In a recent Inc.com post, Mandy Zetlin interviews Mark Pastin, CEO of the Council of Ethical Organizations, for his insights on ethics in business.
Pastin notes that most people are too forgiving when considering their own ethics. “It’s one of the home fields for self-deception.” This can be particularly problematic for small business owners, who are often judged by the value of their character to a greater amount than larger organizations.
To help leaders evaluate their commitment to business ethics, Pastin poses seven questions.
Do Your Actions Match Your Thoughts?
The old adage that actions speak louder than words is especially true, but many business leaders evaluate the strength of their ethics based on what they believe vs. what they do in practice.
To avoid this disconnect, Pastin recommends business leaders “look at their own behavior and evaluate how they would evaluate someone else who did the same things.”
How Do You Reward Loyalty?
“People who say they’re loyal may be working for a company that developed them and brought them along, but if they get a slightly better offer, they’re gone,” says Pastin.
Demonstrate you truly value loyalty from your employees by treating them fairly and they’ll stick with you even during leaner times.
How Do You Handle Whistle Blowers?
“When someone speaks up to identify a problem, the immediate instinct is to hurt that person,” says Pastin. “So really protect employees who bring you significant issues. Make sure there aren’t reprisals. Learn to love your whistle blowers.”
Employees should feel empowered to bring issues to the table, especially if the issue can pose an ethical breach down the road.
Do You Over-Promise?
It doesn’t matter if you are over-promising deliverables to a client, or making statements to your own team that you can’t fulfill, saying one thing and doing another is a proven way to erode trust with everyone directly affected by your words.
“When you say something, you’re committing the company, and not just yourself. It’s much better if the truth beats what you say than if what you say beats the truth.”
How Much Business Do You Get By Word-of-Mouth?
Word-of-mouth and referrals are strong indicators that people believe in your company, and your reputation is in good standing.
Pastin believes adhering to strong ethical principles contributes to a positive reputation, but he notes expectations for ethics tends to be fairly low among customers. How you treat customers coming to you with service issues or complaints reflects the value you put in them and their business.
How Do You Treat Vendors?
Businesses are customers, too. Consider how you treat customer service reps when you’re the customer.
“What ethical face are you presenting to the world? Your vendors probably know best,” Pastin says. “You usually show who you truly are to the people you’re paying.”
How Do You Deliver Bad News?
When facing the delivery of difficult or conflict-riddled news, how you deliver it says a lot about your ethical standards, as well as your commitment to a strong company culture.
Your employees will notice if bad news comes through an intermediary as opposed to directly from you.
“When there’s bad news, you need to point out something negative, or take a negative action, your willingness to own the consequences is a good measure of your ethics.”
How do you evaluate the strength of your ethics?