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Are you an ethical business?

In the past, this blog has examined ethical decision-making and how managers might embed appropriate business ethics in their approach to work. But that’s just the beginning…

Assuming you see the business benefits in being an ethical organisation – for example, an enhanced reputation with clients and customers, a stronger employer brand with the workforce, and according to the Institute of Business Ethics (IBE), outperforming ‘less ethical’ peers and competitors – then really you want your whole workforce to be thinking and acting ethically. So, just how do you start creating a company-wide attitude of ethical business?

The key points about business ethics

As in so many workplace matters, there is a handy factsheet available, jointly authored in this instance by the CIPD and the IBE. The summary of points to bear in mind includes:

  • Business ethics is all about ‘doing the right thing’, and truly ethical businesses does it because it’s the right thing to do.
  • An organisation’s reputation is heavily dependent on its perceived values and how ethical it is seen to be.
  • Your HR or people processes and management either support or undermine an ethical culture.
  • Ethical decision-making is one of the keys to an ethical business.
  • If you want individual employees to behave ethically, the business needs to demonstrate those ethics too.

Tips for a more ethical business

First, consider your values – the core principles on which you want to operate. If you like ideas such as honesty, fairness, integrity, respect, excellence, and accountability (and who wouldn’t?) then the challenge is to ensure that these values are reflected in your business communications (e.g. your mission or statement of purpose), business strategy and goals or targets, and of course, that they are at the heart of how you make decisions.

If you can express these values and principles in writing then effectively what you have is a code of ethics which you can distribute, showing your customers what you’re about and offering some guidance to employees on how they should behave at work.

Having got your code of ethics in place (and whether you call it that or not is entirely up to you) you can embed it in your business culture through:

  • Communication and engagement – e.g. talk it through at team meetings
  • Training and reinforcement – if appropriate, offer short training sessions with case studies and example scenarios for discussion.
  • Lead by example – if you’re the boss and don’t do it, why should anyone else (“Do as I say not as I do,” doesn’t get you too far these days).

And finally, when you see ethical business behaviour and decisions – in line with the values you want your business to have – then reward it in some way!

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