Doing the right thing

Among all the places I worked at, one place remained deeply engraved in my DNA. The Intercontinental Hotel in Berlin. I worked there for about a year as a receptionist, and even though the time was short, it had a strong impact on the development of my career and on my personality.

The first and most important thing I learned was, that it’s impossible for me to work like a robot. The Intercontinental Hotel in Berlin is a massive conference hotel with a very intense daily operation. The amount of effort, focus and never-ending attention to detail are crucial to keeping this well-oiled machine running… which is the reason why I quit after a year.

I learned a lot and had great colleagues, but when every single work-step is standardized, constantly being measured and evaluated, then, step by step, you become a machine. While there are tons of advantages to this kind of system, I realized that I was not happy with it and that it was just the wrong kind of pressure for me.

Secondly, I learned a phrase that seems trivial, but that just feels so good and so right: “Do the right thing.”

Corporate brainwashing

The Intercontinental Hotel brand belongs to the Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG). Having also Holiday Inn under its wing, IHG is one of the largest hotel groups in the world. And like every large company with a recognizable brand, there is a solid amount of brainwashing going on to put its employees like soldiers into a line. Don’t get me wrong, every large company in the world does it so I am not judging here.

This brainwashing usually starts with a simple induction training. You will learn all about the vision of your company (what the company wants to achieve), their mission (what the company is actually doing to get there) and some basic principles the company has been build upon. The goal is to establish a bond and to let the employees identify themselves with their employer.

In the second step, things start to get more specific with more focused principles and rules to follow. At IHG, we had a thing called “The 5 winning ways”. I remember 3 of them, but luckily Dr. Google knows them all:

  1. Do the right thing.
  2. Show we care.
  3. Aim higher.
  4. Celebrate the difference.
  5. Work better together.

It has been 8 years since my IHG assignment, and I still remembered number 1, 2 and 4. Especially the first one though gut really stuck in my head. What a great statement to make. “Do the right thing.”. How could anyone not relate to that??

The right thing to do

I mean seriously, who would want to do the “wrong” thing? Doing the right thing seems like a natural, obvious and only choice in any given situation, doesn’t it? Ah, sure it does! BUT… if only things could be that simple.

Unfortunately, nothing is ever simple. As it turns out, things that one person considers to be “right”, someone else might consider to be just the opposite.

We all have something that I like to call an “inner compass”. Something that gives us a sense, a feeling and a guide on how to make decisions. This inner compass is the result of many factors that stretched through our lives. Our family values, our education, our friends, colleagues, work experience, relationships, political influence… Our experiences shape our perspective and establish a certain point of view on any decision we take every single day. Since every one of us has lived differently, this inner compass will also never be a 100% match with the inner compass of others. Thus, the feeling of “right” or “wrong” will be also different for each individual person.

Shifting perspectives

But things get even more complicated because we all have also other factors influencing our decisions. Our boss, our colleagues, our customers, our business partners. Even we might think about something being the right thing to do at a particular moment from our point of view, we might be forced to do something else to meet the expectations of someone else. To maintain a relationship. To keep a job. To our personal benefit. To someone else benefit. The reasons can be countless.

With this much influence and distractions, perspectives can shift easily. Even you sometimes might want to do something that feels like the right thing to do, the result might be just the opposite.

And the same goes for companies. Ultimately, companies are not some soulless entities, but collections of individuals who are bound by a common agenda. That is why in my opinion the Vision and Mission statement of a company is so important.

There may be moments when you think that a company, a CEO or a manager of a business does something that goes against your inner compass. A decision that you do not agree with, condemn or even consider straight evil. And yet there may be a solid reason for it, and the long-term effect of this decision might turn out unexpectedly closer to your sense of something right.

An example (from my point of view)? Let’s look at the energy giant SHELL (Royal Dutch Shell). Their activity in the oil business might feel wrong, but the fact that they use a large number of their funds to transition to natural gas and renewables is a positive long-term move. Positive for my inner compass.

Of course, it might happen exactly the other way round as well. AMAZON, for instance, is pushing for a 15$ per hour minimum wage, which sounds amazing. Only that its utter motives might rather be to kill-off its competition in the SME sector who simply can’t afford to pay such wages. Again, my point of view.

So when you invest, how do you really know that the company you invest in is “doing the right thing”? Truth is, you don’t. But to a certain extent, you can at least have some certainty that you are doing the right thing by investing. Because even if markets are going down now and a recession might be looming. As history has shown, investing was (so far) always the right thing to do.

Disclaimer: I own shares of Royal Dutch Shell – B.

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