Beyond The Golden Rule

Why not go Platinum? Or even Double Platinum?

By Charlotte Westerhaus-Renfrow

When you buy a product, you hope you’re going to get what a company is advertising. And when you support a business, you hope they’re being transparent and honest in their dealings – or they risk losing customers, shareholders, even employees. Unfortunately, some businesses learn the hard way that a lack of transparency and honesty are sure signs to customers that they should not do business with them.

Take Wells Fargo’s woes over the past several years. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau fined the company $100 million in 2016, after it found that thousands of employees opened unauthorized deposit and credit card accounts to hit sales targets and receive bonuses. After this scandal rocked the company (and continues to), Wells Fargo’s employees, shareholders, and customers were left in the dust – not trusting in the company, its board of directors, or company leaders at all. That’s not good for business. It’s cost the organization and customers millions. They’re still working to dig out of the mess.

This year, the company started a new public relations campaign to try to move past this scandal, called Re-Established. One commercial is literally called “Earning Back Your Trust,” and rightfully so. At the same time, the company is working to reassure employees to trust in their employer. One executive recently told CNN that employees are “increasingly using the banks confidential hotline to report bad behavior,” which is what they want.


The Right Thing

An extreme example, but it shows how important ethics are in business – not only to your bottom line, but to brand loyalty, etc. Will Wells Fargo ever fully recover? Maybe not, or probably not – the question remains the same– isn’t it best to do the right thing?

Simply stated, ethics are "principles of right conduct.”

One of the most generally accepted practices that evidences good ethics is found in the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do to you. In other words, treat people the way you want to be treated. Loyal customers value ethical businesses who “do the right thing,” even when it’s not easy to do.

When business and money is involved, the basic principle “of doing the right thing” doesn’t always work. There can be bad apples. Accounts of business leaders who behave badly—in both their professional capacities and personal lives -- frequently dominate news headlines. Some business gurus encourage small- and mid-sized businesses to put profits first—always! (“Profits aren’t everything, they’re the only thing.”)

The Golden Rule always has been one of my favorite mantras. As Orison Swett Marden put it: “The golden rule for every business man [woman] is this: ‘Put yourself in your customer's place.’” Yet, there are those who say that applying it in business is not quite good enough.

Double Platinum

Dave Kerpen, author of The Art of People, writes, "We all grow up learning about the simplicity and power of the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would want done to you. It's a splendid concept except for one thing: Everyone is different, and the truth is that in many cases what you'd want done to you is different from what your partner, employee, customer, investor, wife or child would want done to him or her."

Rather than using the Golden Rule, Kerpen came up with the Platinum Rule: Do unto others as they would want done to them. He explains, "The Golden Rule, as great as it is, has limitations, since all people and all situations are different. When you follow the Platinum Rule, however, you can be sure you're actually doing what the other person wants done and assure yourself of a better outcome."

In his book, Kerpen quotes a story that Dale Carnegie told in How to Win Friends and Influence People:

“Personally I am very fond of strawberries and cream, but I have found that for some strange reason, fish prefer worms. So when I went fishing, I didn't think about what I wanted. I thought about what they wanted. I didn't bait the hook with strawberries and cream. Rather, I dangled a worm or grasshopper in front of the fish and said: ‘Wouldn't you like to have that?’”

If you think that businesses should utilize the high standard of the Platinum standard, you might want to consider using a higher standard for digital advertising, the Double Platinum Rule, originally created by consultant Bryan K. Williams: “Treat others as they don’t even know they want to be treated.” This requires the same communication as the Platinum Rule, and it requires businesses to consider their audience – and to work to know their audience. It asks businesses to think about what their clients might enjoy in their products or advertisements based on what they know about them.

Treating customers well is an effective business strategy to build a mass of loyal and repeat customers. In a digitally-connected world, they’ll share that message – whether it’s on social media, an online review, or just talking with their friends. In turn, treating your employees well will motivate them to not only work harder, but also to spread that message to your customers.

There is no doubt that businesses must turn a profit to continue. It can also be said that profits can drive companies to cut corners and act badly. Mounting evidence suggests that it is not just beneficial, but a growing necessity for businesses to operate under the framework of ethical values and adopt either the Golden, Platinum, or the Double Platinum Rule (or all three ethical standards).


The 2013 National Business Ethics Survey showed that “observed misconduct” was down and at a historic low, but also found that much of the misconduct is committed by managers.

So how do you improve ethics at your company? A Harvard Business Review article by Christopher McLaverty and Annie McKee examines the ethical choices C-suite executives have every day. The article had a particular quote that stood out to me: “Companies become ethical one person at a time, one decision at a time.” The authors discuss having emotional self-control – the courage to “step away from the crowd and do the right thing.”

The authors also recommend that you learn what matters in your organization – take a look at how people are paid, who gets promoted and why, and how employees feel about the company. They recommend building a strong network to serve as a sounding board when faced with dilemmas. And, they say, don’t be afraid to speak up. Stay true to your personal values.

Research from the Ethics & Compliance Initiative (ECI) found “workplace misconduct declines when leaders are effective in communicating values.” So where do you stand? How will you stay true to your Golden Rule?