Why You Shouldn’t Put A Price On Your Integrity – Ethics In Business – What could compel a person to follow a point of view if no one would notice if he didn’t? In a nutshell, that is the dilemma of business ethics. Specific moral business values that executives should adhere to –and unquestionably beneficial to business advancement– could have short-term negative consequences for the initiator’s company.
Unfortunately, business ethics is not a universally accepted concept; it is personal understanding and compliance. Behavior that is unethical in the eyes of one executive may be wholly irrelevant or acceptable in the eyes of another. The problem with unethical business behavior is that most of its practices are challenging to pinpoint, making it impossible to categorize them as unquestionably illegal. Even though companies often encourage their executives to follow a set of ethical business principles, they are aware that ignoring some of these principles can help them increase their top-line revenues.
Ethics, or the concept of saying yes or no to a job, a contract, or work that makes you uncomfortable, is a deeply personal issue for each of us. For the vast majority of entrepreneurs, clear lines are drawn between right and wrong, which are reinforced by legislation. While the region’s reputation suggests that corruption is a severe problem, paying a bribe to a government official is illegal in most Middle Eastern countries.
However, ethics isn’t always so black-and-white. When I spoke with two experienced journalists, both of whom I respect for their ethical judgment, it was clear that they had to fight moral battles daily, both on wrong issues (paying for coverage) and more complicated issues (whether an advertiser deserved coverage for a piece of news that didn’t fit their publication’s focus).
Similarly, a friend in the communications industry who worked for an agency told me about a potential client who claimed all of the ideas from a pitch her agency had given to the company. Over the course of a year, the company had used those concepts without compensating her agency. That potential client and those potential advertisers didn’t believe their actions were unethical strongly enough. I’m sorry, but I have to disagree with them.
Many of us deal with ethics on a regular basis; we are frequently faced with difficult decisions that could result in the loss of a potential project or client. Regardless of how strong the desire to cut corners to get things done, whether it’s due to cost or time constraints, resisting that desire is the only way to build a healthy, long-term company.
To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, it takes many good deeds to earn a good reputation, but it only takes one terrible act to ruin it. A bad reputation is a legacy that will cost far more than a lapse in judgment and directly impact sales, as new customers will stay away and existing customers will choose to go somewhere else. A bad reputation can also affect your operations and workforce, as suppliers and business partners decide to end their relationships, employee morale plummets, and employees leave.
Instead, focus on developing and encouraging ethical principles and establishing a reputation for honesty, integrity, trust, loyalty, fairness, respect, leadership, and accountability. It’s not the most straightforward path to take, and it’s easy to miss out on opportunities to make what appears to be easy money when something seems too good to be true or requires a favor in return. Stay the course, though, and commit to ethical values. Always do the right thing, even if it is the more difficult option. It will gratify some people while astonishing the rest, to quote Mark Twain.