Imagine a future at your organization without ethics or standards for principled behavior. What would that look like? Honesty, responsibility, integrity, follow through… might all go away.
Ethics is not only relevant in businesses; it is essential to business success. Within the origins of capitalism resides a moral imperative to improve society and create human progress (Seidman, 2004), therefore the existence of an ethical workplace is paramount to the creation of a profitable business system.
How then do we create and sustain a corporate environment that provides a product or service competitively and profitably yet seeks to do no harm to people or the environment? We have seen a recent shift in corporate focus, from an exclusively “shareholders’ wellbeing” disposition to one of “community and environment wellbeing.” That doesn’t mean shareholders aren’t paying attention. Rather they are watching how businesses behave and investing in philosophies and operations. Importantly, customers are too.
Leaders have the responsibility of inspiring creativity, performance, excellence, and integrity in their employees. They set the standard for ethical behavior largely through their actions and decisions. Each has an individual charge to act responsibly knowing that their actions will reverberate throughout every facet of the organization. The objective is for organizations to understand their place in society and recognize the societal impacts as decisions are made. The actions businesses take not only affect the bottom line, but also the community at large.
If knowledge is indeed power, then understanding one’s corporate identity, and what that identity represents and how it impacts relevant stakeholders, should mean that companies are motivated to adopt a positive posture in their business stratus. Organizations routinely face tough issues requiring consideration of conflicting loyalties and goals, corporate ideals, and rules and regulations. How can we condition organizations to consistently respond favorably? The answer is ethics. Every business has a set of values and standards. Some are informal and appear only as company culture. Others are formally stated. Either way, they offer priorities and guidance.
Knowing that effective leadership is imperative to ‘living’ a company’s values and directing sound corporate behavior, how do we ensure that leaders are perceptive and sensitive when facing ethical challenges? How can we enhance decision making processes? And, how do we stay focused on the problem itself and not those charged with solving it?
It comes down to developing competences to respond to ethical challenges, and the ability to diagnose the root symptoms and causes for an organization’s behavior, good or bad. Taking the steps to formalize what your organization stands for, what you value and where you fit in the community (locally, globally, and industry wide) is more than a strategic exercise; It’s an ethical imperative with very real business benefits.