Having ethical behavior is about your own personal integrity, which basically means that you are honest and truthful in all business and personal dealings. Unfortunately, some people have a hard time defining what ethical is exactly, and there is the rub! People justify and define ethics to suit their own conscience. While we know that ethics little to do with political beliefs, public opinion or even changing values, it certainly has everything to do with what you know deep down in your heart to be right or wrong.
Regardless of how you want to define it, if you do not demonstrate ethics in your daily decisions and activities, just who should exhibit these qualities in your business? It is not up to someone else to carry the ethics banner! After all, should you really expect a partner or employee to cover for your lack of ethical behavior? The problem is, too many do!
Once ethics lapse in a business, it becomes a gradual downhill slope from there. If you don’t think so, take a look at our politicians today! If you’re like me, you believe that ethics in politics and business has taken a dive? Too often ethics seems to be a part-time effort. It can’t be turned on or off and it can’t be practiced on some things and not others, at least not successfully anyway! You are ethical in your day to day actions, or you’re not!
Ethics Is Of “Key” Importance In Your Business!
Poor Ethics is Often Lurking Somewhere Underneath The Surface, Waiting To Strike!
“There Will Be A Price To Pay For A Lack of Ethics At The Top.”
(Especially in a small business)
We all assume that good business people understand that having honorable character or ethics is important. But, when is the last time you ever heard anyone talk about them, preach them or even teach them? When is the last time you talked about it with your employees? Have you ever discussed ethics with them?
If you’re like most, you haven’t done it at all. This is where most business owners find themselves today. Most people think that ethics is supposedly very straight forward and ts principles should be obvious to everyone. Basically, bad guys do bad things, and good guys do good things. The assumption is that you either have good character or you don’t. As result, you shouldn’t need to talk to the good guys about ethics or character . . . right? Why waste precious time on talking to all the people that seem good? The problem with this line of thinking, is that it’s flat out not true! We believe since most of us tend to associate with other people like us, we tend to assume that others think, act and interpret things the same way we do. But, they don’t!
Interpretations of Right and Wrong Vary, So You Must Define Them For Your Business
If you don’t believe me, try throwing out a basic ethics question such as, “what is lying”, to a group of people? You might be surprised at the argument, debate and suspicions that may arise, just as a result of this conversation. Remember President Clinton, and the words, “it depends on what the definition of is, is? Everything can be up to interpretation, especially if someone needs to justify something they’re about to do!
The problem with making the assumption that “ethics, or having good character goes without saying,” is that too many employees who are looking to justify things in their mind, “No attention to ethics, equals not important”! I’m going to repeat these words! “No attention equals not important.” Actually this goes for almost any kind of standards in your store! If you don’t talk about those standards and reinforce those standards, they will get neglected or ignored.
Ethics And Good Character Must Start At The Top
“If there is no on at the top of a business that has any real character, the lack of ethics and behavior is slowly but surely passed on down through the chain of command. Remember the quote, “s$#t rolls downhill. . . well, so does ethics, or the lack of them! It may take time, but it will happen. This is why you see some organizations that are just full of less than honorable executives (Goldman Sachs comes to mind.) If there are only a few people who make up your small business, then your actions and example become even more noticeable and more important.
“Success without honor is an unseasoned dish; it will satisfy your hunger, but it won’t taste good.” Joe Paterno
Employees spread the word on what they see and hear, whether you like it or not! If they’ve seen dishonesty or poor ethical practices, they will tell other employees (whether your business is large or small). Over a period of time, this kind of behavior gradually comes a lot closer to being accepted and being the norm. The result is that employee morale and respect will evolve in a downward spiral, along with resentment.
Resentment often comes from our judgments of others. We don’t totally know or understand someones ethics,or motivations, and while they sometimes may be unfounded, once we’ve observed some activity or decision that is clearly unethical, our resentment escalates and values begin to decline! The obvious result is relationships and constructive paths or habits seem to disappear. The problem with resentment is that it gives people a feeling of deprivation, whether it’s deserved or not. Without ethics, it becomes a lot easier for any employee to justify their problem behavior (such as theft). They find ways of saying, “because the boss did this”, or “because I observed this person doing ______, I can certainly do_______!”
Once this begins, you’ll see more incidents that involve a lack of trust, theft and other questionable behaviors. Employee morale is hurt and along with it, comes an attitude that even begins to affect customer service. Once resentment and lack of trust set in, your credibility and the credibility of everyone else, falls more and more into question. It’s a natural human reaction! Less and less people trust anyone around your work environment. And once employees get to the point they don’t trust their boss, all is lost!
Favortism Can Also Be An Ethics Problem
Showing favoritism at work through your preferential treatment of employees is another ethical breach, and is often unknowingly practiced by many who feel they are examples of the highest in ethical standards. When a boss exhibits favoritism, it is just another way the boss can show he’s not really trustworthy or ethical, even while it seems harmless to many bosses out there. Showing favoritism for one employee over another is just another way of pushing someone else down, and there is no good that can come from the feelings of those that feel slighted!
Do You Reward Poor Sales Practices and Ignore Ethics?
Giving Recognition To Ethical Behavior In The Workplace
Even though ethical behavior is unlikely to be given any real visible recognition, that doesn’t mean it should be ignored or looked upon as any less important. Again, due to the lack of attention and importance given to ethics by managers, some employees get the impression that ethics are not important. Think about it.
How often do you hear management or owners talk about ethics?
How often do you see major awards or recognition in any size business for ethical practices? I’ve worked in a couple of places briefly where it was obvious ethics weren’t important, especially where sales results were concerned.
The message to sales staff is often, “If it gets you the sale, we’ll look the other way,”
Sometimes everyone knows the best salesperson cannot be trusted, but he helps the boss make his numbers, so all is forgiven! Ethics no matter how major or minor can even roll over to other parts of your life.
Consider a manager or owner who might even preach ethics at his business, while one or two employees are aware that he is cheating the government, violating insurance or safety regulations, or even cheating on his wife. What can the boss possibly say or do after that? Where will he be given any further real credibility? For example, violation of safety regulations is just another way of saying, you don’t value the safety of your people! If employees see this or feel this, you can bet their reactions will be resentful and as a result they may be looking for an excuse to steal, or cheat in some form.
You can’t predict what price your business will pay for a lack of ethical practices!
How Ethics Can Make a Difference?
Hiring Decisions Become More Clear, once you have a clear code of ethics in mind. Asking a prospective new hire about scenarios involving right and wrong can be helpful based on the answer you get. There reactions can help you make a decision about them.
(Although there are very accurate and helpful pre-employment screening test that can be, administered over the internet for very minimal costs. Again, once you hire ethical people, it is up to you to keep the environment that way!
Ethics Aids Indecision & Customer Service. Employees have a better understanding of just what is expected of them when a business is run with clear ethical standards in mind. With ethical attitudes and practices, it even becomes easier when the boss is gone, for the question to be answered, “What would the boss do?” A clear ethics policy makes it very easy to decide on handling a situation for an unhappy customer or an unfairly treated employee.
Principals are so much more important in business than rules or policies. Policies can get you into trouble. Principals, ethics and doing the right thing will almost never get you in trouble! If your employees know that the customer is always right and the company operates with a culture of, “we want to surpass a customer’s expectations”, then there is no decision to think about or make. It all becomes automatic!
Building Your Reputation With Ethics. Your company is more than just a name or logo. It is your store, products and service and the way you deliver all of this to your customers. If your service and ethics are beyond reproach, your company will be given the benefit of the doubt at other times when it may be very important to future business! Your company will be first in line when it comes to trusting who to buy from. Your reputation actually becomes the company! As a result your reputation and the ethics you have operated by, can become more important than the products or services you sell. Customers learn over time that however the product or service measures up, you will take care of them!
“Ideally, having the customer trust you over the products you sell, is the ultimate compliment!”
Your Reputation Is One Thing No Employee Or Supplier Can Take Away From You.
Guard it seriously and aggressively. If a strong set of ethics is imbedded in your business, policies become less important and principles take over. As a result you have a much less chance of irritating or disappointing customers. Again, if awareness of the importance of ethics is on the forefront of everyone’s mind, making the right decision and the best decision becomes much easier and quicker to make.
Some consumers buy products from small business regardless of how they may feel about the business, at least for a while, however most customers will stop buying from you if they don’t like or trust you. Regardless, if your business can build a reputation for trust and loyalty, you have a great opportunity to have more appeal and loyalty for your business. A reputation for trust and loyalty can actually become more important than the products or services you provide. Believe it or not, it is actually possible to earn “loyalty and even advocacy” from customers in a way that most businesses can only envy!
“The most important persuasion tool you have in your entire arsenal is integrity.” Zig Ziglar
A Few Recommendations for a Company Culture With Ethics
- Training for your ethical expectations and standards should be a part of your training from the moment an employee is hired, and it should continue as long as they’re your employee! All of the applicable topics including, sexual harassment, confidentiality, respect and proper use of company assets, use of e-mail, handling money, charge cards, debit cards, internet usage and promises or representations to customers, should be covered over a period of time. They should all be listed as a part of an employee manual and signed off on, by the new hire, and then reinforced regularly!
- Ethics must be emphasized as a part of an ongoing conversation. The more you refer to the ethics of your business and your business culture, the more importance your employees will give to it. Congratulate and even reward employees for exhibiting good ethical standards. But remember, it doesn’t make a difference what you say unless your own actions match!
- If you have more than a few employees, you may want to further encourage ethical practices by coming up with some ways to measure good examples of behavior.
- Rewards or a bonus could be considered that would honor overall honest sales practices or other examples of good character. Sales should NOT be the only thing that is honored! With the right emphasis, your business can reduce shortage, theft, or other issues that cost your business money or controversy. Other costly areas can include issues such as bogus workers comp claims, missing property, and even employee conflicts.
- Do not run your business with the attitude that what you (as the boss) don’t know or hear about, means you’re innocent? If you really care about ethics, you should especially be monitoring any and all incentive or commission based programs. It is natural for many people to push the envelope when it comes to sales, bonuses, etc. Any place money is involved offers temptations. You know I’m right! The question is, “Are you justifying it in your business?” There will always people who will do things or justify things they would not ordinarily do, once the motivation of money or recognition comes into play. Is this you?