Do you practice what you preach?
Last night, a board meeting was held with regards to a large customer of ours and their unethical behavior. It made me ask – what is the matter with business ethics? Does it just enable large companies to hide behind fancy words, yet actions, contradicting these words, still speak louder than words? Having business ethics declared and behaving ethically are two different realities. In other words, ethics and interests can conflict. And in real life they often do, and the question remains, which one prevails?
Surely, the management of a company may be tempted to cut corners in pursuit of the profit mantra. This may be reflected in not fully complying with signed agreements or labor laws, ignoring worker safety hazards or using substandard materials in their products. The penalties for being caught can be severe, and the resulting negative publicity can cause long-range damage to the company’s reputation that is even more costly than the legal fees or fines.
Being a soldier in my past life, the words Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage have a meaning to me, one that I carry with me and these are the foundation of how I built our companies. Soldiers learn these values in detail during Basic Combat Training (BCT), from then on, they live them every day in everything they do — whether they’re on the job or off. In short, the Seven Core Army Values listed below define not only how we behave, but -most importantly- who we are.
LOYALTYDUTYRESPECTSELFLESS SERVICEHONORINTEGRITYPERSONAL COURAGE
Face fear, danger or adversity (physical or moral). Facing those may be a long, slow process of continuing forward on the right path, especially if taking those actions is not popular with others. You can build your personal courage by daily standing up for and acting upon the things that you know are honorable. And you should do that as an individual, as a group, as a corporate entity, as a family.
But why should anyone care?
To me, ethics is like a handshake. And not the routine type of handshake. Handshake is one of the highest forms of symbolic currency. It can unite, seal deals, assure. It is a modern version of a wax seal, yet to so many it is an old-fashioned habit that does not meaning anything. Sure, mankind has developed since the Middle Ages and so did literacy and now we have written agreements, just as we have lawyers in case of any dispute. It is a shame that a firm handshake, a gentlemen’s agreement accompanied with a look straight in the eyes means nothing now. It builds trust, relationship, honor. Unlike the written clauses of contracts, which in their very basics, start talking about breaching the agreement – in the agreement itself.
Treating customers fairly should be central to any business but applies equally to both business parties, no matter of the size of any of them. Companies need to ensure that they do not only have the correct processes in place to ensure that the right sales framework is in place to protect the rights and interests of all customers. It should become a culture. A matter of reputation that brings respect and dignity to any organization for being known for acting ethically, not just having business ethics policy on the website.
At the end of the day, who you are as a business, as a corporate entity, as an individual is just the sum of your loyalty, duty, respect, service, honor integrity and courage. You are indeed, what you do!