In this seven-part series, we’ll talk with Catherine Allen, Senior Vice President in our Boston office, and look in-depth at what each of the 7 core values means and how they affect our work, our clients, our employees, and our community. In this post, we look at what it means to be honorable at SHIFT.
Honorable is one of the most difficult values to define. We joke all the time that you recognize things that are dishonorable, but it’s hard to find things that are honorable. Honorable is doing the right thing, even when you know that it’d be easier to do something else, to hide something, or to not do something that you know you must do. Honorable tends to be the harder thing to do, but you know it’s the right thing to do. For example, when we work with a client that’s competitive to a former client, we don’t re-use anything at all. All client-specific things are destroyed on contract termination anyway, but even generic stuff like ideas, we don’t re-use. It’s harder, but we want to help the current client win their battles in an honorable way, in a way that doesn’t feel like “cheating”.
We hire for honorable people – we look at how they answer tough questions about choices they’ve made in the past and how they felt about those choices. At work, we behave in an honorable manner with each other. Everyone knows that life happens, that sometimes things come up, and we know that as an honorable person, you’ll make up the time and be as available as you can be to help out your team. Honorable is one of those values that is impossible to train. You either are, or are not. Luckily, we have so many people on staff that are honorable that the rare dishonorable person doesn’t last very long.
Honorable applies to how we represent clients to the media. We will not lie on behalf of a client. We will not give misinformation to reporters and publishers, because in the end it never serves the client well in the long-term. Their trust in us is why the client came to us in the first place, and you always, always get caught. If a client asks us to say something that’s false, we just won’t – and we may part ways with the client if it’s a repeated problem with them. We don’t want to put our staff in the position of having to behave dishonorably. I hear that a lot when I’m interviewing candidates from a couple of different competitive firms. They’re told to do whatever the client tells them to do, no matter what, and that’s a terrible position to put your people in. We want to recruit and retain the best people we can, and we can’t do that if we’re asking them to behave unethically or immorally, because the best people are neither.
We will choose not to work with clients that may even not be aligned with our own moral values as a firm. For example, some potential clients have a political or moral viewpoint that could be contentious, divisive, or even immoral to some of our employees. In situations like that, we have a process for whether we will accept that client. We poll the team that might handle that business – do you feel that you can honorably represent this client and give them 100%? The team manager prints out a single page summary of the client’s business and asks each team member to vote yes or no, then slip the paper anonymously under the manager’s door over the period of a few days. If even one team member votes no, they cannot represent the client honorably, then we pass on the client.
While all of our values are important, honorable is first among equals at SHIFT.
Catherine H. Allen
Executive Vice President