Integrity Matters
July 20, 2005

Don't forget the binding verbal handshake

Question: (E-140)

Dear Jim:

After many interviews, a boss decides to hire "person A" and verbally promises the job. Soon afterwards, "person B" appears and turns out to be many times more qualified than "person A." Should the manager keep the verbal promise to person A or hire person B instead?


An offer can be binding. In some circumstances (please consult legal advice) a verbal commitment is a contract. Morally, the deal is the deal. The hiring person may have promised to hire what turned out to be the less qualified person. But the second person (more qualified) may also deserve the position. So the person doing the hiring must wrestle what is the right thing to do for the individuals involved, the company and the long-term impact of behaving precipitously, regardless of how this complicated situation is resolved.

The principle of a verbal commitment - a "verbal handshake" - is embodied in some work that our organization has done with leaders in the Salinas Valley agribusiness community. Ag leaders' continued belief in that principle was discussed in an article published Aug. 6, 2003, in the The Salinas Californian. Below is an excerpt:

"Salinas Valley agricultural executives heralded the moral legacy of those who established the local produce industry in the 1920s and '30s.

Today, the multibillion-dollar sector - led by many of their descendants - directly or indirectly employs more than 30 percent of Monterey County's work force.

"One concept emphasized ... is that of a 'verbal handshake' - the mutual trust that permits quick transactions under the deadlines of a perishable commodity. Also emphasized is the idea of giving back to the community, which participants say is still reflected in the civic generosity of many ag companies in such causes as Relay For Life, the annual fund-raiser for cancer research."

One of the eight key values of the Salinas Valley Agribusiness Integrity-Centered Leadership Program is character, and its definition was adopted by a committee of 16 leaders of valley agricultural companies. Character means: "Business is transacted with a phone call or a handshake, and even though much of agribusiness today involves contracts, it is clear that contracts are formalities ... ."

One's personal "verbal handshake" is the real deal. So, what should an integrity-centered leader, with character, do?

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