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Business Ethics – Beyond Theory
by Patti D. Hill

 
   
 
   

Globalization and technological changes are frequently cited as the revolutions of our time. But there is also a third transformation - that of the rise of civic society and the increase in people making value-driven decisions. As a result, an organization’s honorable reputation has become a key competitive advantage in their struggle to compete in the global marketplace.

The case for companies to report on their social activities is a compelling one. A growing body of empirical studies has been conducted to determine what ‘corporate goodness’ really means. Ninety percent of the public interviewed considers ‘ethics and values’ to be "very important" in building a reputation for good corporate citizenship.

On the heels of corporate debacles such as Enron, HIH Insurance, OneTel, and WorldCom, conscientious companies are seeking to restore the nation’s confidence in business leadership through ethics. There were times, in the not so distant past, when morals and business did not go together. In fact many people thought they were opposites – because it was ‘all about the money’...until a lawsuit was filed. Then out comes an ethics policy and the blame is placed on a ‘rogue employee’.

The IPO rush and tech boom is taking a majority of the heat. It was a time when profits outweighed people in terms of value, putting tremendous pressure on executives to create glorified earning reports – at all costs. These same companies failed to realize the adverse reaction these practices had on their brand.

The Rebound

Our business environment is changing. There is no tolerance for an organization that is driven by a "say-do" gap – the difference between what a company is saying (brand market communications) and what they are doing (leadership competence and capability). Forthright positions on values are becoming a top priority in building business relationships and creating trust in company brands. In addition, as businesses become more flexible and make their managerial structures leaner, values policies will be the backbone of the corporate culture. Companies of all sizes are beginning to embrace the communities they interact with, and rethinking corporate responsibility is part of that process. It means changing our basic notions of what motivates us as businesspeople and what our basic corporate goals should be.

Today's business leaders are in a unique position to influence what happens in society for years to come. With this power comes monumental responsibility. We have the power to influence changes that will eliminate economic inequality, environmental degradation, and social injustice – issues that compromise our long term viability. Business leaders must realize their potential to create lasting social change. By accepting an equal balance in decision making, today’s leaders will foster key business considerations - profits, consumer satisfaction, and societal well being.

The Secret Code

It has become painfully clear that some companies ethical behavior, when left to the discipline of its executives, is extremely fragile. Considering that its reputation is one of the most prized assets an organization owns, it’s in the company’s best interest to take every precaution to nurture, guard and protect that precious commodity. This underlines the relevance of a well defined code of conduct and consciously adhering to ethical values. Ethical codes, also known as ethical policies, codes of conduct, or statement of business practices, are management tools for establishing and articulating your company values, responsibilities, obligations, and ethical ambitions. It will provide guidance to employees on how to handle situations which pose a dilemma between alternative right courses of action, or when faced with pressure to consider right and wrong.

Given the changes and complex nature of today’s work environments, no rule book or guide could ever adequately cover all the dilemmas people face in the workplace. Therefore, every employee should be empowered to take leadership in ethical decision making. Employees will follow a strong leader when integrating values into business life. To help trust and values thrive in the organization, leaders will have to live up to them themselves.

Carrying the Baton

A meaningful, written code of conduct helps in creating a high ground for ethical practices, but nothing replaces the leadership of the company’s key executives. Accountability for the ethics and integrity of a company needs to rest on someone’s shoulders – decidedly the CEO. And with that responsibility, the CEO claims any situation that compromises the ethics of the company. Just as a house of cards will surely fall, a house constructed with a strong structural design will endure. Ethics should provide the foundation for the business strategy and the underlying values and management processes.


     
   
     
   

The Author

 

Patti D. Hill is Founder and President of BlabberMouth L.P., one of Texas’ foremost full-service public relations firms. BlabberMouth was founded with the goal of enabling organizations to differentiate and shift public opinion about their companies, products, services and technologies via strategic, powerful public relations campaigns. Today, BlabberMouth is helping dynamic businesses with complex products, services or issues realize their vision of success through innovative thinking and targeted strategies. With BlabberMouth as your strategic partner, you establish a strong corporate reputation that can increase your mind and market share - with the goal of ultimately communicating enduring value. For more information, visit the Web site at www.blabbermouthPR.com .


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Copyright 2003 by Patti D. Hill. All rights reserved.

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