Major brands such as Facebook, Volkswagen, Starbucks, and most recently Papa John’s have endured controversies that called into question their ethical practices.
Those companies are only the latest to be exposed for problems that consumers and those knowledgeable about corporate culture often link with a lack of ethical standards at the highest executive level. This can cause an erosion in the public’s trust, which in turn eats away at a company’s bottom line. Research by Mintel revealed 56 percent of U.S. consumers stop buying from companies they believe are unethical, and it also showed that more than 60 percent of consumers think ethical issues are becoming more important.
There’s an opportunity here for companies to get ahead of the curve by incorporating better ethics before damage control forces it upon them.
Controversies and scandals in corporations have the power to shift them from moral autopilot to an energized manual control, where they are acutely aware of their actions and their impact. But it doesn’t and shouldn’t require misfortune to switch things up.
As powerful public figures and corporate executives are switched to the truths of equality and justice, the costs of their unethical decision-making become crystal clear to everyone. The dominoes are still falling daily. But never doubt that a rising cry for equity and opportunity can change hearts and grow into a global mind shift.
Here are five steps for business leaders to help their companies avoid ethical problems and elevate ethical development.
1. Be your own guru.
A good leader asks questions of those he most trusts. In helping shape a stronger ethical foundation, how do they view the leader’s own views of right and wrong? Your decisions are yours, and every step up the moral ladder is yours. Make those choices wisely and while knowing every tier of your organization will be well-supported with a well-thought-out ethical foundation.
2. Practice “behindism.”
Leave the old “isms” behind. Your actions, justifications, rationalizations and explanations should always be worthy of the trust of others. Concentrate on the question, ‘Is this action going to create more trust with the others, or erode it?’.
3. Pass around your decoder ring.
Share your codes liberally. Let people know what you’re saying and what you mean. Be forthright, transparent. Hiding behind words or the true meaning of your words is part of an unethical action.
4. Trustworthiness is as trustworthiness does.
Transformation is a challenging process ensuring incredible and life-changing possibilities. The opportunities in building trust are limitless, so concentrate your actions around those that build up your trustworthiness.
5. Watch what you “eat.”
These are ethical acid tests, or EATs: Does your decision stand up to public scrutiny? What if it appeared on the cover of the local newspaper or was broadcast? Do you want your significant other, children, colleagues or bosses to do this same thing? Does this decision advance the long-term common good?
What you think about ethics becomes your ethics. If you believe ethics are grey, you will find yourself in greyer and greyer situations where the choices get blurrier. Where you see, know and act with the assurance that ethics are there to tell us right from wrong, you will be put into more and more situations where the answer is obvious – despite the complexity of the circumstances.
Dr. Christopher Gilbert, the author of “There’s No Right Way to Do the Wrong Thing“, is an international ethics consultant and senior consultant/speaker at NobleEdge Consulting. Having spent much of his career focused on the study of human moral development, Dr. Gilbert has over 30 years of experience in organizational development as a strategic facilitator and leadership and operations consultant.