Profits Over Conscience and Other Ethical Dilemmas
Most of us start off with an idealistic vision of what we want our business to look like and how we want it to run.
We want to train our employees and equip them with crucial skills, we want to treat them with respect and address them with honesty, we want to provide ONLY the best products and services, we want to offer the best customer service in our niche, we want positive interactions with the public, and we want to honor all our commitments.
This is all well and good until reality hits. Sadly, when reality takes over, our beliefs and ethics are hard to hold onto.
Poor Ethics In Business
Every other day, there’s a well known business/corporation making headlines for the wrong reasons:
- Chase bank senior managers taking part in irregular banking practices.
- Monsanto using chemicals and GMOs which are devastating plant life and human health.
- GAP violating labor practices and providing unsafe working conditions for low paid workers/children in India.
- Volkswagen flaunting pollution controls and trying to trick emission testers.
- Toshiba overstating its profits to appear more lucrative to shareholders and investors.
- FIFA…need I say more?
The list is endless and this behavior is no longer shocking or surprising.
However, when I see these headlines, I always wonder if poor ethics was their intention from the start. Did BP want to be the poster child for dead marine life and destroyed livelihoods? Did the founders of these companies dream of contributing negatively to their stakeholders?
It’s easy to demonize them (in fact go ahead, they’ve done some pretty awful shit). It’s also easy to dismiss their actions as the cost of doing business. But it’s easiest to shift the blame and place it squarely on the shoulders of ‘big business.’
Big business is EVIL! Big business is NEVER ethical!
As small business owners, it’s always easy to blame the big man. The big man has power which is often used to influence policies in his favor. After all, isn’t Exxon Mobil still thriving even after we found out that they blatantly lied about the reality of global warming and their contribution to it, all because of profits?
However, there are 2 factors we need to take into consideration:
1. Not all big business is evil
2. Evil big businesses did not start out that way.
The second point is hard to digest because it blurs the lines between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ When we acknowledge the fact that many ‘evil’ big businesses started off with an idealistic vision, we are forced to admit that ‘they’ were once ‘us.’
Once we do this there is no clear distinction between us and them.
The simple fact is, ethics or lack thereof are not dependent on the size of your business or the amount of success you have achieved.
There are plenty of small businesses that employ shady tactics, and there are plenty of large businesses that run a clean ship.
Yes, it’s harder to stick to your beliefs and ethics as you grow and evolve, but it’s not impossible.
Profit vs Conscience
Choosing profit over conscience can happen at any stage of business, and you should always be aware of the ethical dilemmas you will encounter during your journey. I would advise you to:
1. Write a list of your ethical boundaries i.e. services you will never provide, clients you will never cater to, business practices that you will never overlook. Come back to this list every time you are faced with something that goes against your beliefs.
2. Turn your beliefs into a company-wide culture right from the start. If your company culture screams honesty and transparency, then you, your partners, and your employees are less likely to perform actions that fly in the face of honesty and transparency.
Additionally, you are less likely to be approached by the wrong people if your company’s foundation and beliefs are well known. Would a garment producer that uses sweat shops approach a garment seller that touts ethically made clothes?
3. Surround yourself with the right crowd. Entrepreneurship is a lonely profession, luckily, this digital age allows entrepreneurs across all industries and countries to connect through forums, communities, and social media groups.
You can use the gatherings to ask for advice, share your struggles, vent about problem clients, and strike up business deals. But before you do this, ensure that the connections you make share your beliefs.
If your connections believe in cutting wages to generate more profit or using cheaper (yet defective) materials to cut down on costs, then you are more likely to follow their lead. Keep company with those who hold you accountable.
Despite all of these precautions, there are people who will throw ethics out the window at the first chance. This is life, not everyone has good intentions.
However, if you are serious about keeping a clean conscience regardless of the temptations that threaten to steer you wrong, these tips should help you along the way.
Remember, “How you make your money is more important than how much you make” — Gary Vaynerchuk.
Written and published by Davina Ngei — Moderator on Strategic Social Networking. Many thanks for reading, and be sure to check out Strategic Social Networking Community on Google+ to connect with tens of thousands of IT professionals online. You’re also welcome to follow Strategic’s brand page on G+ for the latest industry news.
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