Here is another surprising truth about ethics:
People are not getting less ethical. Every generation regards later generations as less ethical than their own. But the evidence is to the contrary. The Council of Ethical Organizations has conducted a highly tested survey in hundreds of organization since 1986. While particular organizations or industry segments get more or less ethical, overall scores on the survey have been stable for almost 20 years. There is no central tendency of decline. What sometimes makes us think ethics is on the way out is the fact that we learn more about ethical misdeeds than earlier generations did partly due to power of social media and the growth of news outlets.
The following piece on this topic appeared in the Globe and Mail.
When you are starting a company, ethics may not be the first thing on your mind. The article referenced below talks about how to build ethics into a start up company.
The biggest mistake made in an ethics crisis is not recognizing that it is an ethics crisis. Executives tend to overestimate the protection offered by the organization’s reputation and its legal defenses. And they often reason that the organization will not be held accountable for what someone did contrary to the organization’s direction or policy. This is untrue. The sooner you own any crisis, the less newsworthy it is. Early acknowledgement of an ethics crisis is particularly effective in showing that the wrong action is not characteristic of the organization.
As part of a long-term research project, I identified five competitive strategies common to organizations that are successful and ethical on a sustained basis. None of these strategies considered alone guarantees ethical success. I have been sharing these strategies through a series of posts. Here is the final strategy in this series.
I once worked with a CEO who temporarily suspended all of his company’s significant operations in Mexico because he couldn’t find a way for his managers to uphold the company’s ethics while doing business there. This is an extreme example of an important practice, which is looking at business opportunities in terms of their ethical implications. While this is especially important internationally, there are also business opportunities domestically that are hard to pursue ethically. For example, it is particularly difficult to pursue an ethics strategy in a market in which competition is based entirely on price. The time to exercise ethical judgment is when you are considering an opportunity as opposed to when you are in the middle of regretting it.
As part of a long-term research project, I have identified five competitive strategies common to organizations that are successful and ethical on a sustained basis. None of these strategies considered alone guarantees ethical success. I will be sharing these through a series of posts. Here is the fourth strategy.
Define the value of your ethics.
If you are committed to ethics, you probably believe that the company’s ethical stance provides a benefit to its customers. It is not enough to just hope that your customers will notice this. It is up to you to define that benefit and make it apparent to your customers. For example, if you take the extra time to ensure that your products or services fit the customer’s needs, make this effort a part of what distinguishes you in the market place. Nordstrom has made a simple ethical commitment a cornerstone of its reputation. That commitment is to treat customers making a return the same as customers making a new purchase. The benefit to customers need not be something earth shaking; it just needs to be something customers will recognize.