Chief executives, directors and their companies must grapple with the hard work of being ethical amidst the driving daily pressures and competition of the business world. To operationalize those goals, teams overseeing many areas of the company are constantly involved in building and protecting a company’s greatest asset: the trust that clients, customers and stakeholders place in the integrity of the company brand.
The quantity, complexity and costs of instruments, programs, tools and certifications in both compliance and human resources only continues to grow. These hard-earned assets could yield more return on investment if a proportionally less expensive, but highly valuable investment were made in focusing on applying ethics in their own right to the company mission, values, and brand. Across sectors, ethics are spoken about abstractly and subjectively, and treated as the province of philosophers and religious school teachers.
The role of ethics in decision-making is often viewed as subjective, gray and amorphous, outside the realm of measurement, uniform application, or reliable prediction. Where companies accept this philosophy, even if they do so tacitly or unconsciously, they are exposing themselves to costly and embarrassing scandals and mistakes, often made by one or few people, but which can quickly decrease a company’s value or damage public trust.
Ethics can be taught and learned, practiced and improved, documented and even measured. Applying ethical principles to the unique business situations and experience may be an art as well as a learned and practiced skill. But no more so, however, than what surgeons encounter in the uniqueness of every patient and procedure, pilots flying in varying weather, traffic and other conditions, or cyclists and athletes competing on new terrain.
Surgeons, pilots and athletes prepare for new challenges through education, training and experience. But how many companies or sectors are actually incorporating pathways to serious ethical development for their workforce into their business models?
In fact, since time immemorial, diverse traditions, texts and teachers of ethics commonly agree that
No matter what the profession, if we’re serious about a skill, we practice it diligently and systematically. In order to have an ethical culture, brand and reputation we can be proud of, we need to view ethics like every other resource that we bring to our goals for success.