Be Honest

An ethical approach is the only way to go

by Jay L. Bucher

In my youth (and at this point in my life, youth is any age up to and including 30), my father used to ask me, "Did you make any money today?" I heard him ask my older brother and sister the same question many times, but I didn’t truly understand what he meant. What I did know was that he wasn’t talking about my hourly wage.

I eventually came to understand his meaning, and during my many years as a supervisor and manager of calibration laboratories and departments, I’ve asked that question many times. I usually get the proverbial "deer in the headlights" stare and then need to explain what I mean.

Basically, it comes down to this: Did you make nothing but honest measurements, perform continuous process improvements, make no false statements, train somebody how to do a new job or correct mistakes from old jobs, or provide quality customer service to those who asked for it or needed it?

That’s quite a mouthful, and I even left out many areas that could conceivably make money for a calibration department or an organization in general. But here’s the gist of what my father meant: Did you do the very best you could with the time you had?

Ethics in action

I realized early in my career in metrics and metrology that doing the best I could meant bringing a sense of honesty and integrity to my work. In truth, they are the foundations for making a quality measurement.

In today’s "I want it now" environment, ethics come in many shades of gray instead of just black and white. But, unlike many aspects of our lives—work, play, family and community—much of what is done in the metrology and calibration community is black and white. The test instrument is either in tolerance or it is not. You recorded the data accurately, or you falsified it so you wouldn’t need to do extra work.

The bottom line in making a quality measurement and in ethics in general is this: Everyone should be responsible and held accountable for his or her actions. It should not matter whether you’re a judge, doctor, lawyer, accountant, firefighter, police officer or garbage collector. Either you do the very best you can each and every day, or you don’t. And if you don’t, then you should be held accountable for your actions—or inactions, as the case may be.

In the past year that I have been conducting quality calibration program and paperless records workshops, I’ve asked scores of attendees the same question: Did you learn anything new that you can apply to your calibration program where you work? So far, I haven’t received a negative answer.

The attendees have ranged in knowledge from a young lady with 60 days in the field to a gentleman with 60 years experience. I believe that at each of those workshops, I helped the calibration community make money. That has been my primary goal: improving the calibration programs of biotech and pharmaceutical companies.

The other side of the coin is that the quality field is not comprised solely of responsible and accountable people. Because of liars, cheats and thieves, compliance requirements and federal regulations are in place to keep the dishonest people in check and to make sure the honest people stay that way.

Honor system

In the tight fiscal environment most organizations foster—squeezed all the more by the current state of the economy—they cannot afford to have an extra set of eyes watching everyone do everything. Relying on the honesty and integrity of personnel has been a benchmark of successful organizations and will continue to be in the future.

This isn’t a revolutionary stance. Every person I’ve talked to about the importance of telling the truth and getting back to the basics when it comes to ethical conduct has been in agreement. In August 2008, while I was attending the National Conference of Standards Laboratories International Workshop and Symposium in Orlando, FL, I was honored to have a discussion with a few individuals who were of the same mind as me on this subject.

While discussing ethics, a colleague of mine, Deborah Watling, wrote down a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson and gave it to me: "The greatest homage we can pay truth is to use it."1 We had been discussing "The Last Lecture," which the late Professor Randy Pausch delivered at Carnegie Mellon University on Sept. 18, 2007.

Both of us had watched this remarkable presentation and also were aware of the book Pausch wrote before he died. In one part of the book, Pausch instructs us to "live your life by three words: Tell the truth." And then, "Add three more if you dare: all the time."2 No matter what I write, I could never best his summation. If only we could all live our lives by those six words.

What to do?

Honesty is the best policy. What goes around comes around. Everyone has heard these sayings. Why is that? It’s because they are true. Honesty has always been the best policy in business dealings, in our work environment and in everything we do as human beings. But not everyone subscribes to that mantra.

What can you and I do to change the situation? The old saying that every journey starts with the first step is very applicable to this state of affairs. Each of us must step up to the plate and tell the truth all the time. If we do, others will see the results and start doing the same thing.

Call it a grass-roots effort, the right thing to do, an epiphany or anything you desire. But just do it. Start with your family, community and work environment. The only way we can get this world back on the right course is to take responsibility for our actions by telling the truth, accepting the consequences and spreading the word. I’ve done my part, now it’s your turn to do yours.

Ethics, honesty and integrity—are they just words on the printed page, or can they be the foundation on which we build our lives, relationships and businesses? If each of us does his or her small part, the results could be amazing.

We are pioneers making our way across this final frontier, and we must be vigilant to ensure the bad element doesn’t get the upper hand. Stand up to the liars, cheats and thieves. The truth is not always easy to say, believe or accept, but no matter how you cut it, it is still the truth.

When I was younger, I was told that when you tell the truth, you never need to remember what you said. It made sense then, and it makes sense now. If we don’t start to tell the truth, we will never find the time to start. If we do, the horizon on that final frontier will not appear to be quite so far away.

What does this have to do with a quality measurement or making money for your company? In the big picture, the lack of ethics that leads to shoddy measurement practices could be the difference between good product and bad product. It could be the difference between a great reputation and going out of business because your company fails audits and inspections. And, in the worst case scenario, it could result in the loss of life.

It’s up to each of us, then, to come up with an answer to the question, "Did you make any money today?" Or, even better, "Did you make a difference today?"


  1. QuotationsBook, http://quotationsbook.com/quote/39822.
  2. Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture, Hyperion, 2008.

Jay L. Bucher is president of Bucherview Metrology Services in De Forest, WI. He is editor and coauthor of The Metrology Handbook and author of The Quality Calibration Handbook, Paperless Records and Ethics—The Final Frontier. He is a senior member of ASQ, the chair of the Measurement Quality Division and a certified calibration technician

Fantastic article. In this current business climate, to get things produced and to market faster/more efficiently, it is refreshing to read articles such as these. The phrase I always use when mentoring other engineers is, "The right way is not always the easy way, but it is always the right way!"
--John Naughton, 07-08-2009

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