Lay a Strong Foundation With Business Ethics
Originally published: 12.01.10 by W. Theodore (Theo) Etzel
Get everyone on the same page with ongoing reminders of core values.
Since the concept of ethics is subjective and based primarily on relative terms and perspectives, discussing it in the abstract sense can be difficult, so let us start with a concrete definition. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, ethics is:
- The discipline dealing with what is good and bad; and with moral duty and obligation.
- A set of moral principles; a theory or system of moral values; the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group; a guiding philosophy; a consciousness of moral importance.
- A set of moral issues or aspects (as rightness). Generally, then, ethics is the focus on what is right and what is wrong and what guiding principles should be used to determine and direct your actions.
The French literary figure and pseudophilosopher Albert Camus defines ethics this way: “A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world.” The need for behavioral guidance in business and life is, therefore, imperative.
At Conditioned Air, we have built our business on core values, which are part of our Mission Statement. These core values hang in all of our offices, and are repeated in all of our company meetings. Our core values are the bullet points for the way in which we want to interact with everyone with whom we come in contact: clients, employees, vendors, and stake holders.
These core values are: Integrity, Respect, Safety, Purposeful Effort, and Exceed Expectations. When decisions are held up against these ideals, the outcome is much easier to see. And, since we regard these as truths for our company’s behavior, it gets us all on the same page for group behavior.
Anyone who compromises their actions by not following the foundations of our business ethics stands out like a sore thumb and gets noticed for the wrong reasons. Ethics and their roots have practical applications for business beyond just a statement on paper. Here is my explanation of how Conditioned Air’s core values benefit everyone involved in our business: Integrity Integrity is always doing the right thing for people in a truthful way.
Sometimes we don’t always do things right. But when we make a mistake, we don’t hide, cover it up, or run. We go out of our way to make it right, and then some. It is somewhat surprising, and a sad statement on our society, how impressed and overjoyed people are when we do, for a second time, what we should have done the first time with no fanfare. We get customers for life because we turned a mistake into a marvel.
That same principal holds for the advertising we do. No gimmicks, no hype, and no come-ons. This represents how we want to be known in the community. Holding decisions about pricing, commission structure, rates of pay, warranties, etc., up to the integrity test helps to guide the outcome of the question: Is this the right thing to do and not just our right to do this?
Respect is easy to show to someone who is about to hand you money and consummate a sale. But showing respect to the people you work closely with is absolutely essential to build trust and ethical behavior in the workplace. It’s funny how easy it is to not make an effort around the people who know you best or the ones we love. We know they accept us as we are.
But being lax around the people who represent the image that the company wants to portray sends the wrong message about how to act to the outside world. Showing respect, with a caring attitude, toward people’s feelings, ideas, concerns, time, and contributions elevates the entire organization.
For instance, being on time to meetings, paying attention to someone and not acting distracted, and valuing their input to a problem even if they don’t have the solution all show respect for the individual. Why should someone show respect to a customer if they don’t feel they receive any respect at work?
Safety may not sound like a value statement, but I believe it ties right back into respect and integrity. I never wish to knowingly put someone in harm’s way on the job just because a quicker/cheaper/ faster, less safe procedure is out there. I want all our people to respect health over profits and understand that those two ideas are not mutually exclusive but that, in fact, a safe workplace actually costs less to operate.
Safety, therefore, is an investment in our people and their families since coming back to work healthy, the next day, is our goal. All our people know that they have the right to call a supervisor to evaluate what they consider to be an unsafe situation.
We have had to walk away from clients due to unsafe working conditions and their refusal to take corrective actions. Our people see that we put into action what we say in our meetings. We have an extensive safety program, and are always looking to improve it.
That brings this topic to the top of everyone’s mind, and we invest in it throughout the year. (See the May 2007, issue of HVACR Business at www.hvacrbusiness.com for an article on Conditioned Air’s Safety Bucks program.)
Purposeful Effort. Why don’t we just say Effort? I see a significant difference between activity and productivity. Not aiming your effort in the right direction can lead to a lot of activity with very few results; or even the wrong results.
Understanding your purpose in the life of the company will help to direct your activity and turn it into productivity, gaining ground on the challenges before you. Again, showing respect to our fellow employees and customers by not wasting their valuable time is a virtue that helps not only each person involved but brings more efficiency to the organization.
Exceeding Expectations is something we want to do to set ourselves apart from the rest of the competition. If we say we can fix your comfort problem, show up on the day we said we would, arrive when we said we would, fix the problem and get paid for it, my great grandmother would have given us a letter grade of C. All we did was meet an expectation — nothing more and hopefully nothing less.
This can also apply to our employees. If we tell you to show up for 40 hours a week, and we pay you for 40 hours, we have met our legal obligation. We want people to want to come to work. I realize it is called work and not “coming to fun.” I’m not sugarcoating the fact that we have to have our game on when we are here. But I do want people to enjoy being here and look forward to the day with our team.
The little extras we do through our Joy Committee and some of the surprises that happen on a random basis make the days a little lighter from time to time. Above all, showing respect and recognizing the value each person brings to the team go such a long way in making the atmosphere more enjoyable at work.
Public recognition for accomplishments when people exceed the expectations of a customer, a vendor, or a fellow teammate reinforces the desire to reach higher and do more than is expected. Our growing customer base from referrals and the longevity of clients and employees alike show the practical impact on the company’s performance.
The ethics employed by any business is a direct reflection of the ethics and morals of the leadership. For all organizations, ethics are top-down driven, and actions speak louder than words. If what is printed and what is practiced are not in alignment, what is practiced wins every time.
To me, growing and leading a business is much like parenting a child: They (employees and children) will behave in the fashion that they see. Holding strong to principles means making some very tough and painful decisions from time to time. But yielding to a momentary easy way out will have lasting consequences that can undermine the foundations already laid for the company.
The principles by which you choose to run the company should, and will, permeate all policies and procedures for the team. If your company has a set of values it lives by but you haven’t highlighted them and held them up to the entire team, may I suggest you do so.
It is a powerful exercise and, coupled with transparency and actions that exemplify the mission of your company, can be transforming for everyone involved. When members of your team really internalize the values that are held in the highest esteem, almost instantly a peer-to-peer checksand- balances system is developed.
The quality of the workforce that is attracted improves, and the reputation for how things are done at your company spreads quickly. I enjoy my sleep. I, like you, have certain things that keep me up at night from time to time. I don’t need to add one more reason to lose sleep by compromising the core values I hold dear.
We must be true to ourselves and reflect that to our people. We all have to look at ourselves in the mirror. In fact, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite poems: The Face in the Glass by Dale Wimbrow.
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