Steve Howe, VP and GM EMEA at Cogeco Peer 1, discusses the importance of delivering ethical and moral values within a business.
At a time where our global and business leadership is becoming polarised, it has become imperative that individuals and organisations develop and adhere to a set of values. But how can companies successfully do business by a set of ethical and moral values? How can organisations define their value structures and ensure all employees are working to these standards in their day to day lives? Here, the issues will be examined around how a company can define, deliver and live by a set of values in today’s globalised business world.
Where do values come from?
Everyone lives by a set of values even if they don’t write them down or acknowledge them. People are driven by a deep understanding of what is ‘right’ for them, where are their red lines, what sits well and doesn’t.
Similarly, organisations have a culture and values and their employees already live by them, even if they aren’t documented. Company values are often based on the individual values of the people who originally founded the company. Take for example Anita Roddick, founder of the Bodyshop whose personal values were embodied in the values and culture of her organisation. Or at Hewlett Packard where the founders Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard created a set of values known as ‘The HP Way’ which are the inspiration for many company’s ethical policy and values today.
How are they defined and whose responsibility is it?
Values drive behaviour and are a primary driver of motivation. They provide a litmus test by which decisions are made. If personal values aren’t aligned to company values, it will have a negative impact on the business.
It’s established that values are important, so, who has responsibility for defining and disseminating them? It’s hard to separate what a leader believes personally from what they want to achieve professionally. This can be a very good thing for a business and provide clarity for an organisation. Values discussions and adherence to these values have got to be driven by business leaders, and the entire management team and endorsed by the board. Otherwise, employees won’t take it seriously and won’t want or feel the need to adhere to them.
How to do this? Define an ethics policy, and potentially create a Standards of Business council to uphold the policy. Examine a breadth of inspiration, from business practices, people policies, to the environment. Diversity in the workplace will lead to a wonderfully varied and eclectic set of values drawn from different experiences, culture and world views. Meet as a group to discuss and decide the final list of values and appoint people throughout the company who will act as ambassadors or trainers to disseminate the values throughout the company. Consider implementing a process to certify everyone in the company on an annual basis against the policy, just as we do today at Cogeco Peer 1.
Making difficult decisions in a results-driven world
While it’s well and good to have a set of values and ensure everyone in the company is aware of them, what happens day to day when employees are at the coal face working with customers, partner and suppliers? This is where the leaders within a business have to take a stand and lead by example. It becomes not just about winning but winning the right way.
Complexity increases when business is done globally. This is particularly in countries where there still exists a degree of corruption and particularly in the public sector. This is despite the recent introduction of UK and international legislation.
Personal experience has shown that making business decisions and aligning them to the company’s values is not always as straightforward as you would think. Take the example of a contract that was awarded to a previous employer after a lengthy tendering process. After further investigation, it was clear that the sales team had followed unethical behaviour in the sales process which was in conflict with the company’s values. As a result, the company withdrew from the tender process with a major loss of business, and the reasons were explained to the customer. This is a real example and although the company initially lost money as a result of declining the deal, it came back a year later with a longer contract which was worth more. This is proof that by living and acting by corporate values, the impact on the business bottom line is positive.
Of course, there are so many other ethical ways to impress. The time and effort put into nefarious activities could be put into making a company more agile, adaptable and quick to outsmart the competition. This is how a values-driven organisation will impress, beat the competition and sign deals.
What’s more important than profit?
As has been discussed, it’s important to fully explore, interrogate and outline what corporate values a company is going to live by. Money is always going to make the world go round. However, the two aren’t mutually exclusive – making money and generating profits are not at the expense of morals or values. Turning a blind eye to behaviour which doesn’t adhere to values, even though it might be legal, is short term-ist and ultimately damaging to a brand. Living by a set of values which ensure a company is doing good things will ensure business leaders are generating revenue and winning the right way. This comes from integrity, attracting talent and developing a reputation as a company which lives by its values. If an activity wouldn’t pass the headline test – i.e. how would this look if it was written in a newspaper – don’t do it.