This morning, I read about a company using on-line auctions to defraud customers. Last week, I consulted on an ethics complaint where a business coach betrayed a client’s confidentiality. And, recently a Physician was convicted of insider trading based on information from a patient, a violation of both business ethics and her professional ethics.
Business ethics are the key to profits. If clients and customers don’t trust you, and your business ethics, they will not do business with you. Would you buy from a company you didn’t trust? Of course not!
Business ethics have become a hot-button topic. There are often ethical conflicts between making money, and doing what is right. There can be dilemmas about doing what is best for your employer, what’s best for your own career, and what’s best for the customer. Business ethics is about negotiating these mine-fields. Here are my Top 10 Principles for Positive Business Ethics:
1. Business Ethics are built on Personal Ethics. There is no real separation between doing what is right in business, and playing fair, telling the truth and being ethical in your personal life.
2. Business Ethics are based on Fairness. Would a dis-interested observer agree that both sides are being treated fairly? Are both sides negotiating in good faith? Does each transaction take place on a “level playing field”? If so, the basic principles of ethics are being met.
3. Business Ethics require Integrity. Integrity refers to whole-ness, reliability and consistency. Ethical businesses treat people with respect, honesty and integrity. They back up their promises, and they keep their commitments.
4. Business Ethics require Truth-telling. The days when a business could sell a defective product and hide behind the “buyer beware” defense are long gone. You can sell products or services that have limitations, defects or are out-dated, but not as first-class, new merchandise. Truth in advertising is not only the law, business ethics require it.
5. Business Ethics require Dependability. If your company is new, unstable, about to be sold, or going out of business, ethics requires that you let clients and customers know this. Ethical businesses can be relied upon to be available to solve problems, answer questions and provide support.
6. Business Ethics require a Business Plan. A company’s ethics are built on its image of itself and its vision of the future and its role in the community. Business ethics do not happen in a vacuum. The clearer the company’s plan for growth, stability, profits and service, the stronger its commitment to ethical business practices.
7. Business Ethics apply Internally and Externally. Ethical businesses treat both customers and employees with respect and fairness. Ethics is about respect in the conference room, negotiating in good faith, keeping promises and meeting obligations to staff, employers, vendors and customers. The scope is universal.
8. Business Ethics require a Profit. Ethical businesses are well-run, well-managed, have effective internal controls, and clear expectations of growth. Ethics is about how we live in the present to prepare for the future, and a business without profits (or a plan to create them) is not meeting its ethical obligations to prepare for the future well-being of the company, its employees and customers.
9. Business Ethics are values-based. The law, and professional organizations, must produce written standards that are inflexible and universal. While they may talk about “ethics”, these documents are usually prescriptive and refer to minimal standards. Ethics are about values, ideals and aspirations. Ethical businesses may not always live up to their ideals, but they are clear about their intent.
10. Business Ethics come from the Boss. Leadership sets the tone, in every area of a business. Ethics are either central to the way a company functions, or they are not. The executives and managers either lead the way, or they communicate that cutting corners, deception and dis-respect are acceptable. Line staff will always rise, or sink, to the level of performance they see modeled above them. Business ethics starts at the top.
Ethics is about the quality of our lives, the quality of our service, and ultimately, about the bottom line. An unhappy customer complains to an average of 16 people. Treating employees, customers, vendors and the public in an ethical, fair and open way is not only the right thing, in the long run, it’s the only way to stay in business.