(MoneyWatch) For those who aren't hip to Yiddish, the word mensch is the highest praise one can bestow on another person. It basically rolls all of the finest characteristics and aspirations of humanity into a convenient, punchy, one-syllable word. If someone describes you by saying "what a mensch!" you pretty much can't do better. And though the word originates from the German for "human being," your business can and should be mensch-like too.
The general attributes of a mensch are absolute integrity, steadfast reliability and unfailingly high standards of behavior and character. In other words, a very solid citizen. If you believe, as I do, that genuine humanity is at the core of all great businesses, then a great business should aspire to these same qualities.
So how do you run a mensch of a business?
Always do the right thing. This basically sums up the whole mensch concept, and there's no wiggle room. If you want to be held at this level of regard, everyone you deal with -- customers, employees, suppliers, investors and others -- must know unquestionably that you will always, always do the right thing and that your intentions are always pure. There is no measure of what this kind of reputation does for a business.
Say what you mean, mean what you say. Being disingenuous is a surefire way to bench your corporate mensch. Much like having clearly good intentions, being straight -- arrow straight -- in word and deed is a transparent character trait. The same stakeholders who know that you will always do the right thing must know that you will tell it like it is and that what you say is true.
Be good to people. This shouldn't need saying, but in today's business climate, unfortunately, it's not a given. As I've said in so many past columns, the most important things in business boil down to simple human interaction. Sincerity, compassion,and genuine concern for the happiness of others will ensure that you get and retain the best employees, win loyal customers, get the best out of your many business relationships, and make people truly want to be around you and your company.
Be dependable. When you're a mensch, people know they can rely on you without question. Flat tire in the middle of the night? A mensch heads out in the rain to help. Date or appointment? A mensch is on time (or exceedingly apologetic when he's not). A mensch always has your back and never makes you wonder. The same in business: people need to know that they can count on you. You have a responsibility to take care of your employees, to serve your customers, to stand behind what you sell, to pay your bills, to be(in a good way) and to keep your promises.
Be a mensch yourself: No business -- especially a small business -- can successfully maintain a culture or set of standards that aren't passionately exemplified at the top; it has to be practiced before it can be preached. So if you run a business and want it to be mensch-like, start with yourself. If you are not the first to do the right thing, say what you mean, be good to people and be dependable, organizational mensch-hood is not in the cards for you.
Bringing the mensch mentality to your company means thinking about your business as a "collective of character" -- a group of people behaving and working to the highest possible standard, with intentions and actions beyond reproach. Earn that reputation, and great things are sure to follow.
Image by Flickr user mnsc