3 Ways to Build an Ethical Business

Here are three easy ways you can keep business ethics in play at work.
Faith in Focus Columnist, The News & Observer Publishing Company
November 15, 2012

To develop and thrive, small businesses develop all kinds of guidelines. There are payroll and overtime policies, cell phone policies, social media policies and client entertainment policies—the list goes on.

But what about an ethics policy—a code of conduct that makes it clear how the business is integrating morals into the corporate culture? Something that sets a standard for the workforce to follow?

Whether you have adopted a formal ethics policy or choose to lead more informally by example, here are three ways to keep business ethics in play at work.

Be Consistently Ethical

The Institute of Business Ethics, based in London, was created in 1986 to encourage businesses to make decisions based on ethical values. The IBE says there are three questions to ask yourself every time you make a business decision to ensure that ethics are at the forefront of that decision-making process.

  • Do I mind others knowing what I have decided?
  • Who does my decision affect or hurt?
  • Will my decision be considered fair by those affected?

Being consistently ethical is the key to good business, says Celia Milton, a wedding officiant. "The way you do anything is the way you do everything," Milton says. 

She urges other small-business owners to keep the moral high-ground in mind when making decisions from how to treat a server in a restaurant to what to post on a Facebook Page. "Think before you do, say or write anything. Is this true to my brand? Does it reflect my ethics?" Milton says.

Lead with Morals

A strong moral foundation in business begins with the leader.

"If it's not modeled at the top it's not going to be at the bottom," says Johnny Miller, owner of OakBridge Timber Framing Company in Ohio. And just so everyone remembers, that saying is engraved on a marble pyramid that sits atop each work station.

Miller, began his career as a builder when he raised barns and buildings in his youth. His company was founded 26 years ago and is now 10 employees strong, with three generations working side by side. Miller makes high ethical standards a priority in the workplace and asks the same of the entire staff. "I tell them treat each other as you would like to be treated, and give our clients more than they expect," Miller says. 

He also advises his staff not to be defensive. "When there is a problem, always focus on what's right or wrong, don't focus on whose fault it is," Miller says. "We are attacking a problem, we aren't attacking a person."

Miller encourages everyone to look for a higher purpose behind their work. "We're all here for something," Miller says. "Having a higher purpose and a mission and goals are the keys to guiding you on the path of exceptional craftsmanship and exceptional service."

Miller says holding yourself up to high moral standards isn't something to turn off and on. "What you do in private is what you are," Miller says. "When you have other guiding principles you will do great work even when the client isn't there."

Give Back to the Community

"It's crucial to remember where you came from and to give back to the community that has given us so much, says Jayme Pretzloff, founder of Blue Line Defense, a handgun and tactical defense company that trains police forces, government agencies and private citizens. "A business cannot be successful if you are constantly thinking about your bottom line. You must care for others as well," Pretzloff says.

One way Pretzloff's company does that is by donating the proceeds of certain classes to non-profits. Recent recipients include Autism Speaks and The Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

"It really gives us a sense of pride and giving back, and our students feel good that they are getting training but also helping out these organizations. It seems that these classes are sold out significantly faster than any other courses."

Your business doesn't have to abandon ethics to be successful. Making consistent ethical decisions, leading your team by modeling morals and giving back to the community around you, are three examples of business ethics that work.

Read more small-business leadership articles.

Carla Turchetti is a veteran print and broadcast journalist who blogs via Contently.com.

Photo: Thinkstock

Faith in Focus Columnist, The News & Observer Publishing Company