Boris is the wise ol’ founder of TNW who writes a weekly column on everything about being an entrepreneur in tech — from managing stress to embracing awkwardness. You can get his musings straight to your inbox by signing up for his newsletter!
When you’re launching a new company, product, or service, there’s an incredible amount of little decisions to make.
Of course, you’d like every single decision to be the perfect one, but that never happens. Instead, most of your choices will be mediocre, with many bad ones and only a few good ones. At the end of the day, you just have to hope your mediocre and good decisions make up for your many bad decisions.
And, unfortunately, the same goes for ethical dilemmas. Although you’ll aspire to be a saint and always choose the righteous path, no doubt at some point, you’ll end up negotiating on your ethics.
The reason for that is that ethical dilemmas are rarely clear-cut. You’ll have to figure out the many variables and decide which choice is the ‘least bad.’ And before you know it, you’ll do something that’s not straight-up evil or unethical… but close enough to make you question the tally of your karma points.
I heard about one such example from a manager at a startup recently. He had hired a salesperson, who was performing very well. And I mean seriously well.
They continuously outperformed everyone else in the sales team and landed the most impressive clients. But… this particular person was highly aggressive, impolite, and often almost abusive to prospective clients and coworkers.
Whenever the manager would overhear one of those sales calls, he would cringe and feel uncomfortable with the whole thing — although the salesperson hadn’t crossed any clear boundaries. The numbers also seemed reasonable, so he didn’t interfere.
Over time though, it became too much, and the salesperson was let go at one point. Sure it was a bit of a setback in the short term losing a high-performing salesperson, but after a few months, the company started gaining momentum again. They even got coverage on their favorite tech review site, amazing!
The article was comprehensive and cheerful and everything you’d hope for in a review… but then came the comments.
The first and most visible comment was from a CEO of a respectable company who described how awful the reviewed company’s sales approach was. He went on to explain, in detail, the aggressive stubbornness of the salesperson who hunted him, and how for him it stood out as an example of how not to do sales. He then concluded that if this reflected the company’s culture, he would never want to do business with them.
This was an important moment in the manager’s career because he instantly knew he deserved the criticism.
He knew the risks of allowing the successful but questionable salesperson to continue working at the company — but he was blinded by the revenue it generated.
So was it unethical to keep the salesperson on? No, but it was close enough to make the manager consider his karma points, and by then it was too late, the damage was already done.