Business ethics: Don’t compromise your principles

    March 6, 2006

Business ethics are one of those topics that receives much discussion, but sadly, not always enough action.

In your own business, taking action on maintaining ethical business practices is essential. It may be the difference between running a successful business, and joining the legion of failed companies, watching regretfully from the sidelines.

Instead of merely talking about business ethics, it’s time to do something about them. While perhaps not as glamourous as discussions of sales, marketing, public relations, and personnel management, honesty is equally as important. In fact, ethics could be even more important as the level of honesty you and your company display is reflected in every aspect of your business. Good faith builds companies. Bad faith can destroy firms even more quickly.

Almost every business has a mission statement, worded more or less, very vaguely and in general terms. Seldom are business ethics part of that mission statement, except as part of overall customer service. While good customer service is part of maintaining an ethical business, they are only part of the whole picture. The philosopy of ethical business must permeate the entire company and encompass every business activity. That blanket coverage includes internal and external business relationships.

For most business people, ethical business practices start and end with customer service. Let’s start there ourselves. Clearly, the treatment of customers, in either a good or bad manner, is the most prominent application of business ethics. If customers are lied to, made promises the business has no intention to keep, or charged for products or services vastly inferior to the initial agreement, those costomers will leave.

Not only will the former clients stop patronizing your business, they will tell everyone they know about their bad experiences. Word of mouth advertising and viral marketing are trusted by other people. When someone has a great experience with a business, they tell their friends and family. When the business reneges on their side of the bargain, that information is shared as well. Not only are stories about a firm’s less than honest business pactices spread more often than good news, that same bad news travels faster than the speed of light.

The sound you don’t hear is your former customers, voting with their feet, over to your competitors. To make matters worse, those one time clients are taking potential new business with them. The damage to your bottom line is difficult to quantify. Suffice it to say that you’ll feel the pain.

Sales and marketing are other areas where ethics are very important, to the point of being crucial. Don’t be fooled into thinking that misleading advertising and sales claims will help boost your company revenues. It may be true that a small uptick in gross income could really take place. The problem is the gains are an illusion at best, and very short lived. At the same time, you know that you have tried to trick your clients and customers. That’s not something I would want to live with. Would you?

If your company conducts research, and it should, make certain that the results are honest and not distorted to make them fit a preferred outcome. Whether market research, or painstaking scientific study, all research should be done openly and honestly. This is especially true if your results are for publication. Falsifying test results that endanger other people using your company products and services is unforgivable. Keep all of your research honest for everyone’s sake.

Business ethics are not something that can be treated in a cavalier fashion, and then discarded. If you truly believe your company has a role to play in the development of the economy, and in the enhancement of people’s lives, ethical business practices must become a way of life for your firm.

Make certain that everyone in your organization, from top to bottom, shares the ethical vision.

Your customers, your employees, and your own conscience, will thank you for it.

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Wayne Hurlbert provides insigtful information about marketing, promotions, search engine optimization and public relations for websites and business blogs on the popular Blog Business World.

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