The following is an excerpt from upcoming book, 56 Notions of Ethics
A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world. – Albert Camus
One of the most difficult attitudes to deal with in business is the attitude that there is a difference between business decisions and personal decisions. I know you’ve heard it: “It’s not personal, it’s just business.” The statement is given as if it is an axiom of truth.
It could not be further from the truth.
Underlying the statement is a belief in two sets of ethics: one for business relationships and one for personal relationships. Ethics are ethics! There are not two different standards for behavior. People are people. Whether the context is business relationships or personal relationships, both are dealing with acceptable conduct between persons.
There simply is no such thing as “business ethics”.
Nor is there a difference between business relationships and personal relationships. Business deals with people. That makes its relationship “personal”. What is being exchanged is more than money for goods: there is an exchange of value based on trust. People are willing to release the fruit of their hard earned labor when they trust they are receiving something of equal or superior value. The relationship, even in a business context, is literally a personal one.
I was once called to a meeting as a witness. A particular sales agent we will name Silvia was caught in the middle of a controversy. Her high performance encouraged management to ignore details of previous sales. However, this time, it appeared Silvia had forged signatures on a contract.
When questioned, Silvia confessed that the signatures were not that of the applicant. She justified the outcome by stating her managers wanted high production that week. They instructed her to “do whatever it takes” to meet her target. In her mind, she was being true to her instruction. She was being a team player. A matter of legality was inconvenient. The law existed only as a guide, not a rule.
In many ways, Sylvia was a product of her environment. Her company lacked ethics. They had no enforced culture of accountability except that of the law. That meant agents had no rules to operate by within the context of their job, “so long as it was legal.”
John Maxwell, in his work titled, There Is No Such Thing As “Business” Ethics, explains that when an organization is dependent on the law as its standard for ethics, that organization is morally bankrupt.
The Company was guilty of thinking Sylvia’s personal actions could be separated from the Company’s business decisions. They were caught out because both had the Law as a backstop. That meant “anything goes” on the playing field until the ball hits the backstop. It is like trying to play softball without rules.
A business without clearly identifiable values to which they are held accountable is a business morally bankrupt. Success is not fulfilling a selfish goal, it is adding value. Value to the lives of others as well as your own. Values are created in the context of society not selfishness.
Many sales persons create their own values in a vacuum. They justify unethical behavior believing it is a path to Success. Reaching a position of success does not entitle you to unfettered behavior. It actually does the opposite. The more successful you become the more you need to be held accountable.
Truly successful organizations create a Code of Conduct and hold themselves accountable. Such public action creates trust and enforces value in their market relationship. Ethically-based value is more powerful in the marketplace then newly earned Success.
Challenge: Ethics incorporates an unconscious power created by relationships. Do I use that power to add value in the lives of others? Or do I use that power to promote my personal agenda?