle or be cast aside and miss out on the company’s “near-guaranteed” success.

I share a few not-so-great stories in my bestselling new book, Lovability. There are cautionary tales of companies with phenomenal growth that was followed by scandal and outrage, such as Theranos, Zynga, and Uber. Cutthroat work cultures, employees forced to lie to customers, and never-ending lawsuits. But then I also share stories of inspiring greatness.

The lasting success of companies like Chobani and Patagonia serve as a testament to the fact that you can build an honest and ethical company — both human-centered and profitable.

People are not impediments to profit. The best company builders celebrate employees and customers as the reasons for profit. Integrity is non-negotiable, and transparency and kindness are worthy investments. These leaders shun hype and are weary of grow-at-all-costs thinking.

I have written about the toxic leadership style and growth tactics used by too many tech companies today. At Aha!, we avoid this with a set of principles that we pioneered and named The Responsive Method (TRM). We believe that sustainable success comes from respecting and serving others. This philosophy guides our interactions with customers and each other.

Here is a brief description of the six principles:

  1. Goal-first — Define your vision and make sure everyone understands it.
  2. Wow, curious!  — Be addicted to asking questions and finding the answers.
  3. Interrupt driven — Listen carefully to the “noise” so you can pick out valuable data.
  4. Yea or nay now — Digest information as quickly as possible to give an answer now.
  5. Transparent — Explain the “why” behind decisions to foster growth and trust.
  6. Kind — Treat others with respect and dignity to build strong relationships.

But TRM is more than just a set of principles. It is also a moral and ethical framework that says you can treat others well and still achieve great things, including profitability. With a core set of values driving you forward, it is easier to say no to bad behaviors.

And TRM helps company founders inspire the team as well. When you feel that you are accomplishing meaningful work, it is easy to see the company’s goals as your own and work hard to see them through.

When people are working hard towards shared goals, you can solve more difficult problems honestly and create more lasting value.

Think about it — when your customer has a series of delightful interactions with your team, they will choose you again and again. And they will share that good experience with others. This is how you build a following — not by lying, cheating, or stealing.

It is possible to build something lasting and good without hurting people. And yes, to grow quickly and be profitable. Company founders need to stop behaving badly and realize that honest people are not impediments to profit — they are instruments of it.

How do you put people first?

About Brian and Aha!

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product roadmap software — and the author of Lovability. His two previous startups were acquired by well-known public companies. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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