There's No Such Thing as a Compromise in Business

Last Updated Jan 26, 2011 5:22 PM EST

There's something about the word "compromise" that irks me. Many people say, "If everyone just compromised, we'd all be better off."

I don't think so.

As a CEO, I cannot allow my company to compromise its core values, which include things like continuous improvement and experimentation. When you lead, you need to be clear as to what's important -- and it can't be important only some of the time. So, for example, when we hire, we're always looking for personal traits that reflect our core values. If they're not present, we don't hire. If we compromised on these core values, we would be suggesting that they're not really core to our success, that they are negotiable.

Same thing goes for performance standards. If an employee wanted to negotiate with you so that she need only meet your standards 70% of the time, would you accept that? Of course not. Your minimum expectation is 100% -- compromising would lead to wasted resources and a teammate who requires everyone else to pick up his slack.

Let's take a look at another example: Say you want a lower price from your supplier and that supplier responds (truthfully) by telling you he cannot lower the price without sacrificing quality or delivery times. You might compromise somewhere in the middle on price, but ultimately your reputation for quality and service will suffer.

Compromising is like standing in the middle of a railroad track. There's a person on one side of the track telling you to move off the tracks to the left, and a second person on the other side of the tracks suggesting you move off to the right. You could compromise and stand in the middle -- where you'll get smacked by an oncoming train.

Instead, I believe in the concept of principled negotiation, particularly as explained in one of my favorite books of all time, "Getting to Yes." The concept does not involve compromising one's core values or minimum acceptable standards. It's about achieving a win-win, where each side finds common ground, and avoids ending up on opposite "sides."

Using that approach, the supplier and buyer in the example above would agree to keep the price where it is, but the supplier perhaps agrees to ship his goods sooner than the competition. Or, the buyer might get a better price -- only when he achieves economy of scale with sufficient volume.

I propose that we all decide what's mandatory for the success of our businesses, then set aside the word "compromise" and work toward our common good.

And I might add, Congress, are you listening? You're about to embark on a whole range of important decisions. I'd like to at least see an agreement that the national budget is too big and that something needs to be cut. Can you find at least that common ground?

Readers, where are you unwilling to compromise in your business?

Photo courtesy of Flickr.com by Lucid Nightmare, CC 2.0

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    Jay Steinfeld is the founder and CEO of Blinds.com, the industry leader in online window blinds sales. He is an Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year. His company was named Best Place to Work in Houston, won the American Marketing Association's Marketer of the Year, and Steinfeld was named by the Houston Chronicle as Houston's top CEO in the under-150 employee category for the last 2 years.