Good Ethics Is Good Business - No Matter What the Business
Part One: Intoduction
My father once shared several invaluable bits of advice with me about how to conduct oneself in business and in everyday situations. First, he always told me to distinguish those who are totally driven by making money when making a deal from those who genuinely handle business relations in a humanistic manner, i.e, those who encourage long-term, mutually beneficial business relationships.
Most importantly, my father told me to trust my instincts when confronting business/ethical problems: If a matter caused me concern and seemed that it might be wrong or inappropriate, then it probably was wrong. He further explained these ideas in a rather simple way. He said, "Randy, every morning that you wake up and look in the mirror, you need to be able to say to yourself that you like and respect what you see. Your reputation is more important than the size of your wallet."
Unfortunately, most of us work in a society that seems to equate that which is ethical with that which is legal, and conversely, conduct is unethical if it is illegal. These concepts taken to their extreme are sterile and impersonal. But this is the general state of affairs in most business settings. Employers and employees, therefore, focus on laws as essentially ethical behavior, in large part because this approach may help to keep them out of Court.
Employers are highly motivated to become their own attorneys to the extent that the employer must know the law. Then the employer should train employees on laws affecting the workplace. Those who do not provide this training make potentially huge mistakes. To a large extent, many lawsuits result from innocent mistakes by supervisors saying or doing something that they don't realize is illegal.
I often counsel clients that the best way that I can help them is to keep them out of Court. Employers should take this a step further. Training and enforcing employment law in the workplace is not enough. Inappropriate behavior can have a devastating impact on employee morale, and this can permeate every aspect of a company. Poor morale is often perceived by clients and customers alike. Lets face it. Very few businesses are without competition, and probably the most important "thing" that any business sells or offers is knowledge, experience, service and people that deliver a product(s) to a satisfied customer.
Clearly, there is more to ethical behavior in the business environment than that which is determined to be legal or illegal. However, a history of philosophical inquiry into ethics is a fascinating journey that provides no clear-cut absolutes for every potential ethical decision that confronts one in the modern business setting.
This does not suggest that the complexities of various ethical theories leave us with an amoral predicament. As my father also wisely suggested, doing the "right thing" is a good starting place, even if this simplistic concept begs the question. In fear of stating the obvious, the following are some suggestions for helping to control and/or to unravel difficult ethical decisions in the business setting:
Part Two: Specific Suggestions
1. Don't ever ask or require an employee to do anything that you are not willing to do yourself.
2. Do the right thing. We are judged more by our behavior than by what we say. Consistent efforts to do the right thing is contagious.
3. Accept responsibility for your mistakes, but try not to repeat them. None of us are perfect. But most of us can learn from our mistakes.
4. Remember that the work environment is a place where people often spend more awake time together than they do with their families. So try to respect fellow workers and to be sensitive to their needs.
5. Make everyone who has contact with your business a customer. Repeat business is critical to business survival and growth, and a happy customer will be a repeat customer.
6. If you make someone unhappy, they will tell everyone they know.
7. If you make someone happy, they may tell someone about their good experience. Positive referrals are the cornerstone of a good business.
8. Remember the notion of reciprocity (reversal of Golden Rule): Do not do unto others as you would not have them to do unto you.
9. Stick to your principles. Hire people who share your principles and insist that your business mission be consistent.
10. Try to hire people for all of the positive qualities that cannot be trained, such as attitude, maturity, personality and people skills. They will become business assets.
11. Listen to your fellow workers and keep communication channels open. Talk with co-workers. Permit employees a forum to share their concerns about ethical problems in confidence.
12. Do not sell your principles. If you have to violate your principles to win a deal, it isn't worth it, and you will feel better walking away from it.
13. Employees can be successfully motivated by things other than just money. Everyone likes praise and sincere feedback. A positive workplace environment where employees and clients are treated in a humanistic and sensitive manner can be an exciting and fun place.
14. Good guys can compete and sustain a successful business at the same time.
15 . A business primarily organized around the notion that greed is good is much weaker than a business organized around sound principles of workplace ethics.
In a subtle way, my father further emphasized the business advice he had given me one day while I worked after school at the Johnston Paint store on East Broadway, in Columbia. Over his desk was a small printed cardboard sign which read, "There is no reason for it...It is just company policy." (anonymous) I asked my Dad to explain the inscription. He responded: "Someday you will be old enough to understand." He was correct.
If you would like to implement a code or set of ethical policies for your company or in its handbook, there are many resources available, and I am happy to share them with you upon request. Call (573) 442-8879 or email [email protected].
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