Increasingly, customers are scrutinizing the businesses and corporations they visit and hold their practices under a microscope. Consumers expect ethical behavior from companies and once a reputation is lost, it is almost impossible for a company to gain it back. Running an ethical organization, with a strong ethical business culture is imperative.
There are no shortcuts to good ethics, but there are measured steps leaders and owners can take to instill them in their businesses. Here are five to get you started.
Develop Clear Ethical Standards
What does “ethical” mean to you? What would an ethical business look like in practice?
Often we say would like an ethical workplace, but then find it hard to pin down what that means. If you want to truly change your company culture, you’ll need to be able to articulate what you want that change to be and look like.
Write down a list of ethical standards and spell things out. For example, don’t just say, “Employees should be transparent.” Instead, define that transparency by saying, “Employees need to disclose all fees upfront before closing any sale.” Remember that people have an easier time adopting concrete actions over abstract ideas.
Communicate Your Standards
Once you’ve created a clear list of ethical standards for your business, make sure you communicate them to every one of your employees. In the process, ask for feedback to make sure they’re understood. You may find you need to adjust some of the wording after sharing them with your staff, and that’s okay. In fact, incorporating their input helps give ownership to them, making employees more willing to conform to the standards.
After they’re hammered out, find a way to communicate these standards regularly. They could be hung in a prominent place, read before meetings or included in memos. Refer to them often, so they become part of your company’s lexicon.
Model Those Standards
There’s no “do as I say, not as I do” when it comes to ethical behavior. Your employees will take their signals from you. If you’re not following through on the standards you set forward, they’ll feel license to do the same. Show how important ethics are to you by living up to your company’s ethical code.
Create Public Accountability
Knowing your employees are watching creates motivation for you to act ethically. Knowing customers are watching can motivate your whole staff.
Make it a priority for the public to know what your ethical standards are. You can post them on your website and include them in promotional materials. Let customers know what they should expect from you, and they’ll hold you to it.
Impose Rewards and Consequences
Finally, have clear cause-and-effect consequences for anyone–yourself included–who cut corners or cross ethical boundaries and rewards for those who adhere to them.
Rewards and punishments should be transparent so that all employees understand how the system works, as well as gain encouragement to do the right thing. Conferring perks, suspending privileges or giving positive public recognition or in-house apologies are ways to reinforce positive ethics or punish unsavory tactics.
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