Commitments, Great and Small. Why Keep Them?

December 8th, 2010
Jim Thomas

Because keeping one’s word is the foundation of trust. And trust has the potential of creating success and prosperity in all endeavor. Trust affects relationships–personal and otherwise. Trust determines reliability, work in progress, business start-ups, and public perceptions of our efforts, products and services. Trust means  promises will be kept, that   services and products will be delivered as promised, when promised, and in the manner promised.

How does one achieve this priceless intangible ? through affirming and promoting and rewarding Integrity, first of the great cardinal virtues.  In its very essence, Integrity is best defined as the capacity to stand by the right ideas. It is confirmed when the deliberate choice  in conduct can withstand the light of day: when it contributes in some fashion to the greater good. Integrity does not necessarily demand the superior choice; it does demand avoidance of the bad choice. Consider this example from Winners Never Cheat, by Jon Huntsman, as quoted in The Speed of Trust  by Stephen M. R. Covey.

A contract was negotiated and  entered into.  With a simple handshake, Huntsman agreed to sell 40 percent of a division of his company to Great Lakes Chemical. The agreed upon price was $54 million. Counsel for Great Lakes went to work drafting a written sales contract. For various reasons, several months passed with no contract documents in place. In the interim,  raw material prices declined. Huntsman’s  profits tripled and margins rose significantly. Value of the division Huntsman agreed to sell for $54 million rose to an estimated $250 million.

Emerson Kampen, CEO of Great Lakes, determined that the sales price agreed upon had become grossly unfair to Huntsman. He volunteered to split the differnce in apprciated value. Huntsman declined the offer. He declared the parties negotiated in good faith and reached  agreement on price. It was a commitment he intended to keep and did. The transaction closed at the  price agreed upon of $54 million.

In recalling the episode, Huntsman had no regrets. He said,” I never had to wrestle with my conscience or look over myshoulder. My word was my bond.”  Standing by his values demonstrated Huntsman’s integrity. It also inspired trust. For he was asked to speak at Emerson Kampen’s funeral.

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