Harvey Mackay

Companies Must Live by a Code

A dejected father confided in his pastor with a problem: His youngster had been caught cheating on a test at school. He was crushed, feeling like he had failed as a father, and was concerned it would saddle the child with a reputation for dishonesty.

“The worst thing that can happen to a youngster starting school,” said the father, “is to get caught cheating.”

“Not at all,” said the clergyman. “The worst thing at the start of a person’s life is to cheat and NOT get caught.”

What is a good parent’s main job? The days of simply supporting the family financially may be over, according to a Pew Research Center report. Asked what’s “extremely important” for a father to provide, a telephone survey of 1,004 American adults got these findings:

-- Values and morals: 58 percent

-- Emotional support: 52 percent

-- Discipline: 47 percent

-- Income: 41 percent

The results follow a similar trend for mothers, with “values and morals” at the top and “income” coming in last.

Every time dishonesty wins, it gets harder to convince our children that honesty is the best policy. Complete honesty in little things is not a little thing at all.

Honesty, ethics, integrity, values, morals -- all mean more or less the same thing. In my estimation, you can interchange them, because they all convey the single attribute that determines whether a person or an organization can be trusted.

On the heels of recurrent tales of corruption in most every aspect of modern life, it is a commonly accepted fact that ethics are what each of us thinks other people should apply. The challenge we all face is that we cannot fudge on our own set of ethics and values, even when it is extremely tempting. That is the kiss of death.

Peter Drucker, the late management guru, once said, “There is no such thing as business ethics -- there is only ethics.”

My good friend, world-renowned leadership guru John Maxwell, makes the same point in his book “There's No Such Thing as Business Ethics.” John gives three reasons why people make unethical choices. First, people tend to do what's most convenient. They fall into the trap of doing what's easy, but not necessarily what's right. Second, people do whatever it takes to win -- what they call “winning at any cost.” If it's a choice between winning by being unethical, or being ethical and perhaps losing -- then ethics loses. Third, he refers to situational ethics. People rationalize their choices with relativism. They make their choices based on whatever seems right at the time.

That’s why it is critical that every company and organization has a defined code of ethics.

Josh Spiro writes at Inc.com that a code of ethics is a collection of principles and practices that a business believes in and aims to follow. A code of business ethics, along with a company's mission statement and more specific policies, gives employees an idea of what the company believes in and rules of conduct for them to follow.

“The key in distinguishing a code of ethics ... is to hit the right level of specificity. It should address both the particular nuances of the company's industry as well as its broader goals for social responsibility and should be concrete enough to serve as a guide for employees in a quandary without laying out rules for every situation that could arise,” Spiro writes.

Michael Connor, the editor and publisher of the online magazine Business Ethics, believes that there's no such thing as a business being too small to benefit from a code of ethics. Having a code is “often viewed as a luxury or something that is an added cost,” he told Spiro. “The reality these days is that the business that does not have a code of ethics subjects itself to a much greater risk in its day-to-day operations, and if there is an unfortunate incident, they expose themselves to much greater risk (from) regulatory and prosecutorial authorities.”

Ethics codes don’t have to be long, complex documents. One example of a simple statement of ethics was written in 1904 for Rotary International. Apply these four questions to everything your organization says or does:

-- Is it true?

-- Is it fair to everyone concerned?

-- Will it build good will and better relationships?

-- Will it benefit everyone concerned?

Mackay’s Moral: If truth stands in your way, you’re headed in the wrong direction.

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