Ethics and Values are Essential for New Leadership
We all know the world is changing and individual and organisational values are no longer contained in a statement pinned to the wall or listed as a page of single adjectives in a mission document or business plan as they were in the past, Ethics and values are the new checklist which will be the choice point for talented employees, discerning customers and clued up partners and collaborators.
The Institute of Business Ethics report in 2013 Attitudes of the British Public to Business Ethics showed that 59% of respondents thought businesses were fairly or very ethical, 38% considered businesses not very or not at all ethical, while only 4% did not have any opinion. Interestingly the percentage of people who did not have an opinion has dropped sharply from the previous years report when 15% reported no opinion. Perhaps it is indicative of how much ethics and values are now being reported in the news and in business communications.
Research published in MIT Sloan Management review entitled “” critically challenges various survey reports, one of which states that reputation in terms of corporate social responsibility and ethics are important for up to 96% of students. In this study, it was found that less than 20% of students would prioritise company reputation as reasons to accept a job offer. Notwithstanding the contradictory findings, it was still found that “all other things being equal”, reputation and ethics would be the factor which swayed them to make their choice.
An ethical business is of course judged mainly on the policies and behaviours at the interface of society, although if a business is congruent then, outward ethics and values have to begin within. Anything less will result in a business paying lip service to external pressure, rather than being the ethics and values in action internally.
Working with CEO’s and business leaders I’ve seen a mixed approach to embedding values in their business. Some are so passionate about their own and therefore the values which must be reflected in their business that embedding values is just a natural by-product of their own commitment and enthusiasm. For others it is more difficult, and although they don’t lack the commitment, sometimes the business has just not focused on values so much.
If you are a business leader in the latter category, take heart because there are some simple practical steps which can be taken to embed values in action in your business.
1. Approach the development of your values statement with as much of a priority as that of your key performance indicators or your business outcomes. Consult with your employees, stakeholders, partners and customers about what is important to them. At this stage listen and gather as much feedback as you can.
2. Turn the ideas, thoughts and concepts about your business values into statements. So for example, if the word “honesty” comes up, then dig below to find out how honesty can be demonstrated. This might convert to statements such as: “We will publish full statements of accounts annually”, or “We will keep our employees, stakeholders and customers informed about decisions which affect them and consult where possible”.
3. Once you have a list of behaviours which illustrate your values in action, incorporate them into your business processes, policies and communications. Your employee practices such as recruitment and performance reviews should include appropriate elements and your customer promises and service levels should reflect them.
4. The final step to underpin your commitment to your values is to regularly survey employees, customers, stakeholders and other interested people as to how well values are demonstrated. This can be approached quite easily by applying a rating system against each value statement, and asking respondents to score. Where scores are low, ask for expanded answers about why they think the value isn’t being demonstrated. This method gives you essential information about how your business is being run.
Embedding values doesn’t have to be hard, and if approached with demonstrable commitment can help to engage the hearts and minds of everyone associated with your business.