Everyone knows right from wrong. Right? Wrong. People disagree about the definition of right and wrong all the time. That is why the topic of business ethics is currently front and center in the media and in office break rooms. When daily, the next Enron, Arthur Andersen, or WorldCom story hits the wires, it's difficult to ignore business ethics as an issue. And, as our world becomes more complex, sometimes the right answer, the one that meets the needs of the most stakeholders: employees, customers, potential employees, and board members, lies somewhere in the middle.
Think about these business ethics scenarios that happen in organizations every day.
- An employee surfs the Internet shopping for personal items on company time.
- A plant manager decides to ship product to a customer even though he knows the parts have a quality problem because the problem doesn't affect part function and the customer probably won't notice.
- A salesman marks parts as "sold" in the company data base thus depriving others of the ability to sell the parts, even though his sale is uncertain.
- A manager shares important company information with a competitor for her potential gain.
- A store misrepresents the quality or functionality of an advertised sale item.
- An employee takes office supplies home to stock his home office.
- A finance officer accounts questionably for purchases and expenditures.
- An accountant tells a supplier that their "check is in the mail" when he knows he hasn't written the check.
Do any of these situations sound familiar? Sure they do. You encounter these and others like them regularly if you spend any time in organizations. Are these "bad people" or "good people" making questionable ethical choices? Do they even consider whether the choices they are making are ethical? (After all, the plant manager may think, the most important issue is to get the parts to the customer on time. Or, the employee rationalizes, "I give this employer lots of over-time and thinking time outside work hours so I deserve the time at work to surf the Web.") So, before you relegate the subject of business ethics to the touchy-feely, head-in-the-clouds worlds of philosophy, religion, or academia, consider the potential positive impact on your organization of a working code of business ethics.
Developing a code of business ethics will not stop unethical behavior but it will give people something to think about, a measurement against which to assess their behavior. You can develop a written code of business ethics that guides the decision making and actions of all of your stakeholders. Your reputation and track record for ethical behavior and integrity are vital for establishing the trust that is the basis for all successful relationships you sustain including those with your customers, employees, community and your stock holders. Why would you leave something this important to chance?
Susan Heathfield is a management consultant specializing in human resource related systems, issues, and opportunities. Susan's specialty consulting areas include personal and organizational change management, organization transformation, executive coaching, and group facilitation. She is a professional speaker and trainer on topics ranging from interpersonal relationships, organization effectiveness, management excellence, marketing services, to exploring Internet resources. Susan is also a writer, and always interested in projects. http://humanresources.about.com
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