Missional Impact | mentor interview with Ralph Odman
Regardless of what culture you work in, at some point your ethics will be tested. It might be mildly bending the rules, or blatantly breaking the law. What will you do in those cases? Missional Impact asked Ralph Odman, one of our mentors, to share just such an instance from his career. Learn from Ralph’s story below and you’ll be better prepared to respond confidently and ethically when pressured to compromise.
Our company was providing facility support services to a hospital. We had served this hospital for many years and had gone through several contract renewals as the needs of the hospital changed.
In one of these negotiation sessions, one of the owners made the following request: He had two relatives that he wanted our department to hire and, in exchange, he would adjust our contract amount to cover their pay. I indicated that we would want our manager to interview the owner’s relatives and see where they might fit into our service area. The owner said that would not be necessary because these two relatives would be on the payroll, but not coming to work. They would simply get a paycheck from us. At first, I thought he was joking but shortly realized he was serious. I repeated in my words what I thought he had asked. He confirmed that was what he wanted to happen.
I then told him that was not something we would do because it required false documents and because I believed it was unethical. We went on to discuss other contract items and concluded our meeting. In leaving the hospital and reflecting on the discussion, I felt that we had a good chance of having our contract terminated. But this did not happen, and we went on serving that customer for several more years.
Several factors helped me in that situation. First, my company was committed to high ethical standards. Even if we had lost the contract, my supervisor would have supported my actions. It wasn’t a question of getting pressure from my boss.
Our client was clearly asking us to do something illegal. And, quite honestly, if we had gone along with the request and our actions ever came to light, it could have been a question of jail time for me. So, that also made it easy to make the right decision.
I get that not every marketplace professional is going to be in a company with strong ethical values. It’s harder if you work for a boss who winks at that sort of behavior and expects you to take kickbacks or go with the flow. That is why it’s so important to be going into the Scriptures every day and reminding yourself what God says. That is the foundation that will give you strength when a high-pressure situation comes up. My parents always modeled integrity and biblical values for me, but, even if you don’t have an example like that, you have what Jesus said to guide you.
Remember — you are the one who has to look at yourself in the mirror every day. If you follow Jesus, there’s no way you can be comfortable doing something illegal and just hoping you don’t get caught — no matter what your boss says. You are responsible for your choices.
I also think it’s important to make sure you understand what you are being asked to do, especially if you are working cross-culturally. Ask clarifying questions so that you know for sure that you are being asked to do something unethical. Don’t just assume. But, once you do know what’s happening, you have the responsibility to act on what you know is right. ●
Ralph Odman started his career in 1968 with ServiceMaster, managing a commercial laundry and housekeeping department for a hospital. Over the years, he served in many operational, staff, and sales positions. In overseeing the international franchise business for both ServiceMaster and Aramark, he regularly traveled internationally for weeks at a time to countries such as South Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, Philippines, Australia, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the Czech Republic. He lived in Singapore and Hong Kong for four years. Ralph retired in 2016 but makes his expertise available in Missional Impact’s Mentor Network. Read Ralph’s full bio. | Send a question to Ralph.