Breaking news may feature the Enron debacle, WorldCom activities, or accounting problems but we live our everyday business life making ethical choices that affect our employment and businesses. Consider the ethical choices made in these situations:
-A restaurateur hired a firm, used the firm's ideas, benefited from them and refused to pay for the services rendered.
-A partner used intellectual property created by another partner for his own personal benefit.
-An independent consultant who was hired to sell a particular firm's services and products used that firm's database of customers and prospects to sell his own speaking services.
-An employee took a new job with a prospect's firm and continued on working both jobs until the first employer found out and fired her.
-A business person volunteered to perform specific services for a nonprofit organization and failed to perform those services, did not make other arrangements to perform the services, or even acknowledge that the commitment had been made.
-An employee used hours of regular, paid, in-office time to research how to start her own new business.
While these are not on the newsworthy scale of an Enron, they are on a scale that affected each business involved, some even resulting in disastrous outcomes.
We all try to learn from our own mistakes and from those of others as well. We now employ lawyers to write, review and potentially defend every business agreement. We are ready to go to court if need be. The distressing fact is all of that preparation and cost still will not stop someone from behaving unethically. And unethical behavior may indeed still be legal behavior.
What is so difficult about applying the concept of right and wrong to everyday business decisions? I would venture a guess that, sociopathic behavior aside, the vast majority of business people know when they are about to do something that is ethically questionable. Most will have a debate in their own minds about should I or shouldn't I. What is your instant response when you get change for a $20 when you know you gave the clerk a $10? The answer to that internal debate is what determines our ethical behavior.
While we can point fingers at corporations, lawmakers and politicians, we have a personal responsibility to contribute to the ethical fabric in our everyday life. So how can we support each other is those debates? What can we do to help each other arrive at an ethical decision and behave in an ethical manner?
I challenge every ethical business person to step up and make your voice heard when you witness unethical behavior. You not only have the right, you have the responsibility to do so.
I challenge every business organization, every chamber of commerce, every professional association, every Rotary, Lions and other Club, to participate in a meaningful way in actively rebuilding business ethics. Not just in your mission statement, but in your day-to-day member services and even through your own leadership.
There are many ways to start right now to begin rebuilding a strong culture of business ethics. Use your ubiquitous brown bag lunch sessions to address the everyday dilemmas of business ethics. Select a speaker for your next luncheon who can address the process of making ethical decisions. Have round table discussions about solving ethical problems. Schedule an ethics workshop at your next leadership retreat.
And on a personal level, participate in those meetings, sessions and roundtables. You can also mentor other business owners, business people, employees and students in the practical applications of day-to-day business ethics. We need you to let your colleagues know that you find it unacceptable to behave in an unethical manner. Make it plain and simple. Be clear with your peers that they can expect you to be ethical in your actions and that you welcome communication if they ever think you are behaving otherwise.
Let's apply the 80-20 rule. If 80% of business people are operating in an outwardly supportive, ethical environment, don't you think it will affect the 20% who are going through that internal ethical debate? We can affect this ethical morass we find ourselves in. Let's stop blaming the rest of the world, take a look in the mirror and make some changes.
* From the 1976 film "Network" written by Paddy Chayefsky. The line was delivered by Peter Finch who played anchorman Howard Beale.
Gloria Berthold is President of TargetGov at Marketing Outsource Associates, Inc. She is one of Maryland's Top 100 Women, a Winner of the Innovator of the Year Award,
Past-Chairwoman of the Baltimore/Washington Corridor Chamber of Commerce, a national speaker, educator and expert in government contracting and effective business-to-business marketing strategies. She can be reached through http://www.targetgov.com