Take a look at this motivating article by Elisabeth Shaw about creating and having an ethical culture in your business.
Most start-ups want their business to be ethical. But when the focus is on getting the business off the ground, conscious engagement with ethics can seem like a luxury.
Research tells us, however, that ethical businesses are ultimately more successful. Ethical businesses attract more investment, happier employees and more engaged customers – so it’s vital to craft that framework right from the start. The people you employ from the outset will co-create this culture with you.
In your enthusiasm to succeed you might prize competencies such as passion, flexibility, initiative and creativity. You may want vision and a can-do approach. And it’s likely that you’ll want people who go the extra mile, get the job done and celebrate wins with enthusiasm.
All of our strengths, at their extreme, can become problematic. For example, someone who prizes punctuality can seem officious and rigid. So if you recruit for energy, commitment and vision, how can you also ensure the checks and balances required for a healthy business? Could you inadvertently recruit someone who cuts corners, saying the ends justifies the means? What about someone who has their eye on the prize to such a degree that they dismiss the value of relationships? Or the person who works hard and plays hard? Is that all good fun, or can this come at a cost if the party gets a little out of hand?
As the leader, it’s you who will have the biggest impact on those first employees. Safeguards can be employed at the point of recruitment to give you some measure of whether your prospective staff can assist you to be successful and have good business practices. For example, in their interview you could ask:
• What are the core values that drive your work practices?
• When have you felt concerned about a business practice or a colleague’s behavior? What did you do about it?
• How far would you go to get the job done?
But what then? How do ethics stay top of mind on a daily basis?
Consider these possibilities:
• How, as the leader of the business, do you demonstrate your own values? Do you expect people just to know, or do you make them explicit? Are you then congruent with what you say and do?
• How do staff meetings foster reflection on business practice and culture? Are they spaces to discuss sticky situations? Do you have one-on-one time with your leadership team where you foster discussion about their intuition, concerns, development and good decision making?
• Do you encourage professional development on ethical business practices and ethical issues?
• When ethical transgressions occur, do you meet the challenge head on, or does the issue go underground?
Ethical dilemmas can be stressful. And when the stakes are high – when your own or a colleague’s work is on the line – they can be paralysing. Businesses struggling with ethical failures are not alone. Support services, such as Ethi-call – a free confidential service provided by the Ethics Centre – can help businesses grappling with ethical issues and decisions. Business owners should look for services that help them explore their dilemma with an ethics practitioner from the perspective of personal and professional values, philosophical perspectives and principles of good decision making.
With ethical issues everywhere that relationships exist, ethics support services are relevant to all industries and community groups. Interestingly, some organisations and leaders feel concerned, or even threatened, by their staff using a service like Ethi-call. They worry that it is ‘airing dirty laundry’ or that ‘everything should be managed in house’. The problem with these anxieties is it can lead to organisations “circling the wagons”, becoming unnecessarily protective, collusive or even corrupted by trying to contain everything within.
Instead, good decision making should be seen as a vital part of life. Getting the outside view can be interesting and liberating. Sometimes we are restrained by the limits of our own imaginations, or blinkered by the terms of our own situations. Once we move from paralysis to action, all the creative, enthusiastic passion you want from employees can be seen, alongside well-reasoned, thoughtful, balanced decisions.
Being ethical isn’t expensive, but being unethical can be extremely costly in every way.