An ethical business is sustainable financially, environmentally and personally.

To start let’s state the obvious. In the real world, nobody is perfect. If you think you are perfect you probably should go and see your local shrink. Every day we are confronted with an array of decisions all of which have ethical implications, nobody but nobody can have the energy, resources or the time to get them all perfectly right. We can, however, get them more right by creating processes, cultures and habits and then practice sticking to them. Accepting that things are not black and white, that we and those around us are not perfect, frees us from having to justify our every move. We can then stay focused on the future and work on the habits that will align our actions with what we believe. When you get into the habit of putting into practice your principles during the course of every day, they will evolve to work for you personally, for your families, friends, communities, businesses or organisations and the world of nature with which we share this planet.  We all benefit from ethical behaviour, in fact we all need it to survive.

Some principles that are worth building into your daily work programs and talk, (that no doubt most of you guys are on board with already):

  1. Work hard at being honest and forthright with your customers, team, and yourself at all times. Effective relationships, communities, organisations (even democracies) are built on trust. Undermine it and you will be in deep shit. There are going to be times when you’re going to be knackered and thinking he or she does not deserve my time, much less the effort required to be honest, this is when a bit of self-discipline is necessary.
  2. Respect and connect with nature. For most of us, we are incredibly lucky to be outside and interacting almost daily with the natural world. Many people work all year to save up to head off to exotic places and never have time to wonder at complexity of life in their own backyards, nature strip or local park. It is not about being the hero who changes the world, it is about doing the little incremental things. We all deal with customers and bosses who may have different agenda’s. For example, your brief may be to put in 95% hard surface and you shift it to 90%. You have just won 5% for the world of nature. Congratulations!  All the forces of the modern people-centric world are dragging us away from nature and making us think we, not nature, are at the centre of the universe. We owe it to our kids and their kids to fight for what is an integral part of us and what we are entirely dependent on.
  3. Caring about people, particular younger and future generations and your local community. Traditionally societies that have survived the test of time have focused on the young and future generations. Some American Indian tribes allocated the responsibility of an elder to consider the future of their people 7 generations down the track. Get on board and things will go mysteriously right for you and those around you.
  4. Giving the people around you a fair go. “A fair go” is a saying which has served Australians well for generations, but seems to have gone out of vogue lately.
  5. Putting in and taking out our fair share. One thing you can be sure of is we all think we are putting in more and taking out less relative to those around us than we really are. We then start blaming others for the state of the environment, the nation, our communities, our personal relationships and thinking “well nobody else is putting in and they are taking out heaps, why shouldn’t I?” The whole thing ends up in a downward spiral.
  6. Accept responsibility. You are at least partially responsible for what is happening around you and it is heaps harder to change others than yourself, so do not waste your time. Start with yourself if you want things to change for the better. (Some of you might be asking right now, well what is Bruce trying to do with this article?)

Many current leaders and media personalities promote poor standards through what they draw attention to and what they do and what they say. It takes a bit of courage not to take short cuts and to say to the world, this is not the way I am.

If you work for yourself or a large organisation you can, by example, contribute to a culture at work. You can contribute through what you do and say to the long term sustainability of your organisation in every sense, environmentally, financially and in regard to personal fulfilment.

I have no doubt that I am preaching to the converted, but from my experience you need to work your principles into every day of your life to ensure they do not go through to the keeper.

A few hints on building them into your modus operandi:

  • Set the example for yourself and your work mates with your behavior all day every day. If you work in a team or by yourself you will have decisions to make where you will find it tempting to take the easy way out, short-term gain equals long-term pain.
  • State clearly, particularly to yourself, your values and  incorporate your values into your processes, documented procedures and remind yourself regularly.  As with any habit initially it is hard work to change the way you regularly do things but after time it just happens without thinking.
  • If you start a new job or you have new team member starting for you it is the best time to change old habits.
  • You can give important messages to yourself and your staff by what learning, formal and informal, that you or they do.’
  • Reward yourself and others for respecting values that matter.
  • Avoid short termism

As Michael Josephson, who writes on this sort of stuff, said, “If recent history teaches us anything it is that ethics and character count, especially in business. Huge organizations like Enron, Arthur Andersen and Health South have been destroyed and others were seriously damaged (AIG, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac) by executives with massive ambition and intelligence but no moral compass….charisma without conscience and cleverness without character  are a recipe for economic and personal failure of epic proportions.”

There are a whole lot of very good reasons to practice good business ethics, (such as financial rewards, customer loyalty, work satisfaction…etc.) but in reality you do not need to have a whole lot of reasons for doing the right thing by the world around you.  No matter how hard the modern marketing machine rams home the message that it is all about precious little you, deep down we all know that we are part of something a lot bigger than ourselves.

And just because you ain’t perfect does not mean that it is not worth the effort. Rest assured nobody is.

Bruce Plain – GGP Industry Program Co-Ordinator