Making a case for business ethics

Shelly Williams
Shelly Williams

Over the past few years, our families, friends, customers, co-workers, leaders and politicians all have been tested more than we ever imagined. The situation brings to mind the saying “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” This phrase has been attributed to both Joseph Kennedy, father of President John F. Kennedy, and Knute Rockne, the football player and coach.

If you don’t know much about either of these gentlemen, I encourage you to research their history. It can provide you with some insight about who they were and what they were able to achieve in their lives. Both were accomplished businessmen, one from Harvard and the other Notre Dame.

Rarely in life is achievement accomplished without making decisions and interacting with people. At the core of our actions lie our values and ethics. I don’t know how either of these men would have fared in today’s age of technology. I’d like to imagine they’d offer great examples as reflected by their personal achievements in history. 

Sadly, the news today overflows with examples of unethical and self-directed decision making and behaviors. Maybe life has always been that way, and now it’s just easier to flush it out in the open with Facebook, Twitter, texting, cell phone cameras and technology.

I admire the person or leader who has the ability to do the right thing by applying the principles of honesty and fairness even when it’s a hard thing to do. They strive to treat people in a way they’d like to be treated and perceived by others as just and fair even when no one is looking.

One of the most acknowledged ethical businesses recognized today is Starbucks. Howard Schulz, chief executive officer of the chain of coffee shops, topped a list of the 10 most ethical CEOs in corporate America. Some believe it was a marketing approach to the organization’s vision and values. Even if that was the initial goal,  Starbucks successfully developed a culture that demonstrates value-based ethics can make your organization and community even better.

It’s a difficult and almost impossible task to accomplish consistently. On some level, we’ll fail and can only hope to learn and grow from those failures. Each of us faces different challenges. Some individuals don’t have a realistic view of themselves or how they interact with the people or events in their lives. Some don’t share the same values or perspective.

Brian Hill, an author of popular business and finance books, outlined four key factors that can have a significant and positive effects on your organization in an article titled “The Advantages of Ethical Behavior in Business.” Hill offered this advice:

Treat customers fairly. If a customer is mishandled by your organization, they’ll stop doing business with you. If it occurs too often, long-term business opportunities could become very bleak.

Employees want to be compensated fairly and have an opportunity for advancement within the organization based on the quality of their work, not favoritism or seniority.

Provide a positive work environment.

Ethical employees, leaders and organizations rarely find themselves involved in costly legal battles that jeopardize the future of the organization.

Acting in an ethical manner can be difficult. But the costs associated with behaving unethically can be devastating. To those of you who are benevolent and successful, congratulations. If those terms don’t best describe the way you behaved today, don’t give up. All things are possible. 

Consider framing the answer to your next ethical question in terms of which solution is more adequate or less adequate. Next, remove any trace of  “I win, you lose” from the equation and do the right thing.

What will you do the next time you’re faced with an ethical question?