Keep Ethics Strong
It seems like you can’t read the news today without coming across a story of a company that is being investigated for illegal or questionable business practices. Whatever the ethical sin, the high stakes and consequences can ruin an organization overnight and, in some cases, send a person or a whole string of people to prison. When such an incident occurs, there are always victims left in the wake—everyone from employees to customers, investors and others. That’s why it is your leadership responsibility to prevent that from ever happening in your business, making sure that good ethics are part of the foundation of your company. A good starting point is to use your clearly defined vision, mission and values to provide direction to the organization. Then use those values to manage it and make key decisions that will affect your employees. The company values are the moral compass for your employees and organization. Put them to good use, calling upon them whenever you’ve got to make important decisions for yourself, your company and your people.
As part of your responsibility to lead your organization, you’ve got to set the example and act according to the ethics you’ve established. But you are also tasked with the job of engaging and aligning employees to your company’s ethical standards. Here are three tactics to support that:
Communicate the code of ethics. It is important for every company to define and communicate its code of ethics. These guidelines should include how ethical issues get surfaced and enable people to understand the process for raising issues. Make sure the code of ethics is easy to access, e.g., via an employee handbook or visibly hanging up in the break room. Also, assuming you clearly understand the code of ethics for your organization and what your role is for managing against these standards, explain to your employees what their role in maintaining ethics is, too. Discuss the topic in a staff meeting or when situations arise that provide opportunities to review your company’s ethics.
Develop goals that align to ethics. Goals don’t have to be all about hitting numbers. They can be about achieving ethical standards as well. For example, many unscrupulous companies today drive sales at any cost and leave unsatisfied customers in their wake. Since that’s obviously something you don’t want your company to do, start measuring the satisfaction of your customers in addition to measuring sales. This strategy will create alignment between your employees and company ethics because if customer complaints suddenly spike, that could be a sign that there’s an ethics problem going on. Ethical-behavior measures can be very helpful for identifying when your company’s moral compass is getting out of whack.
Talk “ethics” with your people. Look for relevant news stories that you can share with your team or others in the organization. Having an open discussion about an ethical scandal outside your company can be a real teaching point. Plus, it sends the message that you are focused on good ethics and expect strong ethics from your people and the organization as a whole. When your employees know you care about this from the top down, it sets the example for the right behaviors and honest decision-making. Also, talking about business ethics and the consequences of unethical behavior with your people can motivate your employees to keep their conduct in line with your company’s ethical standards.
What are some early warning signs that ethics might be an issue for a business?