Six Specific Areas to Embed and Promote Business Ethics (Part III of IV)
The challenge for corporations is to build practical approaches to business ethics and its specific corporate values. Business ethics as a field is all well and good but we need to start sharing specific and practical strategies to infuse our day-to-day conduct and advance our corporate performance.
In doing so, I am not so limited nor naïve to suggest that the only measure is corporate profitability. To the contrary, we have numerous ways in which a company reflects its ethics – in maintaining a safe and secure workplace; preventing discrimination and harassment; reducing rates of employee misconduct; building loyalty with consumers and suppliers; maintaining a speak up culture; rewarding ethical conduct; and reducing litigation and business disputes.
The problem is that businesses ignore the connection between ethical principles and practical results from such principles. Instead of addressing this issue, I could list ten ethical principles and call it a day – honesty, loyalty, fairness, integrity, trust, accountability, listening to other, excellence, caring/empathy, and respect. But let’s make this a practical discussion.
So, let’s take a hypothetical set of values and apply them to a business. Start with trust, integrity and fairness. Based on these three powerful concepts, we want to reflect these values in the following areas:
- Safe and Secure Workplace
- Commercial Interactions
- Employee Reporting
- Social Media
- Corporate Social Responsibility
Diversity: We live in a diverse world and our company should reflect the importance of diversity, at the board level, in top management, and our overall workplace and relationships with outside vendors. A diverse workplace has to be a stated objective, should be measured, and promoted as a way to build trust internally and externally with our employees, communities and government stakeholders. To protect our diverse company, the company has to aggressively stamp out real or perceived discrimination.
Safe and Secure Workplace: Companies have to maintain a safe and secure workplace. Employees’ concerns have to be identified and addressed. There is no place for bullying, harassment, or threats of physical or emotional harm. Again, if the company is committed to its principles, a safe and secure workplace must be protected.
Commercial Interactions: A company conducts numerous business transactions each day, with consumers, vendors, suppliers, agents, distributors and others. Business ethics need to be applied in each of these situations – honesty, fairness and integrity means that company actors do not cheat, lie, trick or engage in other behaviors designed to earn a transaction to the detriment of the other person. There is nothing wrong with aggressive competition but within the confines of honesty, fairness and integrity. A company that emphasizes this approach will see positive gains while avoiding potentially unethical or illegal conduct.
Ethical business interactions ensure that the company’s interactions are legal. In fact, there may be occasions where the ethical resolution of a dispute or a problem may exceed that which is legally required.
Employee Reporting: Companies that encourage and respond promptly to employee concerns reflect a desire to build trust, act fairly, and promote integrity in all of its dealings. Each employee concern gives the company a valuable insight into its culture and its ethical performance. Companies committed to encouraging and responding promptly to employee concerns will build robust reporting systems, communicate the importance of a speak up culture, and respond swiftly to employee concerns by investigating any issues raised and remediating any specific concerns that are substantiated.
Social Media: In today’s fast-paced Internet world where a company’s reputation can be destroyed in a single viral incident, companies have to tie its ethical principles to its use of social networking platforms, such as Facebook, Linked In, Snap Chat, and other sites. Human resource professional face a myriad of challenges with regard to employee use of such platforms and would easily benefit from applying business ethics principles to this medium.
If the company is serious about building trust with internal and external stakeholders, company actors (board members, top management, supervisors and employees) have to be held accountable for use of social media (within the confines of labor laws). Corporate leaders can set examples of proper use by communicating with employees internally and projecting a positive message to external stakeholders about the company’s ethical values and principles. Most importantly, the company can set an example of treating others with respect and avoiding online controversies.
Corporate Social Responsibility: Companies are devoting greater attention to social responsibility as an important means to promote its reputation as a good corporate citizen. These programs build trust with external stakeholders and promote internal loyalty and pride among its leaders and employees. Our business, like other institutions, are valued for their good deeds and social responsibility programs are an easy way for companies to demonstrate their commitment to their communities as an outgrowth of their own employee values and moral principles.