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Ethical Values for Business Success

By Mark S. Putnam

Ethics is based on a set of moral and ethical values. These values must be absolute - that is, you must take them seriously enough to override any human rationalization, weakness, ego, or personal faults. When all else fails, you will always look back to these core values to guide you. Unfortunately, life is not that easy and there's always disagreement about what values should reign supreme.


Luckily, in the world of business ethics, your employer helps you. In a nutshell, their values are your values (in the context of work). Your freedom to choose your own ethical values is somewhat limited. Considering the rash of corporate scandals these days, the thought of following the corporation's values might not be too comforting. Problem: Whose or what values can you trust?


Look behind successful, honest businesses and you will see a set of values that have stood the test of time. Think about how these values are communicated in your organization and what you can do to support them.


Honesty. The old adage, "honesty is the best policy" is true today more than ever. It's not just lip service. Employee manuals from most scandalized corporations are likely to contain slogans touting its commitment to honesty. Claiming to be honest in an employee manual is passé. You're either honest or not. Even if you haven't got caught yet, most people know who is and who isn't.


Integrity. Integrity connotes strength and stability. It means taking the high road by practicing the highest ethical standards. Demonstrating integrity shows completeness and soundness in your character and in your organization.


Responsibility. Blaming others, claiming victimhood, or passing the buck may solve short-term crises, but refusal to take responsibility erodes respect and cohesion in an organization. Ethical people take responsibility for their actions. Likewise, actions show the ability to be responsible both in the little and big things.


Quality. Quality should be more than making the best product, but should extend to every aspect of your work. A person who recognizes quality and strives for it daily has a profound sense of self-respect, pride in accomplishment, and attentiveness that affects everything. From your memos to your presentations, everything you touch should communicate professionalism and quality.


Trust. There's no free ride. Trust is hard to earn and even harder to get back after you've lost it. Everyone who comes in contact with you or your company must have trust and confidence in how you do business.


Respect. Respect is more than a feeling, but a demonstration of honor, value, and reverence for something or someone. We respect the laws, the people we work with, the company and its assets, and ourselves.


Teamwork. Two or more employees together make a team. It is a business necessity to work openly and supportively in teams whether formal or informal.


Leadership. How many hardworking, honest employees have been tainted and led astray by corporate leadership failings? Managers and executives should uphold the ethical standards for the entire organization. A leader is out front providing an example that others will follow.


Corporate Citizenship. A foundational principle for every company should be to provide a safe workplace, to protect the environment, and to become good citizens in the community.


Shareholder Value. Without profitability, there is no company. Every employee should understand how he or she fits into the profitability picture. Everyone's common goal should be to build a strong, profitable company that will last.


The real test of these values comes from the resulting action. It takes a concerted, company-wide effort, beyond inserting these words in an employee manual, to make it happen.


First, management must lead by example. Good ethics should be most noticeable at the top. Every employee must be accountable to the same rules.


Second, a corporate values or ethics initiative must be "sold" and "marketed" aggressively throughout a company. Every forum and medium should be used to spread the good message. Of course, it will only be credible if the company is practicing what it preaches.


Third, training must be provided to get everyone on the same page. It's easy to ignore a motivational speech or pass by a poster, but spending time learning about the issues will have a lasting impact.


Fourth, both you and the company must be in it for the long haul. The ethics fervor should extend to the next generation of employees. The longer it lasts, the more ingrained the principles will become.


Despite failings of some, there is plenty of room at the table for good ethics and profitable business to reside. Together they can lay the cornerstone for a secure and prosperous society. These ten values you can put in the employee manual and mean it.


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