Thursday, October 16, 2014
One way to get a reaction from me is to tell me that "business ethics" is a contradiction of terms. Yes, we see our share of bad conduct, but business should not be defined by the worst examples. There are so many good people out there trying to live their lives well and operate their businesses with integrity. Sadly, that does not make the news.
I attended a fascinating panel discussion last night in Little Rock, and an interesting question was put forth. Are ethics still relevant? The ensuing discussion explored a range of topics, from the demise of absolute standards to the importance of personal values. What promotes a culture of relevant ethics?
First, we need a healthy vision. Our organizational vision should point us to a better future where our efforts have resulted in some kind of positive, beneficial development. A vision to grow simply for the sake of growing is lacking. A good vision makes us better and gives us healthy purpose. Growing a culture of ethical relevance requires that we are intentional about that vision and that we continually reorient ourselves to the better future that we desire.
Second, we have to grow ethical relevance as a team. "Culture" by definition is something shared by a group, and healthy culture is not created by edict. This is not rocket science. The group has to get together and thrash out their values, goals, boundaries, and so forth. They need to write these things on the walls and keep encouraging, calling each other out, and holding group members accountable to what is important.
Third, we need to remember that we are "in the world but not of the world." When we set standards of conduct, we will soon find ourselves at odds with others who do not share those values or who choose not to respect our honorable vision. Setting standards will ultimately give us the opportunity to fight for those standards. The higher they are, the greater the fight.
Choose to create a world where ethics are relevant. Create a vision for a better world. Work out the values and boundaries of that world with your team. Be ready to fight to defend that world.
Want to join the discussion? Attend one of our Ethical Leadership events this month in Rogers and Fort Smith.
Dr. Joe Walenciak, DeanSoderquist College of Business at John Brown University