DOING THE RIGHT THING AND GOING THE EXTRA MILE AREN’T THE SAME

by Matt Thomas

A good friend of mine dropped by my office last week with a unique request. He walked in carrying a 100-year-old bamboo fly rod and two vintage reels. My friend is not an angler so I was pleasantly surprised thinking that finally, we were going to get to do some fishing together. After catching up for a few minutes he said he needed help with something. Over the weekend he had helped a widow from his church move out of her house. As a thank you for his time, the old woman gave him a box of old fishing gear that belonged to her husband. He went home and did some research, discovering that some of this equipment could be worth quite a bit to the right person. Turns out a comparable bamboo rod had recently sold on eBay for upwards of 5k and this one looked to be in incredible condition. I blurted out, “you need to take it down to ____ and get it appraised.” His response? “Matt, that’s why I’m here. I need you to get it appraised for me.”

He continued, “You see, as a black man, if I walk into ____ they will assume I stole this stuff and best case give me an unfair appraisal, but worst case they may call the cops on me. I have nothing to hide, but right now that’s the last thing I want to be dealing with.” I could feel my chest caving in. I knew that his assessment of the situation was accurate. I’ve known this man for a long time and his story is too powerful and beautiful to capture here. His character and integrity are bolted to the ground, he’s as talented as any human I’ve ever been around, and he’s been a good friend to me through thick and thin. Taking his vintage fly gear in for an appraisal wasn’t doing him a favor, it was simply the right thing to do. In fact, it was the least I could do.

Even private conversations carry some version of, “See! See how much we’ve done! See how much we care?” I don’t doubt the sincerity.

I have been discouraged recently by the responses of business owners, executives, and entrepreneurs to the murder of George Floyd and the long-overdue reckoning stirring across our country. Official statements, blacked-out social media profiles, donations, and revamped HR policies have flooded my inbox. Even private conversations carry some version of, “See! See how much we’ve done! See how much we care?” I don’t doubt the sincerity. It is not for me to judge how genuine someone else is. I am discouraged by how many business leaders believe they are going above and beyond for their people when in reality they are just doing what is right. They are convinced that they are going the extra mile. Some examples: “We have competitive salaries!” Well, you should. “We offer health care!” That’s great, but again, you should. “We offer flexible PTO!” Do people really care or take advantage of it? And if they did would they be secretly judged or ostracized? “We care about diversity!” Really? “We have a kegerator in the break room for Fridays!” Ugh.

Our HR policies should at a minimum reflect a simple truth, that our people possess inherent and intrinsic dignity, and should be treated as such.

Our HR policies should at a minimum reflect a simple truth, that our people possess inherent and intrinsic dignity, and should be treated as such. Fair wages, access to health insurance, actual PTO, sick leave, maternity and paternity leave, mental health support, EAP’s for those who struggle with addiction, and more are not going above and beyond. They just get you a ticket to the game. If you are a business leader, you really need to stop patting yourself on the back for simply doing what is right.

Systemic racism, the gender pay gap, homophobia, and other sicknesses pervasive in businesses of every shape and size won’t go away until the leaders of organizations decide that doing the right thing isn’t enough anymore.

So how do we go the extra mile? Some real-life examples from men and women I’m lucky to know: You show up at the hospital when your assistant’s kid gets sick. You start an emergency fund for employees to leverage when they get in a pinch. You give money to organizations doing important work, get involved, and do it all for more than the tax break. It is impossible to go the extra mile for another human being unless you are sacrificing something important to you in order to get there. Systemic racism, the gender pay gap, homophobia, and other sicknesses pervasive in businesses of every shape and size won’t go away until the leaders of organizations decide that doing the right thing isn’t enough anymore. We should not give ourselves any credit for doing the right thing, and if that is the world we live in then it’s time for a new generation of business leaders to reset the bar.