The key to honest business is having nothing to hide.
Bernie Madoff said that he spent the last 20 years of his life in fear. He lived in fear of being found out. Eventually Bernie was found out and handed a 150-year sentence for defrauding people out of billions of dollars.
Enron, meanwhile, was known as one of the leading energy companies in the world before its bankruptcy in 2001. It soon came to light that the organization had been mostly sustaining itself through creative (read: fraudulent) accounting practices.
These are only two examples of companies that have come under fire in recent years for unethical business practices. Any short-term benefits experienced by their organizations would eventually be outweighed by the long-term consequences.
Companies—and the individuals who represent them—competing in today’s marketplace must operate with an unparalleled degree of transparency. Social media, 24/7 news information sources, and the technologies that support them have resulted in people’s private lives being totally connected to their public lives. So, sweeping things under the rug has become almost impossible.
Today every company and everyone in these companies leave a trail. Emails, phone calls, or voice messages can come back to haunt you or be proof of ethical—or unethical—behavior. With technology, most everything is traceable.
The first place consumers go when they are deciding about a company’s reputation is the Internet. Businesses might have to deal with any number of complaints being posted to and read on the Web. These complaints may not always be well-founded because sometimes customers or ex-employees may simply have an axe to grind. On the other hand, certain complaints can be legit and give potential customers a warning.
Remember that ethical behavior and profits in business don’t have to be an either-or situation. You don’t need to sacrifice one to have the other. The two can easily coexist.
Here are some ideas below to help CEOs, managers, and employees keep their moral compass in check.
1) No matter how high the stakes are in business, there should be lines that won’t be crossed. Decide where those lines are early on and make sure that you and your team operate within those lines by discussing core values, developing a code of behavior, and crafting operating agreements in your business.
2) If your actions have you operating out of a win-lose mentality with others, then you need to pull back and change your course of action. If you’re not thinking win-win, then you’re not really winning at all.
3) Unethical behavior by a person or group of people will never sustain itself. When you put that kind of energy out into the world, it eventually comes back to you in a less desirable form. Building a company is a marathon, not a sprint. Always think long-term consequences over short-term benefits.
4) A smart long-term business plan for any company should include a checks and balances system that keeps all levels of management and employees accountable for their actions. Remember that the universe and the court of law carry their own checks and balances for companies that fail to do this on their own.
5) Keep the focus on providing the highest quality of services and commitment to your client base and all those involved with the process. When you focus on service and commitment, the profits and longevity of the company will take care of itself.
These are just are some ideas to consider. Keep your cards out on the table like you’ve got nothing to hide. This should be easy if, in fact, there’s nothing to hide. If you’re constantly doing the right thing, you don’t have to live in fear of being found out. This is true for you and true for your company.