When asked what makes a business great, many people will think of a product, marketing campaign, or profit margin that helps the company stand out in some way. These are all valid answers, but one of the most important aspects of a successful business is rarely talked about in the news or at the boardroom table. A company’s set of ethics can determine everything from employee morale to gross profit at the end of the year. The following six characteristics can be found in all notable companies but can also be cultivated by an individual to enhance their daily life.
Honesty and integrity have been two of the main indicators of a reputable business since ancient Rome, when bakeries stamped their bread as a testament to the quality of its production. However, trustworthiness is much more involved than item condition and can be immensely profitable. A 2009 study from the Edelman Trust Barometer revealed that 91% of consumers prefer to buy products from a trusted and reputable company. Trustworthiness means infusing all actions with sincerity and responding to any task with a determination to be reliable and accountable. Businesses and individuals that are perceived as trustworthy will not only attract more business but will be able to take a greater sense of personal pride in their work.
In an increasingly global business community, approaching others with respect is an excellent way to encourage a wider exchange of ideas and goods. Respect for others means utilizing common courtesy and decency, such as quietly and actively listening to a speaker. Personal biases must be put aside, and manipulative methods of persuasion must be done away with. A respectful business will readily provide any relevant intelligence to an open discussion so as to facilitate an informed decision.
Responsibility means being accountable for one’s actions and behavior and can often mean the pursuit of excellence in order to better shoulder professional responsibilities. All decisions should be carefully considered, as they will affect the company as a whole. Work should be continued until complete, even if it involves more effort than initially anticipated. A responsible employee is one who can be counted on to persevere and make sensible choices. Responsible companies can avoid negative press attention and, as with the case of the 2010 BP oil spill, win back customer loyalty by acknowledging and taking steps to clean up after an error or accident.
At its most basic, fairness can be defined as ensuring that all business matters are handled consistently and with equal benefits in mind for all parties. Fairness also means entering into decisions or tasks without prejudice. A truly neutral decision cannot be reached if any part of the process is tainted by a preconceived idea about what the outcome or relevant facts should be. If a mistake is made, fairness dictates that one own up to it and do what is possible to fix the situation.
Few would describe the world of business as particularly empathetic, but compassion and kindness cannot be undervalued. People make up the beating heart behind all corporations, and good management will look after their employees to ensure that they are content. A 2007 poll by Sirota revealed that 90% of MBA students said they’d be willing to accept a lower salary if the company looked after and cared about its employees. The root of ethical behavior is a determination to treat people well. One cannot be trustworthy or fair if there is not an underlying attention to the well-being of others at the heart of the action.
Citizenship addresses the responsibility to one’s society. A company that values citizenship will strive to uphold all laws and will be accountable to the government under which it operates. The ultimate goal of citizenship is to make the world a more pleasant place to live, work, and explore. This can be accomplished through volunteer work, charitable donations, or, on a smaller scale, picking up trash on the way to the office.
- Making Ethical Decisions: Core Ethical Values: Becoming more successful in one’s personal and professional life may seem like a hard challenge. Cultivating these six characteristics is a great place to start.
- Creating and Sustaining an Ethical Workplace Culture: Maintaining an ethical business depends on more than one person. Morality is a team effort, and this article outlines the steps needed to implement a change in everyone from management to secretarial staff.
- Business Ethics: The Power of Doing the Right Thing: In the world of business, it can be tempting to forgo honesty or integrity in favor of increasing profits or public perception. This piece explains how doing the right thing can actually be the smartest move a company can make.
- The Role of Ethics in 21st-Century Organizations: Ethics in business have always been a tricky field to regulate, and like all fields, it’s constantly refined through time. See how ethics are valued in today’s economy with this article from Regent University.
- Ethical Issues Across Cultures (PDF): Morality is not a universally defined set of values. Ethical behavior changes according to the specific culture and country, but as this article illustrates, international business arrangements can still be achieved with due dilligence and introspection.
- The Building Blocks of Business Ethics: Most companies have a list of values that, ideally, every employee should uphold. The difference between these companies and genuinely ethical businesses lies in the day-to-day enforcement of these qualities.
- The Need for Ethical Norms (PDF): Should all businesses be required to operate by the same ethical standards? This paper discusses the possible benefits of a universal system of morality.
- Ethics Handbook (PDF): For a look at what a code of ethics entails, take a peek at this handbook from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The work may be rocket science, but the morality behind it can be easily understood and applied by anyone.