Can business ethics be really taught?

true-honest-ethicsEvery once in a while you hear the big breaking news. The goodwill of a corporation is tumbling down on the bourses due to some unethical activity. And who did it? Either it is one of the most trusted employees or the owner himself.

Whether it’s America with Bernard Madoffs or India with Ramlinga Rajus, the news remains fresh in our minds. While thinking about these incidents a sudden question popped up in my mind, can ethics be really taught?

How do we ensure ethical behavior? Are we tackling the issue in the right manner? Whether it is a startup or a well established enterprise ethics is something that forms the part of the organizations character and simply can’t be compromised with!

How are ethics driven in the organizations?

It’s quite unfortunate but most of us either are not bothered about driving ethics in the organization or are just driving ethics in traditional ways. Ways in which we drive almost anything and everything.

Ask a sudden question to any employee about how ethics are driven? The answer would be about processes which are in place, mails that he or she receives and many other ideas basis the industry the employee is in.

Now ask him what special is the organization doing or he is doing (if he is at a superior role or is an entrepreneur) to ensure ethical business. Things that are done only to drive ethics. Which can ensure results? The answer many a times is zilch.

How organizations should ensure ethical behavior

So are we satisfied with it? We know a six sigma process in place will guarantee almost zero defects. Is there a Six Sigma in ethics?

Let me be upright in mentioning that there is no magic wand with me. Nor I believe in any super quick formula that can drive business ethics. But I do have some ideas which I can share and I am open to the thought of having a healthy discussion on this.

Ideas for driving ethical business

  1. Hire ethical people: This might come as a surprise but do we really pay attention whether the person coming on board is ethical. While interviewing, do we ask questions related to ethics. Probe on things which might raise some pointers. Ethics is not a skill which can be taught, it’s like the attitude which is hard to change. Have a proper background check, interview well and remove the shaft from the grains before you get someone in.
  2. Trainings are secondary: We always have trainings on various topics that drive ethical behavior. At times I really doubt this. Do employees do it to understand importance of ethics? Or are they completing yet another mandatory training. Will the training assist in anything? I believe ethics should be discussed and driven in meetings by the seniors. Trainings then are secondary and a follow-up to these discussions. Also trainings need to track the changes post they are done. Else its utter waste of time.
  3. We die for family – We need to understand why people are unethical in workplaces. Why do they do – what they do? Will they behave the same at home? Will they steal stuff from their own family members? Apparently most of them wont. If workplace becomes a family in the true sense ownership will flow in. Will it guarantee zero forgeries? May be not but it will ensure that others will not join the party to suck up the corporations resources.
  4. Company can change the world – No I am not talking about the companies we work in. I am taking about the company we have. The people we are surrounded with and the topic we discuss have a great effect on our human mind. If the enterprise can ensure that people gel up with others in the right manner and there’s no group left out in the dark cubicles to plan something malicious, this can help a lot. Right company can work wonders, not just in ethics but even in business development.
  5. Whistle blowing policy is GOD – I learnt about whistle blowing policy via newspapers and a detailed study in one of my MBA subjects. I believe we are not utilizing whistle blow policy the way we should. Are there any statistics that we derive from it? Do we even have data? The answer simply justifies why we have more Enrons and BPs in our world today.

These are a few pointers that I had in my mind. Could have done a good research and posted a hundred more thoughts about ethics, but that was not the purpose. I believe listing points that I have genuine faith in would be way better than Googling about it!

In case if you have any thoughts on this. Any incidents that you would like to share, feel free to comment below.

“Integrity is doing the right thing, even if nobody is watching.”

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{ 2 comments }

Ramprasad.N August 27, 2011 at 10:09 am

It is nice reading such topic like ethics. I would like to share some my experiences. Ethics is something inborn which we imbibe from childhood, through out parents, teachers and others who mold our character. I think it is all there with a generation which is 50 to 60 years old. Their children some of them still continues to have, if they practice. On the other hand some of them left everything for monetary benefit, have left it to their children to live in their own way. Ethical way is a disciplined way, where one does not aspire thing which one does not deserve and there is always a contentment. But now there is no contentment in every walk of life. Everybody want to achieve everything is shortest possible time by hook or crook. Those who do not want to follow such methodologies has heckled.

Coming to Sathyam, he was one fellow who had fall for his mistakes, as he must have manipulated the business. But there are so many Sathyams in India who do such manipulation and finally they swallow the public money. There were so many companies came to public and many of them not there. What happened to them. All unethical practices and amassing wealth within no time. Where does all these start? It is all from the Businessman who head the business. In any organization, if the top man wants it to be done, there are more top level Management and Middle Management personnel who would like do what ever the Boss says is right, whether it is ethical or unethical. As they have to safeguard their position. End of the day no bosses likes any one who tells the truth. All the Senior Management personnel would like to use some body else shoulder. Invariably the Quality Manager. He will blamed for all problems. A Designer will say his design was OK, it was quality Problem with out validating the design. Many of them do know the Design Cycle. Genrally a soft spoken and a timid person, who fears will be made as Quality Manager. As they all fear for their Job & if they lose their job the plight of their family they silently suffer and keep quite. But any unethical practice has its deserving end. But since the money is public and they have drawn their shares of money through various means they are not bothered. That is why the finance is always given importance in any and he is involved in all manipulations for siphoning of money. No Chartered account company can find out, as they send some B.Com graduates who are under training to check the accounts and who will only vouchers for every money spent. Finally some observations will be given and the Balance sheet will be prepared and will be signed with the clause “Audited the accounts and verified based on the book of accounts and vouchers as produced by the company” This means the auditors is not responsible for any accounts if there are voucher for spending.
If you consider Public services, like autorikshaws, there is always tampering of meters. When questioned by commuters, some of them readily accept having tampered and accepts the fair fare as we usually give, while some of them accepts they have tampered, as they do it for their livelihood, when the politician are looting, we do not question them. We have recently seen in the TV, Congress party blaming about scams in Karnataka where there is BJP Govt and BJP blaming for various scams in Center. On the whole there is no ethics any where and the poor tax payer has to keep their mouth shut. It is very unfortunate. Irrespective of any party, the corruption is there every where and only degree differs.

In conclusion How bring in ethics in every walk of life is a big question mark. But for all there will be a change which is imminent. Incidentallt, I was one of the person left Job as VP in for unethical practices. Now I am on my own, but happy, no ill will, No jealously. As Miller of the Dee a poem I studied in Middle school, ” I envy no body, no not I and no body envies me”. I love every body, shares my thoughts and I enjoy my consulting work and in return I have earned lot of younger generation who love me too.

Himanshu Chanda September 5, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Dear Ramprasad,

I honor your views and appreciate for the time you invested in commenting.

I also agree to the view that when the leader at the top is corrupt chances are that no one in the hierarchy will act as required. However I would also like to point out a problem in what you have mentioned.

If we approach a problem with the reason – like you stated that ethics are part of upbringing process of a human being – We very much disregard any scope of improvement in this. A mind who gets the reason stops! Rather we need to be curious enough on how this can be solved.

I might sound stereotyped but law has a great role to play. We need to construct the system and try to restrict ill practices. At times a slap on time can save someone take a wrong step in future. We as human beings learn many things just from observation.

So a better environment will inspire others to improve. It is just that we take the right step in the right direction. The journey might be too long but that mere thought should not demotivate us to take the single right step. we need to be curious and mature….

Open to your views.

Himanshu Chanda

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