We’ve all heard and read about the ethical choices made by the senior executives at Enron, Qwest and other high profile corporations.  We’ve watched as Martha Stewart went from CEO to jailbird and back to CEO again. We’ve read about the toilet seat costing $100,000.00 being sold to and installed on military toilets; and the list goes on.  These high profile examples of poor ethical choices in the workplace are unfortunately only the tip of the iceberg.  What is the ethical climate at your company?

A recent study completed by the Center of Corporate Citizenship at Boston College found that seventy-two percent of companies agree that ethics is important, but the number one reason for not doing more to implement or reinforce existing ethics programs is resources.   The reality is however, that ethical companies are more profitable than those who neglect this essential factor.

What is ethics and should you associate ethics with morals and values?  Yes, I believe that the morals and values of the individual directly affect the ethics displayed.  Morals are based on the principle of right conduct rather than legality. Values are the social principles, goals or standards held or accepted by an individual class, society or organization.  Ethics therefore is the practice or system of the standards of conduct and moral judgment of a given profession or group.

How world you respond in these situations? A panicked customer calls; he has a machine out of service that has shut the plant down.  The machine needs a special part that you have in stock.  Because of the uniqueness of the situation, the sales manager suggests adding 20 percent to the price.   //     Your office tries out a new piece of software.  Others in the office like it and load the software on their computers, using the same single-user license.  We bought it we can do what we want, right?   //   Your son has a poster due for his homework that must be submitted in the morning. You have to work late and won’t be able to get to the art supply store before it closes. While you were in your company’s office supply cabinet you remember seeing just the right piece of poster board. The company won’t miss one piece and besides, they are making me work late tonight, right?

Situations like these come up every day in the offices and work areas of businesses just like the ones in which you and I work.  How we think about and respond to these situations tells much about who we are as individuals and businesses.  Many businesses have a written Code of Ethics and some have it prominently displayed for customers, vendors and employees.  This is a start but it is important that attitudes and behaviors from the people in the Board Room to the manufacturing floor remain consistent in every situation and that everyone is trained in and understand the standards of ethical behaviors expected at all levels.

Jerry Fleming, the author of Profit at Any Cost describes four basic moral principles that apply to all business decisions: * Don’t deceive- deceptions costs you in trust and reputation;  * Don’t Covet- the grass is not always greener;  * Don’t Steal- you might just go to jail;  *Do unto others as you would have them do unto you- the Golden Rule.


Board Members, Executives and Managers must lead their organizations and people by example.  Employees at all levels must do their jobs as if they owned the company.  People at every level of business must be held personally accountable for how we conduct ourselves at work.  Personal Accountability starts with simple applications of ethical standards in our decisions.   After all, you won’t look good in handcuffs.