Whenever there's news of a corporate financial scandal, dishonesty, a negligence lawsuit, we wonder why doing the right thing is so difficult. In truth, it isn't.
Whenever there's news of a corporate financial scandal, dishonesty, a negligence lawsuit, we wonder why doing the right thing is so difficult. In truth, it isn't. Most of the time, businesses of all sizes treat their customers, employees, suppliers, and colleagues with honesty and integrity. Yet the temptation to cut corners or say something known not to be entirely accurate is always there, particularly when one rationalizes it as "just this once."
The problem is "just this once" opens the door to doing it again, and again. If you get away with it, you still know about it. And if you don't, renowned investor Warren Buffett said it best: "It takes 20 years to build a reputation, and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently."
Because the world of small business today is so complex, however, we may still encounter situations where "the right thing" may not be so obvious. Options for handling it may have trade-offs that make the choice particularly difficult, leaving you to wonder if the best you can do is something that is the "least wrong."
And though you may have confidence in your own values, you also want to cultivate a culture of ethics among your employees. Simply establishing a zero-tolerance policy on misrepresentation, theft, or other ethics violations is not always enough. They too may face difficult ethics decisions, and be uncertain about the consequences of reporting them. In these cases, what you don't know really can hurt you.
That's why successful entrepreneurs make ethics a regular part of their continuing small business education. Many utilize the Josephson Institute of Ethics (www.josephsoninstitute.org) a non-partisan, non-sectarian organization that develops and delivers services and materials designed "to increase ethical commitment, competence, and practice in all segments of society." In addition to booklets, training, and other resources for making ethical decisions, the Institute offers a regular e-newsletter and podcasts from founder Michael Josephson.
Another helpful resource is the non-profit Ethics Resource Center(www.ethics.org), which has been devoted to independent research and the advancement of high ethical standards and practices in public and private institutions for nearly 90 years. This group also offers free e-newsletters and survey analyses that explore the many dimensions of ethics in the workplace.