Small business Q&A: Keeping things ethical


How can I learn more about how to implement ethical practices in my small business?

A: Running an honest, ethical business may seem like common sense. However, in today’s competitive business world, the temptation to be unethical can be big. As a small-business owner, it is not OK to do something “just once.” One-time ethics breaches often become habits. Ethics breaches can cause irreparable damage to the reputation of your business, possibly resulting in business failure.

reputational compliance

False advertising, warranties so limited they don’t exist, substituting inferior products, promising more than can be delivered, short-cutting services, recommending more than the customer really needs are just a few unethical business practices. While these examples relate to customers, unethical practices relating to employees are also of concern.

Seeking out and listening to customers not only helps identify customer needs but can help identify issues as to how your company is viewed as a reputable and ethical provider.

Define your values

Although formal ethics training is rare at small companies, business owners are always looking for new or better ways to define their values for employees and customers. Some are putting ethics policies on paper while others are simply raising the issue more often in the workplace. And, of course, employees will be guided by the behavior of the business owner.

‘Character Counts’

The Josephson Institute of Ethics,, is a “public-benefit, nonpartisan, nonprofit” organization that helps advance ethical decision-making. Co-founder Michael Josephson’s daily radio commentary on ethics and character-building runs on stations across the country and his “Character Counts” initiative has been adopted by schools and youth groups nationwide.

The institute’s website has a helpful step-by-step guide to making ethical decisions, available free. The institute also conducts ethics in the workplace training seminars and has a catalog of publications, videos, CDs, tapes, banners and other ethics awareness products you can buy.

The Ethics Resource Center is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that offers informational products and services, including help creating a code of conduct, an ethics effectiveness test, a business ethics Q&A and other items. The center also conducts an annual National Business Ethics Survey. You can find more details at

Also consider these books: “The Power of Ethical Management” by Ken Blanchard and Norman Vincent Peale and “Street-Smart Ethics: Succeeding in Business Without Selling Your Soul” by Clinton McLemore. Other thinkers from Aristotle to the Dalai Lama have written on ethical issues that will help you integrate your business practices with your personal beliefs.

This article originally appeared on chron


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