Use three simple attributes for excellence: values, ethics and integrity.
Organizations are not much different than individuals. Like individuals, they have a core DNA to direct their efforts and nurture their culture. Organizations need to stress three attributes that should be at the forefront of how all businesses operate: values, ethics and integrity. These should make up the core DNA, but all too often we hear of organizations taking high-risk, high-reward approaches, compromising their organization’s core values and ultimately, their credibility.
As children, our parents and teachers taught us right from wrong, good from bad. They set up a system of values and consistently enforced those values. Over time, we forged our own moral compass and learned to model our daily behavior based on our own internal code of ethics. As we grew into adults, we developed and shaped our personal codes. Organizations should apply that same approach in designing standard ethical guidelines for conducting business. This shouldn’t be hard to fathom, as it is people, not calloused and insensitive robots, at the heart of organizations.
From Top to Bottom
Core values come from the top. For an organization to have a solid, realistic set of ethical guidelines, the creation of a standard code should begin at the top. While this sounds hierarchal, if the leader does not believe, embrace and represent the ethical standards of the company, there is little hope that those in the organization will embrace them and develop an ethical culture in return.
Once the senior leaders of the organization develop a set of ethical codes, they must be implemented throughout the organization, from top to bottom. Every person in the organization should be equipped with the knowledge to handle moral dilemmas using a standard set of guidelines that do not deviate or bend upon preference. This is where many organizations’ ethical codes tend to fall apart.
A well thought-out corporate mission, vision and core values statement are important in driving business strategy. To make core values and strategies relevant, it is critical that they are embraced by senior leadership and regularly and clearly communicated throughout all levels of the organization. One method for ensuring everyone is on board is by building a “values evaluation” into the annual performance review process and through continuous education and monitoring. As an organization evolves and takes shape, so do its core values.
Creating Values and Abiding by Them
Core values serve as the anchor. In order to create value, we must have a commitment to core values as guideposts to appropriate business behavior. Creating value requires care, courage and commitment to purpose. Courage includes having fierce conversations intended to help the business progress. The focus on values includes a desire to win and envisioning the future—not whining and wallowing in the past. Organizations must learn from the past, but not be a hostage to it.
To create sustainable business value that will endure for decades, organizations must set standards and then abide by them. This can be difficult, because it may mean walking away from business relationships or partnerships if core values of the organizations are in conflict. While this firm approach initially feels like going against the grain, more often than not, the companies with the highest ethical values are the winners over a sustained period of time.
A common myth is that an organization cannot simultaneously increase sales, protect its interests and be ethically sound. However, many would argue that each component is reliant on the others. By creating a standard set of ethical guidelines, organizations are laying the groundwork to protect their best interests. While gains are not always quantifiable in the short term, these organizations will be building a foundation of prosperity for years to come.
The Trifecta: Core Values, Leadership and Strategy
Business value and ethics are synonymous. Without a definitive set of guidelines and practices, organizations will inevitably try to increase their bottom lines by whatever means necessary—even if it means compromising established values. Regretfully, there are several modern-day examples. The effects of Enron and Bernie Madoff, for instance, loom for investors and employees alike, and we all know how those stories ended. In both cases, the idea of getting ahead cost some their freedom and countless others their life savings.
To be successful, organizations must synchronize values with desired business outcomes. If organizations have a commitment to the right core values (respect, integrity, trust, teamwork, passion for serving customers, etc.), but not the right leadership and strategy, they are doing a disservice to customers and all other stakeholders. The emphasis should be on doing both. Ethics should be at the core of what makes a business run—an essential gene in the DNA. An organization’s leadership cannot turn a blind eye when it comes to values, or they might just end up another disaster on front page news. iBi