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ETHICS: NOT JUST FOR BREAKFAST ANYMORE
Reading the headlines in any newspaper over the past couple of years might lead you to believe that the vast majority of business leaders must all belong to a big club of liars and cheats. The good news is that the vast majority of business leaders actually do know the difference
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between right and wrong and, now more than ever, businesses and the leaders who run them are trying to do the right thing. Not only do they want to do the right thing to be on the right side of the ethics fence, but also because it’s good for the bottom line.
Ethics is in. And that’s not a bad thing for any of us.
Ethics are standards of beliefs and values that guide conduct, behavior, and activities. Ethics provide boundaries for our actions and help us do the right thing—not just talking about doing the right thing, but really doing it.
While we may disagree on exactly what qualities ethical people exhibit on the job, we can generally agree that some or all of the following personal qualities constitute ethical behavior:
Remember: When you set an example as an ethical leader, your employees will be encouraged (and expected) to follow your example, too. Managers have a responsibility to try to define an organization’s culture and ethics, live up to them, and encourage others to adopt them.
Creating a Code of Ethics
Many organizations have found that it’s best not to leave ethics to chance. Rather than let their employees feel their way around in the
dark or be left uncertain whether a particular practice is ethical, these organizations have adopted their own written codes of ethics.
A code of ethics is a complement for existing company policies and procedures, not a replacement for them. While most people would probably agree that stealing, sharing trade secrets, sexually harassing a coworker, and other unethical behavior are unacceptable, putting these standards into writing gives this understanding real weight—especially when breaching them may be grounds for dismissal.
A good code of ethics is built on the following foundation:
1. Compliance with internal policies and procedures.
2. Compliance with external laws and regulations.
3. Direction from organizational values.
4. Direction from individual values.
Specifically, a code of ethics must address some very specific issues in addition to the more generic ones listed above. Here are some of the most common issues addressed by typical codes of ethics:
• Equal opportunity.
• Sexual harassment.
• Privacy and confidentiality.
• Conflicts of interest.
• Gifts and gratuities.
• Employee health and safety.
It’s not enough, however, to simply have a code of ethics. The people in your organization must breathe life into it by also living it. The best code of ethics in the world is worthless if it’s just filed away and never used.
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What's in a Comprehensive Code of Ethics?
According to the Ethics Resource Center web site (www.ethics.org), a comprehensive code of ethics has seven parts:
1. A memorable title: Examples include Pricewaterhouse’s “The Way We Do Business” and the World Bank Group’s “Living Our Values.”
2. Leadership letter: A cover letter briefly outlines the content of the code of ethics and clearly demonstrates commitment from the very top of the organization to ethical principles of behavior.
3. Table of contents: The main parts of the code are listed by page number.
4. Introduction-prologue: This part explains why the code is important, the scope of the code, and to whom it will apply.
5. Statement of core values: The organization lists and describes its primary values in detail.
6. Code provisions: This part is the meat of the code, the organization’s position on a wide variety of issues including topics such as sexual harassment, privacy, conflicts of interest, gratuities, and so forth.
7. Information and resources: Places that employees can go for further information or for specific advice or counsel.
It’s one thing to have a code of ethics; it’s another thing altogether to behave ethically in all of your day-to-day business transactions and relationships. Ethical challenges are everywhere in business, and it’s your job to apply your organization’s code of ethics, your own personal ethics, and no small amount of common sense as you work through them. Here are some common ethical dilemmas; how would you handle them?
• A vendor gives you free tickets to a sold-out NFL football game.
• An employee begs you not to discipline him for breaking company rules.
• You find out that an employee knowingly sold an unnecessary product to a client in order to reach a sales quota and win a trip to the Bahamas.