Conducting business ethically is critical to a company’s success in the marketplace. No matter the size, industry, or level of profitability of an organisation, business ethics are one of the most important aspects of long-term success.
The word ETHICS is derived from the Greek word ethos (character), and from the Latin word mores (customs). Together, they combine to define how individuals choose to interact with one another – meaning the moral character and spirit of a culture, era or community as manifested in its attitudes and aspirations.
The opposite of ethics, is PATHOS – a temporary and often violent emotional state.
LOGOS appeals to reason, building up logical arguments.
Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, defined ethics as ‘a balance between passion and caution.’
SO WHAT IS ETHICS AND WHY IS IT RELEVANT?
Ethics is a branch of philosophy that is concerned with questions about how we should live, and therefore about the nature of right or wrong, good and bad, ought and ought not, duty and other such concepts.
Ethics is relevant to our everyday lives. At some point in our professional or personal life one will have to deal with an ethical question or problem, e.g. what is your level of responsibility towards protecting another person from threat, or whether or not you should tell the truth in a particular situation?
EXAMPLES OF POOR ETHICS
Have you heard the following phrases before?
- Your fair share is whatever you can get away with
- Nobody expects you to be honest when they’re not looking
- It’s not stealing unless they catch you
AN AFRICAN FABLE
Truth, Falsehood, Water, and Fire were traveling together and came upon four heads of cattle. They decided to split the cattle evenly and each take an equal share. But Falsehood was greedy and told Water that Fire was going to burn his land and steal his cattle.
Water believed him and jumped on Fire and put him out. Falsehood tricked Truth into believing that Water was going to steal their cattle so they took them to the top of a hill for Water cannot run uphill. Falsehood laughed that he had tricked everyone and Truth, realizing Falsehood had lied, began to fight him for the cattle. They called Wind to determine whom the cattle belonged to, but Wind did not know. According to this fable, what are Falsehood and Truth still doing?
According to this fable told in Ethiopia and other Eastern African nations, Truth and Falsehood are still in a battle with one another. Let’s hope truth wins.
THE NEED FOR ETHICS AND CODES OF CONDUCT
“On the whole human beings want to be good, but not too good, and not quite all the time”George Orwell
From the early functioning in primitive society, through the early codes of city life and academic philosophizing we arrived at a place where society needs rules of conduct which, when expressed as simple plain good manners, can provide a framework for the “good life‟ which is of benefit to both individuals and society.
A *2005 global study of over 1,100 managers and executives identified the top three factors most likely to cause business people to compromise ethical standards:
- Pressure to meet unrealistic objectives/deadlines
- Desire to further one’s career
- Desire to protect one’s livelihood
*John Eckmire in “Ethics Dilemma”
Ethics alarms are the feelings in your gut, the twinges in your conscience, and the sense of caution in your brain when situations involving choices of right and wrong are beginning to develop, fast approaching, or unavoidable.”
The better your “ethics alarm” is working and the sooner your alarm goes off the more likely you are to do the right thing, or at least use good ethical reasoning to decide what to do.
Jack Marshall, Director of Pro-Ethics
IMPORTANCE OF ETHICAL CONDUCT IN BUSINESS
Conducting business ethically is critical to a company’s success in the marketplace. Customers, suppliers and employees will not support a company that is involved in fraudulent, dishonest or unethical practices.
Setting high standards of integrity in business relations and promoting their adherence by employees will enable the company to merit the confidence and support of its customers and the public at large.
As an employee or consultant, we act as an ambassador and represent the organisation in our business dealings. The company’s reputation is in our hands and it therefore depends on us to do the right thing in the best interests of the organisation.
CODE OF ETHICS
- Respect for people’s dignity, rights, privacy and confidentiality: Be non-judgmental of a person’s value irrespective of age, culture, gender, race or religion
- Responsible practice: Limit your practice to your field of expertise
- Integrity in relationships: Act with integrity
- Responsibility: Own and responsibility to society
Act Morally and ethically at all times
“What you don’t know, you don’t know – That is true wisdom.”Confucius
To operate in an ethical manner, is to become world-class. Strengthen your knowledge and skills to understand ethics, and to improve and manage relationships. This is the purpose of ODI’s 3-days Skills Programme: Managing in an Ethical Manner (NQF5). To find out more, click here.
Author: Gerald McKinnon – Director at ODI