March 15, 2017
Is a company’s main responsibility to make as much money as possible for its shareholders/owners or to make as much money as possible—under certain standards?
What do I mean by “certain standards?”
I mean ethics. But, business ethics can cast a wide net. It can speak to the actions of the individual who consciously makes the decision not to take the company stapler home, or it can refer to the company at large when it refuses to work with vendors who profit from child labor.
For many companies, the reality settles somewhere on a sliding scale. Some companies are more aggressive than others in creating and adhering to an ethics-based agenda from which all decisions flow.
There are distinct benefits for a company whose management bases their decisions in an ethical framework. Those benefits include:
- Attracting customers who align themselves with moral/ethical decisions
- Attracting and retaining employees
- Attracting potential investors
What about the individual? How can s/he develop an ethical framework, and what are the benefits?
An individual ethical framework begins with treating others with respect, being honest, trusting in others and acting in a way that others can trust and consistently striving to set a good example. In other words, build your ethical framework openly and lead by example. Be empathetic in your approach to working with others. Put yourself in their shoes and consider the implications of the decisions you need to make.
Further developing this ethical framework requires reflection and an understanding of what you value and how that compares to what most other people value. If you value equality, then ensure you are treating people equally and look at ways within the company where you, or the company as a whole, can do better. If you are an HR manager and have access to payroll files and can see women are generally paid less than men, begin to work on correcting that issue.
Are there benefits?
Treating others with respect and dignity fosters respect, especially when you are in a management role. But, it can also have a larger impact. In the example I noted above, until an individual draws attention to something they view as unethical, that policy or action is unlikely to change. When changes are made that improve people’s lives, that change has value, as does the employee who advocated for the change. S/he has effectively opened the eyes of others to look for other places to effect change. It can become contagious.
I encourage you to take some time to understand what it is you value and think about how that can shape the decisions you make personally and professionally.
Anne Converse Willkomm
Director, Graduate Studies