It is entirely possible that the idea of considering “what is business ethics” is a bit laughable to many readers. After all, the business world is often seen as a dog-eat-dog sort of world. The kind of place in which ethics are nothing more than a hindrance and often way down the list of any leadership style checklist of skills.
In truth though the importance of ethics in business cannot be overstated.
A good businessperson knows that he or she trades more on his or her reputation than the product that he or she represents. Having a strong ethical foundation is necessary to move up in a corporate hierarchy and gain the trust of customers and clients.
Work without integrity and you are setting up your business for a mighty fall.
So where do you start with hard & fast rules?… if any.
It would be lovely to say that the first rule of ethics in business should be “do no harm” but this rule is sadly unreasonable. A more realistic goal for any business person should be to do as much good as possible without causing undue harm to others.
In doing so you can both satisfy the needs of your business while still maintaining a solid reputation with your competitors. You never know after all where you may end up in five years. If you find yourself on the market for a new job it is your reputation (and thus your ethics) that will likely land you a new position.
One clear rule every new business should adhere to this choosing an ethical company name. I talked before about how to name your business, but didn’t detail how in ethical terms you need to make sure your company name/logo/brand are not deceptive to your customer base.
For example, financial institutions often use company names which instill security, confidence and steadfastness. Any copycat companies trying to get into the same financial niche may try slight variations on big brand names to give the perception of association.. something which is completely unethical and to be avoided at all costs.
Reach out to your customer base for feedback on your company’s services and products. Simple customer surveys can highlight, with the right type of customer satisfaction survey questions, exactly what ethical gaps you may have in your brand. You may be surprised to find out what your companies really value in your firm.
Why are ethics in business so important?
Simply put ethics compromise a personal code that can set you apart from your competitors. It may be difficult to adhere to an ethical code at all times but doing so will help to solidify your reputation as an individual with whom others wish to work.
Going deeper: Business ethics and social responsibility
Have you ever noticed that most large businesses contribute to charities? Have you ever noticed the number of foundations set up in the name of large corporations? Good business owners know how important it is to make a positive contribution on the social and ethical front.
You may choose to scoff at the idea of business ethics and social responsibility but your clients and customers certainly do not. The past several years have shown that customers are a bit more closely in tune with the morals and ethics of the businesses that they frequent than they have been in the past.
If you cannot present a strong front that shows that you care about the impact that your company makes on the world around you it is likely that you will lose a significant number of your regular clients. Take the time to cultivate a caring image though and you may be rewarded with new customers.
Try using staff satisfaction surveys to identify areas where the company’s ethics could be improved upon inhouse. Don’t forget that your company’s brand as well as its ethical & social stance go hand-in-hand. So, surveying your employees for suggestions on ways to improve your branding/ethical stance can provide long-term benefits.
Business ethics and social responsibility are more than just buzz words too; they are important variables in the business equation. If your business does not have a plan to deal with its social impact on the community it is important that you implement one quickly. You may not be able to recover from any incidents that stem from an ethical breach.
Going global: Establishing international business ethics
In our age of globalization and multinational companies it is important to have a good code of international business ethics. Ethics and business continue to evolve as organizations continue to expand their companies throughout the world.
Companies must find ways to improve their business practices in order to show that their international business ethics are at least up to any legal standards as well as social responsibility standards. And you ignore this at your peril.
Although there are probably ethics and business practices that are common to all businesses around the world it is important that you know and understand the ethical and legal guidelines in those regions in which your company primarily does business. You can work closely with organizations that help multinational companies establish effective international ethics programs as well as participate in dialog regarding ethics issues.
Of course your company’s responsibility starts with its own code of conduct which should be made clear to all employees throughout the company. Getting employee feedback and encouraging discussion can help you make sure you are keeping your business moving in the right direction in terms of its ethical obligations to both employees and customers or clients. You should use all the tools at your disposal to create the ideal ethical business model.
REMEMBER: The business world may be competitive but that does not mean that it operates in an ethical vacuum. Try to adhere to a code of doing as little harm as possible and you should be able to maintain a good reputation while still fulfilling your goals.
See also: Business Ethics magazine is a great online source for staying up to date with the latest legal & international developments on this subject.