Are You Operating Your Business Ethically?
Ethics matter every day, for everyone
During the month of September, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) shines a light on ethics. Though there is only one month dedicated to the topic, conducting business and communicating ethically is an everyday responsibility for communications professionals, the media, government, for profit and nonprofit organizations and consumers. Simply put, ethics matter every day, for everyone.
What Are Ethics?
Ethics are a moral code that define proper and appropriate conduct for people and organizations and are often governed by a code of ethics. PRSA’s Code of Ethics includes the society’s stated values of advocacy, honesty, expertise, independence, loyalty and fairness. All PRSA members are required to sign a pledge to conduct themselves professionally, with truth, accuracy, fairness and responsibility to the public. Other industries and businesses have similar codes.
Defining an Organization’s Ethical Standards
It is difficult to adhere to ethical standards if employees and members don’t know what they are. While everyone should have a solid set of personal ethics, for a business, it provides tremendous value to spell out the organization’s code of ethics. This defines the expectations of anyone representing the brand. But creating a code of ethics isn’t enough. It’s important to share it with employees in the new hire onboarding process and reinforce the principles on many occasions throughout the year.
The City and County of Denver’s Ethics Handbook includes the Denver Code of Ethics, which was originally adopted in 1965. Though the Code has been modernized since then, it is a guide for public servants to refer to whenever they encounter ethical questions and issues.
Broomfield-based Ball Corporation’s Business Ethics Code of Conduct makes clear that integrity and ethical conduct are a way of life in the company. The company’s code addresses compliance with laws, rules, regulations and company policies, but goes further to address respecting coworkers, interactions with customers that may include gifts or bribery and supporting the communities in which they operate. Ball’s Code of Conduct is a strong example of a global commitment to doing what is right in every aspect of its business.
If your organization doesn’t already have a code of conduct or ethics guide, it’s worth taking the time to consider: What operational and reputation risks could have the greatest impact on our business? How can we demonstrate to our employees, members, shareholders and customers that we are doing right by them? How can we be a positive force in our community?
When defining an organization’s values, it might be beneficial to work with a professional to help guide the process. It’s easy to identify what another company is doing that’s right or wrong, but when looking internally, it can be difficult to define what matters most to your organization.
In order to have a lasting impact, a code of ethics needs to be specific to your business, organizational culture and beliefs. A professional advisor will provide an objective and honest assessment of your organization’s brand and reputation and will help clearly define its commitment to ethical behavior. A professional adviser can also help determine how to handle a breach of ethics either within the company or by anyone working with the company, such as a customer or vendor.
Show Off Your Ethics
Done well and rolled out thoughtfully, a code of ethics will instill employee loyalty, increase customer confidence and even boost your bottom line. There are several ways to showcase your company’s ethics. Start off by making sure all employees are informed of and are committed to your code of conduct. Some organizations require employees or members to sign a pledge. Consider posting your code on the company website. Taking it a step further: from time-to-time, include content on your social media platforms, shareholder reports, company blog, etc., to demonstrate your code in action.
September is the perfect time to kickstart your ethics program if you don’t already have one. For those of you with a code of conduct, maybe it’s time to review it and make sure it holds true to your organization’s beliefs and priorities. Whichever stage you’re in, implementing and living by a code of ethics will result in a better business, happier employees, increased trust and community support.
Elizabeth Jumel, APR, is the president of PRSA Colorado and the president of Jumel Public Relations, an agency that provides strategic planning, meda relations and internal/external communications services. She has more than 20 years of communications experience. Having worked with clients in the health care, real estate, technology, automotive, non-profit and other industries, this diverse background makes it possible for her to develop and implement meaningful strategies and tactics for any business.