What could be less controversial than the Golden Rule? “Treat others the way you would want to be treated if you were in their shoes.” This intuitively attractive notion is a cornerstone of most of the world’s major religions. It is an idea that we all encounter in childhood, and most of us adopt it as part of our moral compass.
Believe it or not, however, many sophisticated philosophers and ethicists reject the Golden Rule as hopelessly self-referential, simplistic, and superficial—the apotheosis of uncritical thinking. That is why so few college courses focus on the Golden Rule or examine its application in solving the challenges of our adult world.
And maybe the critics have a point. How do you know how others would want to be treated? Sure, you can make your best guess—but can you ever really put yourself completely in someone else’s shoes? Critics point out that what might be right for us will not necessarily be right for others. (They note that a sadist is simply a masochist following the Golden Rule.) I may love chocolate, but are gifts of chocolate the right choice for all of my friends—even those trying to lose weight?
So maybe what we really need is the Platinum Rule: treat others the way they want to be treated. But that isn’t wholly satisfactory either. What about the abusive customer who makes unreasonable demands? Should employees accede to those demands because that is how the customer wants to be treated? What about the elderly pensioner who thinks she wants a high-yielding investment product? Should the slick investment advisor invoke Platinum—give the customer what she wants—to justify selling the pensioner a high-risk, front-end-load investment product that the advisor knows full well is inappropriate for someone her age?
It seems to me that Platinum works no better than Gold when it comes to hard-and-fast rules. The goal should not be to slavishly optimize either side of a relationship. The right approach requires putting yourself in the other person’s shoes without forgetting what you know from standing in your own shoes. The investment advisor, for example, should apply his full range of financial expertise to figure out the best way to delight the customer in a way that also makes the advisor himself happy.
We know when we are happy; the trick is learning how well we are doing in making the other person happy. With no grade, there is no way to hold our feet to the fire, no way to make the Golden Rule relevant. No way, that is, unless your company implements Net Promoter. NPS takes the guesswork out the Golden Rule. With NPS, you can track how many customers are promoters, passives (slight failures), and detractors (serious failures). By probing these results, studying best practices, and setting tough goals, we can learn, improve, and make the Golden Rule relevant to our daily priorities and decisions.