Business Ethics – Do they exist?

Business Ethics – Do they exist?

One of my students is convinced that ethics and business should not be mentioned in the same sentence. When I talk about ethical business practice his facial expression suggests disbelief. He believes that Business is inherently unethical particularly if it is successful business.

The Corporate greed of the 1980’s and 1990’s followed by the exorbitant pay outs and pay offs of Senior Executives in the mid 2000’s has no doubt contributed to the disbelief my student has in regard to ethical practice by business.

If we define ethics as a system of moral principles or rules of conduct both relating to individuals and the professional groups to which they belong then we can locate ethical practices within Business enterprises based on the behaviours of the Employees and Directors as codified in policies, procedures and organisational culture.

The key values on which an organisation is founded are sometimes stated in their mission statement, but often more subtly inform the organisations direction and practices.

Employees will choose an Employer based on such things as family friendly practices, flexibility, opportunities for training, opportunities for creative expression and contribution.

Customers will choose a Supplier based on flexibility, responsiveness to their needs, good communication and fast ‘no fuss’ service. Both Customers and Employees expect the organisations they interact with to behave in ways that show respect to them, the community and the environment.

Every day in business we have decisions and choices to make that are either ethical or not, that either fit within the values the organisation is espousing or do not. Every day these businesses choose to do business with suppliers who behave ethically or do not, who share a compatible code of behaviour or do not. Every day businesses are choosing to keep staff or move them on based on their ‘fit’ with the Company culture. Everyday individuals are choosing to move Companies based on a mismatch of values and find places to work where they do fit.

Students often confuse ethical practice with law. Complying with the Equal Opportunity Act does not mean that you are behaving ethically per se. It means that you are behaving lawfully. Treating people fairly is a societal value and as such has been codified into law. The Privacy Act is another example of societal values codified in law.

An example: TooBAD Inc , a Telecommunications Company of long standing is governed by Fair Trading Laws and Contract Law to name a few, yet threatens and bullies customers, repeatedly charges fees verging on robbery ($3000 bill on a $29.00 plan is the latest) and behaves unethically at every turn. So significant is their unethical practice that an external ‘referee’ must attempt to see fair play for their customers.

The core values of my business are: Respect; Flexibility; Sustainability; Collaboration; Contribution; Independence; Interdependence and knowledge. These values are embedded in policy and practice within the Company. These explicit core values make decision making for myself and staff easy, since this is the platform from which all policy and procedures have sprung.

Integrity is your adherence to your values. Having a clear ‘whole’ or congruent sense of the rightness of your actions – that they align to your stated values and the multitude of values ‘subsets’ provides the basis for ethical behaviour in business.

Is ethical business practice possible? Absolutely – No question in my mind that businesses, with a strong commitment to ethical practice embedded in sound management practice with skilful and resourceful people working in them, are the businesses of the future. Businesses whose only value is dollar based, such as TooBAD Inc, will not survive (removal of monopolies are critical to this) but since they do … an investment in Customer Service and Ethics training may be a good starting point.

An example: In a Training Company there is a tension between profit and scrupulous assessment practices. Some students want their qualification as quickly as possible, with as little efffort as possible. For some students having enrolled and paid for the qualifcation now entitles them to the qualification. Given that knowledge is one of our highest values then you can be assured that the character I call ‘tick and flick Mick’ does not reside at PPD Training. Putting effort into avoiding learning is a lost opportunity.

Being given opportunities to apply new learning to your world is about as exciting as it can get and fuels my passion for providing learning opportunities that can change your world. Learning changed my world, let it change yours.


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