Today business ethics are being challenged to the very core and to the very notion of how we conduct our business. But what is business ethics? Since the start of the financial crisis businesses have been reaffirming their business ethics, and putting more emphasis in their websites on words such as Integrity and trust. I have seen vocabulary on corporate sites like ‘ground-breaking best practices’ and ‘impeccable integrity’ or ‘transparency is our key.’ To the point I fear no one knows who to believe anymore. Trust has been abused extensively over the past boom period and now even more during the crisis when persons are being cleverer than ever before in increasing turnover or profit whereby covering their own conduct.
The definition of integrity means honest, wholeness or soundness and consistency of character. In my view business ethics should be treated as the same as your own personal code or own moral conduct. There is no difference. It is in the person that counts not the business because it is the people that drive the business. If we are good in our business but show no personal moral conduct i.e. with our colleagues or at home or in private, how can we put the word integrity in front of the businesses we represent? How can we be a whole and a sound person? This goes both ways in the sense that we could have impeccable family values but behave without any integrity or code of conduct at work in for example serving solely for our own purpose.
What is a personal moral conduct? It does not take a rocket scientist to figure that one out. It is everything in our behaviour and our conscience to knowing what is right and what is wrong and to act accordingly. It starts from our interior that is why it is so often hidden to others. From one end of the spectrum it is from deceitfulness, anger/bitterness, jealousy/resentment, idleness, our sexual behaviour, vulgarity, indulgence to our very own pride, fear, ruthless ambition and greed to name but a few. At the other end it is love (pureness of heart) & forgiveness, charity/kindness, and courage/endurance, clarity of conscience humility & patience, wisdom, hope and faith. Please read http://blog.timemcg.com/2012/07/are-we-still-at-crossroads.html to understand my 4 person paradigm.
If we don’t get a hang of any of these in our own self, how are we able to show that we are ethical in business? Seriously! Or would you rather that we continue with the very notion that if you are making money in business, we don’t ask questions? The two are intertwined. You don’t honestly believe that we can leave our loving family in the morning and put on a different face mask when we go to work. In some case I have seen business men (and women) behave without values both at home and at work. This crisis is teaching us that we really have to raise our bar in our own self. One does not buy or sell values, they are instilled in us and it is up to each of us to work on them ourselves.
In the past when I was in a client facing business of making money and had the ‘desire’ to make more, I behaved in front of my prospects and clients impeccably. I was good at that and I knew how (otherwise if I faltered I may lose the deal). But my private life and my personal conduct behind closed walls was to be ashamed of. We all tolerated certain stories and actions and we laughed and found them amusing. How is it I represented a major company that ‘portrayed’ itself to have integrity when my own personal self-did not? It is called leading a life of duplicity. If today this is still true in our society and common practice, I fear that business or the very concept of it could be over. The cracks will appear and become visible in our actions; we then lose sight of ourselves and therefore our business practices.
Incidentally after much suffering I had to find faith to get myself in order. It helped me to re-instil a proper moral conduct in action and in conscience and therefore to be true to myself or become master of my own self and at the same time find a peace of mind. Therefore I happen to believe that it is only our Christian faith that is at the heart of our moral and personal conduct that we can really show a human depth, dignity and aim to serve a purpose. But that is me. (Note I am not super human as I still have my faults!)
To sound more down to earth it is up to business leaders or individuals to do their own soul searching and to work out who they really are and what they are here to do and to change if they have to. There are many ways in doing this. This takes time, maybe a few trial and errors along the way or through the school of ‘hard knocks’ and I suppose a little courage. If by chance you are consistent to your own value system home and away then I believe there must be some substance in putting integrity & trust at the heart of how we conduct our business. Our lives and careers become more interesting and with a purpose.
When we look at reality what have we achieved? We seemed to have turned into a world of masquerades, where money and ruthless ambition drives us to a sub-par conduct as it so often does and the concept of shame or guilt has no relevance simply because others do the same. Tolerance appears to have gone over board and Integrity and trust vanished into thin air. Whole communities have their value system turned upside down. Families are being pulled apart like never before. Society aswell as our institutions are confused and so are many of our business leaders and politicians.
In business we simply increase regulation and push for growth? What are we being asked to do? You want us to work harder and follow more rules? What we need is to re-evaluate our own moral standing to see where we are. Growth without any personal code defeats all purposes. When we neglect our mind we can neglect our body and our heart. It just comes down to more time thinking, to stand up and to get a better grip of our own conscience and not just do and follow where the wind blows or lose ourselves in the desert.
Looking at our western hemisphere from a distance, it seems that the nature of the beast has gripped us at such a superficial level. He now governs. When he governs, our conscience is numbed, then dulled and finally silenced. Business ethics or double standards? God only knows.
‘Integrity has no need of rules’ Albert Camus