Consultation : Is Ethical Business An Oxymoron?

There’s lot of talk these days about businesses needing to behave ethically. What exactly does that mean?
I believe ethics are about how we act toward each other. It’s about being good, transparent, trustworthy, reliable, fair and empathetic. While ethics are generally viewed as subjective, personal and mostly about morality, there are commonly held values that operate on both personal and business level.
Peter Drucker (Management – Tasks, Responsibilities and Practices, 2003) said: “The first responsibility of professional was spelled out clearly 2500 years ago in the Hippocratic oath of the Greek Physician: primum non nocere – ‘Above all, not knowingly to do harm’.” I believe Drucker is saying we all have responsibilities to carefully reflect on our proposed actions, to contemplate our words and how we articulate those words, and to ensure we personally uphold appropriate behaviours that set an example to our colleagues and all those we relate to in our work and in our communities.
I am sure companies are becoming more ethically aware and that this is increasingly market-driven requirement. cynical view is that ethics are only driven by customer demand – and that the idea of “ethical business” is an oxymoron. Traditionally business is about making money (profit) at least cost – introducing absolute ethical behaviours can cost and therefore make business success more difficult to attain. Ethical business is more concerned with how profit is made rather than simply how much.
But the days when businesses could operate solely on self-interest, short-term gain and with an eye exclusively focused on the bottom line are numbered as customers, employees and shareholders insist on knowing what companies are doing
in the world – and how their operations are impacting on social and environ-
mental health.
Certainly we are all more aware today of the ethical styles of company management in such areas as triple bottom line reporting, corporate social responsibility, fair trade and sustainability. These things enhance public opinion and are marketable as being for the greater good.
In my life, when faced with moral question or dilemma, I come back to the questions: is what I am doing or saying fair, is it honest and am I comfortable with this decision?
NZIM has strong desire to uphold ethical business practice and offers wide range of courses and models that include understanding and direction on the importance of upholding good ethical operations. Our 4QL leadership programme is one example. In this programme, no principle is more important than the assertion that you and I can change most aspects of our behaviours substantially, providing we genuinely reject some old habits, choose some new ones and consistently practise these until they become normal patterns. All society will be better off if we all
act ethically.

I’m facing lot of change and uncertainty at work – how best to deal with it?

From what I read in the media and hear about from people I meet, I know many of you must be grappling with bringing about change in your organisations. Whether it’s shift of outsourcing of products and services, the introduction of lean manufacturing, or business restructuring – be assured you are not alone. Change has become constant. Dealing with its sheer pace and ongoing effects is now at the very heart of what it is to be “manager”. Planning, implementing and managing change in these fast changing environments in which we live and compete, is increasingly the situation that we daily face and must embrace.
Coping with change is critical – and there are range of competencies we need to manage it. Strategic thinking, sound forecasting, competent colleagues, good communication and brilliant leadership are part of it. Empowering others is vital and leaders must cultivate skills of engaging and assisting people to share management responsibilities – that involves careful listening and genuine caring for what others think. It’s also vital to have thorough understanding of the organisation in order to match the ideas and structure of the intended change to its needs.
Ensuring you have employed the “soft skills” of openness and trust will significantly improve your chances of effecting positive change. People will work better and change willingly if the
process of change is built on the foundations of trust and truth – and not too
much bureaucracy.
In any change process, communication is important before, during and after. Ensure adequate advance notice is given, make it clear if response is required, who people need to respond to if they have any comments or concerns. Be candid
and transparent.
Change can be positive experience when it is inclusive and done well.

Kevin Vincent is CEO of NZIM Southern.

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