Ethics is not a rule book. Nor is it a one-stop shop for morality or goodness. It is your own personal discovery of where you stand, on all the issues affecting your life that require you to make ethical choices. And once you know that, all of your decisions, behaviours and actions become aligned with your long-term interests and needs. Ethics becomes a tool for you to make better, more empowered decisions that keep you on track with your objectives. Even if we are clear on our long-term interests, focusing on where we stand on everyday decisions; noticing how we behave in even the smallest of interactions; can actually cause us to re-examine our broader goals. If ethics is an awareness of the power we have to make a difference with every choice we make, then ethics is the most powerful force for change there is.
The way to create trust in business is to dig deep beyond the surface of things, to find the truth of the problem, and then fundamentally address it with honesty, integrity and collaboration. This is the essence behind any trust-based strategy. The content, negotiations and interactions will vary in each circumstance, but trust can only be truly restored with trust itself.
Ethics is your ability to create trust. It is your toolbox for success. Here’s why…
You have absolute power to choose your own behaviours. You can choose to be ethical or not, but this requires you to know what is, and what is not, ethical in your own mind. And also how you feel about the choices you are making, and what impact both have on you. In business, I doubt that you make big decisions without rationally evaluating them or acknowledging your ‘gut feel’ about them. The same is true of your ethics. Your challenge is to get in touch with your own true moral position, and thereby to take full responsibility for your actions. Every decision you make sets off a series of effects that cause impacts on a multitude of different people and events. The more you understand; why you make the choices you do, how they affect your goals, and what their impact is on others; the better your future choices will be – for yourself. Knowing where you stand ethically on all of these is the most important, powerful and liberating choice you can make. You create your own value system, designed to serve you.
This is where it gets uncomfortable, or life-changing, depending on your perspective, your confidence and your willingness to embrace the truth.
Being accountable to your own value system; even if you have chosen it yourself; is challenging! Your value system makes it harder for you to rationalise or justify harmful behaviours. It’s so much easier to operate without thinking about things, or on your own whims and impulses. But to restore trust, we need open, honest value systems. They alone provide the catalyst, the understanding and the consistency to bring hesitant, apprehensive or antagonistic parties together.
Ethics is personal, but when you understand yourself better, you see others more clearly too. You find your own position that you can live with comfortably, and although the principles you adhere to may be different from those of other people, this process creates trust in two ways. Internally, you feel less angst because you are not in conflict with your values, and this allows you to be more authentic. You trust yourself more, because you become yourself. People pick up on the authenticity you emanate, and this is a huge trust driver in itself. You don’t have to agree with someone to trust them. And they don’t have to agree with you, to trust you. To create trust, both parties absolutely must feel sure that the other will continue to act in the consistent manner they have demonstrated so far. Your individual value system makes this consistency possible. And deciding what your moral position is, determines your value system.
Ethics is both a logical and emotional process. We need good logic, or rationality, to make efficient and effective decisions. And we also need emotional awareness to recognise that our goals are not set by logic, but by what matters to us deep down. Logic cannot set our goals; it can merely help us reach them. Being ethical is a personal, human journey and humans are creatures of both logic and emotion. It is only by accepting this basic truth that we can understand the rawness of our own, and others’ decision-making.
Ethics then is really a commitment to a way of life that fits you personally and therefore, one that is in your deepest interest and benefit.
Business ethics is the same. It is a value system keeping everyone accountable to the recognised goals and aspirations of the company and all its stakeholders. Each company sets its own, independent and self-selected value system accordingly. It is therefore what makes sense in the long run for companies, their employees, their customers, their investors and their wider stakeholders based on making the best possible rational decisions in their interests.
One caveat: While everyone has a different value system, we all enjoy a shared experience. If there is one overarching personal value that I believe is essential in ethics, this is it: to treat all people with courtesy, respect and professionalism. That doesn’t mean you can’t fire someone if he runs off with the company silverware, or not provide constructive criticism. Do all of those things, and more, but with an air of civility.
By Omer Soker