To The Point:
Ethics: You Still Out There?
I'm talking about business ethics, integrity and principles.
Several in my peer group of small business owners have experienced, or been witness to, recent ethical episodes we can't imagine having occurred as freely during our father's and grandfather's generation. Some have even gone so far as to wonder aloud whether ethical business standards will remain a "standard" in the years ahead.
How did we get here? Part of it, I think, is that there are fewer models of ethics today. Ask your employees to name a public figure that embodies the words ethics, integrity and principles and you'll be lucky to get a single living person. Many today know less about Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa and Winston Churchill than they do about professional athletes and entertainment personalities, a sad commentary in its own right.
Further, there are signs that we've entered a "Generation Me" age that disdains structure and brags about self interest as their guiding principle. E-technologies also allow behavior outside of the watchful eye of those who might otherwise keep them on the right track.
It wasn't so long ago that an ethical crisis put our own farm equipment industry (Walterman Implement) in the national headlines, with a mess still being cleaned up 5 years later. I'd argue that such downfalls, and others of the Enron variety, can be traced to a root decision, maybe made many years earlier, when ethics were shelved — perhaps over a so-called "minor" or a "temporary" indiscretion. But once principles are compromised, it becomes a "slippery slope."
Ethics are the foundation of everything we do in business, but often get little attention. While I'd put our management team and staff up against any measure, we'll soon be devoting management time to review, and discuss, the operating principles we established 5 years ago (see www.lesspub.com). In the meantime, here's some food for thought for all of us:
Finally, recognize those on your team who "live" your principles and mission. While standing before our employees and spouses at our 30th anniversary party last month, the collective character of our group hit me like a two-by-four, and brought words of appreciation and thanks.
Recognition of folks "doing things right" is another way to maintain that path. And that's a worthy guiding principle in its own right.