September 20, 2014

Business Ethics 101: Care, Deliver and Do The Right Thing

business ethics2

“A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world.” ~ Albert Camus

I have always enjoyed his thinking and writing. He makes so much sense to me when it comes to – for every action, there is a reaction.

A French Nobel Prize winning author, journalist and philosopher, Camus contributed to the rise of the philosophy known as existentialism, which proposes that human beings, through their own consciousness, create their own values and determine a meaning to their life.

This meaning starts with our personal fundamentals, values and ethics. This is the foundation for a solid brand and reputation in the business space. If you want to be respected, taken seriously, referred and enjoy long term success, high business ethics must be our priority. Ethics are the values, company morals and culture in all your interactions and relationships. It’s your moral compass.

It saddens me to still see so much disrespect for this in business, but it goes with the territory and usually the smart public flushes it out. There are also much better filters now being used in the online space. But, it is up to us to filter this for ourselves and not become part of the problem.

Your Values Versus Dangling Carrots

Everything starts at the top and trickles down from there. We set the standards for ourselves, our employees, customers and communities. Highly ethical companies have a dedicated, conscious plan and strategy that is regularly monitored, tweaked and taken very seriously. It permeates all aspects of the business.

Turning down or “firing” employees, businesses, opportunities and activities that do not align with our values and ethics may impact the bottom line short term but bolster it long term. This translates into customer retention, employee loyalty and increased credibility.

Build a Strong, Open Company Culture

Relationships with employees that start with honesty, caring, acknowledgement and reward will always prosper. Train and educate your employees to be the “best of” in your business and that will translate to the customer.

Encourage employees to speak up, with an open door policy about safety, mistakes, and customer conflicts. Encourage feedback, suggestions and ideas that can make relationships better, and processes smoother. They are your eyes and ears in the trenches and want to feel they have skin in the game.

Create an Ethics Checklist and Standards

Saying you have ethics is one thing, showing your “Ethics Checklist” in writing, posting it where people can see it and living it is another. This keeps everyone more committed and accountable. It doesn’t have to be complicated, long or wordy, just stated clearly. It can include areas like billing and payments, accepting new clients, conflicts of interest, behavior, treating people respectfully and hiring.

Strong Ethics Do Equate Into Better Profits

Sticking to, monitoring and changing ethical standards as they are needed may cost more in the short term, but are key factors in sustainability, loyalty and repeat business. Consistency in ethics builds stronger relationships and gives you a way to deliver your promise to employees and your public.

The online world has exposed relentless spam and unethical companies and practices. We are getting smarter and savvier about spotting this quickly, but it will never go away completely.  Businesses that lack an ethical  consistency throughout the sales process are not going to gain new customers. Businesses that do not treat people right after the sales are not going to survive. Put as much time into retaining as you do recruiting and you will win.

One blog post or social media message can go viral in less than 24 hours and sometimes in one hour.  This can be a brand killer, as the public now has the power. Don’t think you can hide bad motives in seemingly good intentions. Bad idea.

Here are some excellent resources for articles on business ethics from Santa Clara University Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.

Respect your customer, your public, be ethical from the start and build the right culture that keeps you and your business around for a long time.

Why wouldn’t you?

Beast Photo via Shutterstock

4 Comments ▼

Deborah Shane


Deborah Shane Deborah Shane is a staff writer for Small Business Trends covering marketing, branding and social media topics. She is a Top 100 Small Business Champion, career transition consultant, personal branding strategist and social media specialist. Deborah hosts her Top 100 Small Business Podcast weekly. Her book #trusthewhy Fundamentals, Values and Humor Get You Through Anything and award winning "Career Transition: Make the Shift" (2011) are available through all major book sellers.

4 Reactions

  1. For many SMBs where the founders are highly involved I think this happens pretty seamlessly. However, as the company grows it needs to be a priority to maintain or the original values start to diverge or get diluted. It’s a tough job, but does have rewards that are worth the effort.

    • Robert, I wish I could agree with you 100%, but I have sadly seen early SMB’s compromise to make sales. It is pretty seamless at that level, so the commitment and priority from the start and making sure it prevails is what separates the good from the great. If is isn’t tough then you’re not really doing it. The rewards far outweigh the effort it takes.

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