By Michael D. Vogt, CGCS, CGIA
Has common courtesy taken a backseat in modern business? I find it unlikely that any reader will respond favorably to that statement. I know that as I wrote it, I felt as if I was unfairly overstating the situation, yet I’m becoming convinced it has become a core value in most business organizations.
Lack of Courtesy
The venerable game of golf and the business of golf always possessed an air of civility and manners unlike most big awkward businesses in the U.S. I occasionally send email flyers to people in the golf business that might be interested in new ideas or services. Always at the bottom of the page if someone does not want to receive further emails there’s a note that describes, “To discontinue receiving McMahon Group newsletters and announcements, please respond with TERMINATE in the subject line and your email address with us will be deleted. Here’s one response, “Don’t you ever send me any of your junk, email, spam crap again.” I hate to think that this superintendent will be an inspiration to the next generation of golf business people. It’s far easier to type TERMINATE than that line and really lacks any courtesy whatsoever.
We usually think of things like “Core Values” and “Best Practices” as positive attributes of a businesses organizational culture. All too often we hear companies state that the employee is the businesses greatest asset. However, there are also negative organizational “Core Values” and “Worst Practices”. Spending some time to examine these, with the intent of highlighting their destructive attributes, in the hopes of alleviating them, is hopefully a productive use of time.
What behavior, repeated often enough and widely enough, could support the seemingly outrageous notion that, “Common courtesy has neither a place, nor a value, in the modern organization”, has become a common core value?
Courtesy in the Hunt
With the nations economy in the tank and many good people out of work, (and that does, or will apply to all of us, either in the past or certainly in the future) we can realize that the job hunt is stressful. Not knowing when we’ll land the next position is the source for constant anguish. Speaking plainly, the stress is enough to break up some relationships, turn to chemical and alcohol abuse and in rare cases it can even lead to suicide. Even when people don’t crumble under the strain, the burden of unemployment is, without a doubt, a heavy one.
Those in job transition quickly learn a few cold - hard facts about this age of the lean and (especially) mean organizations.
Truth # 1: They will rarely, if ever, receive a response, not even a form letter, to the dozens; if not hundreds of resumes they sent out in response to newspaper, trade journal or internet advertisements. Many years ago, a letter of acknowledgement was the norm. It was often a form letter, but it was recognition that at least the resume was received.
Most organization’s response is undoubtedly, that it would cost thousands of dollars to respond to the thousands of resumes they receive after an ad is published. They are unquestionably correct, it would indeed cost money to be courteous and acknowledge receipt of resumes they requested. The cost of courtesy is most certainly very high.
Truth # 2: Even if they do make it to the short list of potential candidates, after jumping through a series of telephone and in-person interview hoops, they should not hold their breath waiting for the final decision. Often it will require that they wait in growing angst and frustration until they can bear the pressure of suspense no more, and they phone their potential employer, numerous times, because their messages are not returned, until they happen by chance to get the person on the phone and they’re told shortly, “Oh yes, the job went to another candidate.”
One could argue, and many do, that the cost of responding to each and every resume is prohibitive, and far too high a price to pay for a mere gesture of courtesy, but when we get down to the short list of candidates, that argument becomes very weak indeed. What does it cost to send out a short note to the three or four finalists who weren’t selected for the position? Or better yet to phone each of them? Or have we arrived at the point where common courtesy really does have neither a place nor a value in our organizations?
The cost of courtesy is one reason for not getting back to people who are anxiously sitting by the phone, waiting for business organizations to enact a courtesy call. There is another possible reason for not calling a candidate who didn’t get the position. Businesses don’t call because they have an aversion to delivering bad news. They’d rather ignore the fact that someone is waiting to know if they can stop the conflicting dual tasks of hoping and worrying, because we don’t care enough to be courteous.
I’m not sure which of these reasons is the least desirable. I know that people who can’t deliver bad news have no place in any organization as managers. Furthermore business organizations that don’t have enough common courtesy to contact a short listed candidate to let them know to continue their job search don’t have a soul and can’t honestly say they treat people well.
Regardless of which is the lesser evil, the lack of common courtesy has regrettably become a common core value in business today not just in the job searching arena. There still remains ladies and gentlemen in our beloved business today but it saddens me to notice the lack of common courtesy invading business just when we need it most.
Courtesy; we refer to it in different ways, such as civility, good manners, good behavior, good conduct, politeness, decency, respect for others, thoughtfulness, kindness, and consideration. No matter what we call it, courtesy is NOT trivial. Here is how Edmund Burke (1729-1797) describes it, "Manners are of more importance than laws. Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in."