Yes, yes, of course, of course, you want your team to be good people. Who doesn’t?

But this leads to three complex questions:

  • What really is being a “good” person, particularly in the context of hiring a marketing/tech (martech) partner?
  • How do you tell if the team is likely good people, individually and as a team?
  • Does it make sense to elevate this to be a primary criterion, on the same level as, say, “quality” and “cost (most team’s two primary concerns)?

Let’s see if we can give some digestible answers. And I say “digestible” because I have spent too much of my life both experiencing and meditating on these sorts of issues, these issues require a complexity of analysis that is hard to achieve in a small blog post. So let’s go issue by issue.

First, what is a “good” person in this sort of business and professional context? It’s easier to define what it isn’t than what it is. Here is one caution of what to avoid: moral fads. Fads come and go; but it’s worse than that: following a moral fad reveals that the follower isn’t thinking independently but really just following the leads of his betters. Just like any fad. And this is risky in a moral context, because maybe next year, there’s a very different moral fad, and your chosen person turns against you.

So what’s the alternative to following moral fads? Looking back to the ancient and eternal sources of wisdom–and there are many. I happen to particularly admire and try to follow the ancient Greek and Roman codes, and their virtues of largely forgotten virtues: Prudence. A Sense of Purpose (“gravitas.”) Self-control (“severitas.”) Honesty in your dealings (“veritas.”) And so forth.

Note that in business contexts, clear virtues quickly become muddied. Is a white lie, a lie? What’s the difference between a “reframing” and a “lie”? This is why meditating on them while experiencing business–you can never come to realistic answers to these tough questions if you’re not confronted with the issues directly–is essential.

And this leads me to the second question: how can you tell if your team is likely to be virtuous? (This is important whether your team is doing microsite marketing, creating managed placements for you, or really any business!) You can never know, but you can guess and predict. Them thinking about these issues is a good start; halfway towards answering a question is merely asking it. A second way to predict is to ask them about it and see what they say, knowing of course everyone will represent themselves in the best light. A third way is to see how they act in social situations since there’s often a parallel. A fourth way is to hire them for a tiny project, then a small one, then a slightly bigger one, and so forth–and each project is a test. A fifth way is, in a project, throw them a wrench, secretly, and see how they respond. We can call this the “Benjamin and the Golden Cup” strategy.

All of these lead to a meta-question: is this really that important? Really? To which I would respond: well, to me it is, and you need to decide what kind of person you are. Will you tolerate people who treat others badly needlessly, because they save you some money? If that’s who you are–own it! Don’t pretend to be someone else if you’re not.

But you can also view it more practically: those with a lower moral code will always turn their guns on you, if it is profitable enough for them to do so. So make sure you either are ready for that and have your counter-attack planned, or enough resources to fight back when it happens–and that you’re emotionally ready for it. In these purely practical eyes, I would caution anyone that the thought, “He’s a cheater, but he’s my cheater–doing it for my team, against our competitors” is a very risky thought because at the turn of a dime, that sort of mercenary swaps from one team to another.

Two final thoughts. First, I’ll point out this is doubly–no, triply–critical if you approach marketing from OpSec eyes. Your security is only as good as your least-trusted person. If you have one person who will turn on you because someone offers him a substantial sum–or even more embarrassingly, for a tiny sum–then be warned: if the stakes are high enough, that will happen.

Secondly, this is one of the reasons behind why we founded Martech Masons (as well as our children projects like microsite marketing and managed placements.) We just believe that a team that puts ethics–and classical ethics, not just fads–first and foremost in their hearts and their minds, before anything else, is deeply valuable and deeply important–and too few in this industry do this. So if you want to discuss any of these ideas on a philosophical level or practical level, just drop me a line and let’s have a virtual coffee!