Testing, one, two, three ...
An early photo of Herbert Taylor with The Four-Way Test. Photo courtesy of the Taylor family
B usinesses that ignore the principles outlined in the The Four-Way Test don’t have much trouble getting noticed. Cook the books, set up a shady Ponzi scheme, or get caught cheating on your taxes, and you’re front-page news. But what about companies that abide by the test, quietly practicing truthfulness, fairness, and goodwill every day?
Ethics awards can help even the score. Presented by Rotary clubs and districts, sometimes in cooperation with local business schools or other like-minded organizations, the awards recognize professionals who adhere to high ethical standards in their businesses and communities. They also shine a light on Rotary’s litmus test for ethical conduct.
Rotary clubs in Tallahassee, Fla., USA, which have given out a joint award for nine years, saw interest soar in 2009. A record 15 business owners were nominated by Rotarians and others in the community. “When you see so much publicity about businesses that aren’t being ethical, people are anxious to see something positive – to know that there are businesses that are doing it right and being successful at the same time,” says Michael Forsthoefel, a member of the Rotary Club of Tallahassee who cochairs the Ethics in Business Award committee for his club and seven others.
Club membership is not a requirement for winning, but making a profit is (except for nominees who run philanthropies). The main criterion on the Tallahassee award nomination form: “Adheres to the high ethical standards of honesty, integrity, and consistency in dealing with employees, contractors, and customers, while positively enhancing the well-being of the firm’s stakeholders, providing jobs, opportunity, and profits.” Nominees also must benefit the community, serve as a business leader or innovator, and adhere to The Four-Way Test.
“When people see a successful business that uses The Four-Way Test, they may look at their own business practices and ask, What can I do to be more like this?” Forsthoefel says.
The 2009 award went to Bill Rutherford, the CEO of the architectural firm Clemons, Rutherford & Associates. Past award winners are a diverse group, including an orthodontist, a veterinarian, and the husband-and-wife co-owners of a cafe and catering company.
Students from the Florida State University College of Business research the nominees, and Rotarians serve as judges. The award ceremony, held at the Tallahassee civic center, features a keynote speaker such as former U.S. Senator Bob Graham and former Florida Governor Bob Martinez.
The nominees honored at the 2009 event included an accountant who discovered and handled an embezzlement case and a podiatrist who routinely provides uncompensated emergency and follow-up care for patients who can’t afford insurance.
Bud Carlson, a member of the Rotary Club of Tallahassee Northside who nominated Rutherford, describes how the architect provides his employees with generous benefits. “But his caring for their well-being goes far beyond benefits,” he continues. “On many occasions, he has personally helped employees in their time of need.” Rutherford’s volunteer commitments are lengthy and wide ranging, from serving on an architectural oversight committee in Washington, D.C., where he helped the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs develop standards for hospitals, to buying new shirts for all the boys at the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch in Live Oak last year.
Yet in the midst of this hectic schedule, he recently spent more than an hour talking to a prospective architecture student he’d never met before. Carlson, who sat in, relates: “He emphasized to the student that to be successful, he must approach life – not just architecture – with passion, honesty, and excellence. I am sure [Rutherford’s] words will stay with him for life.”
Other ways to publicize The Four-Way Test
Essay and speech contests Invite students to submit essays or speak on a topic related to ethics and The Four-Way Test. Well-publicized contests help promote the test in the community and educate the students through research and writing. Check YouTube for videos of students giving their speeches.
Scholarships Establish a scholarship program that rewards ethical behavior or asks students to articulate how they will use the test in their careers. Scholarship publicity draws attention to the ethical principles – and when you help underwrite an education, you gain a grateful, lifelong ambassador for the test.
Teammates Cosponsor speakers and workshops with local business schools or chambers of commerce, or team up with national groups such as Character Counts, as many Rotary clubs do, to support ethics education in schools. Working with other organizations helps clubs tap into new public relations networks and connect with others who are passionate about promoting ethics.
Read a related story about Herbert Taylor.