Jo Geraghty


Working by the Golden Rule

Date added: 10th Dec 2012
Category: Organisational Culture Change

The Golden Rule, or ethic of reciprocity, can be traced far back to ancient times.  Although the earliest written record of a variant of the Golden Rule is probably that found in ancient Egypt some four thousand years ago, the Golden Rule has appeared in one form or another in virtually every culture and religion.


The Golden Rule has also found outlets in a vast range of literary work including Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby who appears in Charles Kingsley’s book The Water Babies which was first serialised one hundred and fifty years ago between August 1862 and March 1863. The essence of the Golden Rule was perhaps best illustrated by Confucius when he said “Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.”

Standing the test of time

From time to time philosophers have taken issue with the Golden Rule, arguing that others may in fact want to be treated better, or in a different way, to the way in which you yourself would want to be treated but the essence of the Rule has stood firm throughout time.  And far from being an outmoded concept, the Golden Rule even today has something to say about the way which we treat others, and the way in which we expect others to treat us; in our personal and business lives.


The Golden Rule at the heart of your culture

In fact, we would go so far as to say that the Golden Rule should sit at the heart of every business’s culture; reminding us to treat others with respect and dignity.  But sadly we see far too many instances of inter-company relationships or inter-personnel relationships falling short of the ideal.  Businesses which pay invoices late or impose vast pressures on employees; individuals who don’t return calls or who impose impossible deadlines, large organisations who assume that their size gives them the right to cut supplier margins to non-existent levels; all of these are surely not expecting the same in return.

 It doesn’t justify poor behaviour to say that times are tough

And it doesn’t justify poor behaviour to say that times are tough.  Every line manager who expects their team to work substantial quantities of unpaid overtime may or may not be doing the same themselves but this doesn’t make it right.  Every customer who fails to respond to calls or e-mails and then expects an instant turn-around may be under pressure themselves but this doesn’t justify their behaviour.  In fact every time that an organisation or individual ignores basic courtesy and respect they are riding roughshod over the Golden Rule.


Unless, of course, those who impart stress, are discourteous, withhold payments, or demand unrealistic outcomes, expect themselves to be treated in the same way.  And if they do we have to ask if this is a person or organisation with which we would want to do business.  Yes, company culture is “the way things are done” but a culture which emphasises the negative is one which is in urgent need of attention.

 Sometimes the remedy can be simple

Sometimes the remedy can be simple.  Return calls, drop someone a quick e-mail to explain why you are busy but promise to call them at a fixed time, make sure that the accounts processes result in swift payments to suppliers, learn to manage time effectively.  At other times when the lack of respect runs deep throughout an organisation then take steps to change the underlying culture; learn to live by the Golden Rule.  The alternative is that sooner or later your clients and your suppliers and your employees will decide enough is enough and they will find another company who will treat them as they would wish to be treated.

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