This article originally appeared in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, Sunday August 25, 2013.
The practical benefits of good ethics in business are similar to the importance of proper breathing during physical exercise. Without learning to breathe fully and properly, your exercise regimen will be cumbersome, uncoordinated and unsuccessful. So, too, with a business that does not practice good ethics: every move becomes labored because healthy, cohesive relationships are difficult to establish and maintain.
Economics is the study of how people actually behave in the valuing and exchanging of economic goods and services. Ethics focuses on how one ought to behave during these activities. When your business constantly practices good ethics, it becomes strong, agile, and quick, like a well-conditioned athlete. An ethical team has members who make the right choices by choosing the greater good at stake in each situation. Ethical muscles develop from choosing freely and rightly as a habit, not from blind obedience to authority.
Knowing, wanting, choosing, prioritizing and securing the greater good are the conditioning drills of an ethical organization. It means that every employee knows what is ethical and has developed a desire or passion toward it. He or she chooses the right action, then acts ethically and, ultimately, achieves good and sustainable results or accepts the consequences.
While we tend to trust ourselves by our intentions, we trust others by their actions. When we consistently demonstrate ethical conduct, our colleagues extend us their trust, enabling the organization to work as a unified, healthy body. Each part breathes fully and freely, and activates its potential as it works toward the same aim.
Five benefits flow to those who seek and practice ethical excellence in business:
Increased KNOWLEDGE of what is good (and bad).
Established TRUST among the participants.
Reduced RISK because the more we know the more we can avoid doing the wrong thing.
Improved PRIORITIZATION because we know how to choose rightly among competing goods.
Increased PROFIT. A business has an ethical imperative to make money. How we make money affects our reputation and the good will on the balance sheet of our business.
The best businesses teach their employees how to answer the question, “What should I choose?” Employees are at varying levels of moral reasoning, so it helps to have guidelines. Just as athletes learn to understand and respect the rules of the game, employees need common sense policies and codes of conduct to educate and to assist them in building healthy ethical muscles to choose well in their work.
Here are some ways to get started:
Visit the Rochester Area Business Ethics Foundation (RABEF) website to learn more on how to foster high-standard business ethics within your company or nominate a local organization for its ethical behavior through the annual ETHIE Award.
Find out how your ethical edge compares with others’ by taking our Ethics Poll Survey
Remember, practice good ethics and the profits will follow.