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Why Ethics Matter In Agencies

Back in undergrad I had an ethics professor that was obsessed with the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. Kant basically said that morality is derived not from man but from nature. That actions that disadvantage one person to the benefit of another are inherently immoral no matter how we try to justify the outcome.

He called his principle the “categorical imperative” and it very much applies to agency professionals.

To be truly ethical, the results of our actions cannot disadvantage one person to the benefit of another.

Agency professionals – by the mercurial nature of the business – have a tendency to act out of an abundance of self interest and ego. We look for an edge and compete for attention like our livelihoods depends on it. We constantly try to seek out ways around the categorical imperative.  Unfortunately, there is none.

For instance, I’ve even seen people look for ways to make hay out of ideas that aren’t necessarily theirs. Maybe it’s borrowing or maybe it’s outright theft but they justify their actions because “it’s the nature of the game.”

Luckily, I’ve found myself working for an agency and actually a brand new client that puts a premium on the categorical imperative. The net impact of our actions both as agency professionals and as corporate citizens is always taken into account. We have to ask if what we’re doing is really moral or ethical or is it taking undue advantage?

In this case, the formula for morality isn’t rocket science….1) treat others with respect 2) give credit where credit is due, and 3) if you’re going to make hay – you better damn well grow your own.

You see, Kant was a big fan of the mathematical and interconnected nature of ethics. In short he said just like we aren’t exempt from certain absolute laws of morality, we are also not exempt from the consequences of our actions.

The formula for morality isn’t rocket science…1) treat others with respect 2) give credit where credit is due, and 3) if you’re going to make hay – you better damn well grow your own.

Stated another way: what goes around comes around. Ask yourself if you’re ready for the consequences of your attempts to get ahead?

Haters Gonna’ Hate. Let Them.

In the last three weeks, I’ve seen more negativity come out of otherwise responsible adults than I think I’ve ever seen in my life. I wish I was talking about politics but I’m not. I’m talking bullying instigated by agency professionals.

Maybe it’s insecurity or maybe it’s just a sign of the times but this behavior is stunning to me. What makes otherwise accomplished adults revert to pettiness normally only found in high school lunchrooms?

Seriously! Someone explain it to me because I have no idea.

The only thing I do know is that whether by deed or by word, this negativity does nothing good for the hater. Sure, there’s a momentary high and maybe even a sense of accomplishment in tearing down others. However, both are always temporary.

Take it from someone who has had to walk through decade of bullying.

While the target of the hater may end up stronger, the hater themselves sees that hate erode their core from the inside out.

This isn’t naiveté either, it’s fact.  Studies at Duke and Michigan State have revealed that bullying has serious long-term negative physiological effects.

When I see an adult stoop to the level of tearing people down so they feel better, there’s more to pity than to be angry at. In other words, let the haters hate.

Pass the love on. Pass the encouragement forward. You’ll end up better in the long run.

The Score Takes Care of Itself

The move was a long time coming. Despite the fact that I loved my experience at Moxie, the time and the opportunity came to move on.

Before the next chapter can begin though, there’s something much more important than packing up my things and turning in my laptop. That something is taking the lessons I’ve learned and try to make sense of them.

One lesson in particular is sticking with me – the importance of letting the score take care of itself.

Here’s the thing, when you’re at a big agency it’s hard not to try to keep score. It’s about how many project wins you have, how many awards you won, how many accolades you received, or people you managed. It’s the way you judge your presence as one part of a very large machine.

In all honesty though, I think the most valuable thing I learned is that the score – in that sense – doesn’t matter. The score, like I said, takes care of itself.

Maybe it’s because I didn’t manage a ton of people. Maybe it’s because I spent a lot of my time making the case for a seat at the table to begin with. I spent a lot of time on the outside looking in, trying to focus on the things I could change. It ended up being the small things that I did that made the most impact.

Things like the detail and research I put in and the frameworks I had to build from scratch tended to be the most powerful and respected things I ever created at Moxie. It got the nod from clients and more importantly created opportunities to work together with disciplines that had, upon my arrival, been reluctant to give what I did the time of day. Those small things built up to be something much larger,

Such is the work of the truly great strategists. It’s not the big ideas, it’s the small ones that matter. It’s the dogged work that’s put into every deliverable that makes the difference.

That’s one of the greatest lessons I’m taking with me going forward – to focus on the “sincere hustle,” not the score. When all is said and done, your work either speaks for itself or it doesn’t.

I’m grateful for the time and the lessons I learned. However, the next chapter begins on Monday. The only thing the scoreboard reads is that it’s time to get to work.

Game on.

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