Your business ethics are the moral principles that guide your business – take your eye off the ball for one moment and you could be in a world of trouble.
Ethics in business are slippery fish with many business leaders not realising the impact one wrong decision can have. Just ask Uber, H&M and Pret a Manger – Just three examples where leaders have chosen not to see what’s really going on and suffered the consequences – bad publicity. So what can you do to ensure your business ethics are sound?
You might think that you’d know if you were faced with an ethically dubious choice to make – sexual harassment, blatant environmental damage, or misleading packaging for instance – clearly the wrong choices – and not sustainable for long. Yet, every day we read about deceiving CEOs embezzling millions or other dishonest dealings, which could lead us into thinking that ethics is clear cut and those who are responsible were bad apples all along.
But can you be so sure? And are you willing to stake your business on it? With concrete definitions of good ethical practice, beyond the laws and regulations that businesses currently live by, becoming more difficult to identify, there are increasing numbers of scandals hitting the news recently. As ethical scandals go, few are harder to beat than the Cambridge Analytica scandal of 2018, whereby the harvesting of the personal data of millions of Facebook profiles without consent was used for political advertising purposes. This one example shows just how careful businesses need to be in our present social environment.
But it isn’t just the big media-worthy scandals. Ethics is increasingly becoming an issue for the smaller business. So connected are we by social media that one wrong move can have the world banging on the door demanding retribution. Any infraction will swiftly gain bad exposure, followed by circulation by those who are happy to disfigure your business reputation. You don’t want to be at the receiving end of that kind of publicity. So, how do you ensure you’re not sitting on an ethical time bomb;
Be aware of euphemistic language – ‘Pretexting’ was used to disguise phone record hacking and to lie in the Hewlett-Packard spying scandal. This example of euphemistic language masked the true nature of the misconduct until it was brought to light most disparagingly.
Be aware of ethical numbing – In an environment where we are repeatedly exposed to certain behaviours, these can seem to be acceptable. The S. Postal Service Pro Cycling Team began to adopt the unethical behaviour of doping, although when testifying they admitted it was wrong.
Be aware of routinisation – We may try to justify our behaviour by claiming that ‘this is the way we’ve always done it’ and therefore it seems normal. Perhaps behaviour has changed incrementally until eventually a completely different behaviour emerged – this is likely what happened with Carillion.
Be aware of shifting responsibility –By omitting information and putting the responsibility onto the consumer to discover information that might influence their decision to buy, you could be inadvertently acting unethically.
With world environmental issues in the news every day it is expected of business to do its part in reducing the impact we have. If your business is blatantly flouting that expectation then expect to, sooner or later be hauled across the coals for it. Younger people in particular are becoming more knowledgeable about ethical practices and their hyper-connectivity means hyper awareness. On the other hand, even the smallest change made for the health of the environment will have public support – by way of example, my LinkedIn feed revealed recently that Waitrose introduced its new plastic-free section in one of its branches in London – a positive endorsement for Waitrose and one that received many views and likes.
Leaders need to be aware that ethical challenges can come from unforeseen directions and be so complex as to be almost unidentifiable. However, the most astute enemy of the business may just identify and expose any dubious ethical conduct, especially those businesses who try to justify or ignore behaviours that could be construed as unethical.
You may think that you’re immune from ethical responsibility, but ethics is about more than following the rules, it is about being responsible and identifying potential ethical issues before they come and bite you on the rear end. As business leaders we are all vulnerable to the rules of ethics, and complexity, lack of understanding or self-deception will not be acceptable excuses.
Identifying any new and complex ethical issues is vital for the success and endurance of your business. Your ethical behaviours are increasingly under scrutiny and have greater consequences than ever before.
The last time I took my boys to the local go-cart race track they had a great time.
Me, not so much. It was rather chilly in the old aircraft-hangar, and I would have welcomed a warming decaf cappuccino. And the husband is always a sucker for a bacon sandwich.
Avoid the barest minimum service
Alas, all they had in the way of coffee was weak, dirty-dishwater-coloured freeze-dried stuff that was offered with a kind of reluctance you might get from someone you’d just asked for money in the street. As for a bacon sandwich – from the looks of the kitchen facilities available, this was way beyond their capabilities and I cannot imagine the sort of look that would have warranted.
Now compare this scenario to another where, just like the go-cart place, the business owners have the benefit of a captive audience.
Give customers a reason to want to return
Jolly Nice, a farm shop in Frampton Mansell near Cirencester was set up in 2013 on the site of a disused petrol station. It began as an airstream trailer but because it responded to the demands of its customers, offering more and more reasons for them to return, they managed to turn their tiny business into a thriving enterprise.
Jolly Nice is now a collection of attractive wooden buildings and a couple of yurts and sells everything you’d expect from a farm shop and much more. It has a café selling decent coffee and hot food, a butcher shop, a deli and it offers plants and flowers for sale. It overlooks a lovely field with roaming rare breed sheep and shorthorn cattle. This truly is a business that delights its captive market, offering customers reasons to return. Indeed, all I need is the excuse for some sausages for dinner and I will make the 20-minute journey there to sit and relax in the cosy yurt or in the large spacious garden with a good coffee and a lovely home-made chocolate brownie. I will then peruse the plants before buying my meat.
The go-cart race track is missing a trick not capitalising on all the customers who frequent its business and offering them, at the very least, decent coffee and good food. With a little bit of care and attention, they could turn their visitors into loyal customers. They have the attraction – the go-cart race track – so why don’t they turn this into a successful enterprise by simply offering good quality refreshments and appealing to the parent market?
What can you offer your visitors and customers so they don’t need to go anywhere else? Whatever you’re selling, look for opportunities to make it a one-stop shop for everything to do with that product or service, and offer decent coffee if it’s appropriate – this makes it a more delightful experience for the visitor, which means they’re less likely to go elsewhere to fulfil their needs.