Incorporating ethics into your business doesn't have to be painful. Here are some steps to get you started:
Set priorities. The first--and perhaps simplest--thing you can do to delineate your company's values is to create a clear mission statement. What's your highest priority? "Whenever we have to make a tough judgment, we refer to our mission statement," Wilson says. "Putting things down on paper helps set in stone what your standards are."
Start now to create company policies and procedures that guide you. When you're just starting out, writing a policy manual may seem premature. In reality, now's the best time to start crafting policies that will guide you as you grow.
Use procedures that help you with the kinds of dilemmas you face each day. In Iris Salsman's public relations business, Salsman Lund-gren Public Relations Inc. in St. Louis, credibility is key. "We're asking the media to portray [clients] as certain kinds of people," Salsman says. "If they aren't that kind of person, [the discrepancy] affects our reputation." Salsman performs careful client interviews and investigates online and with contacts to make sure the story a prospective client tells is in line with the client's reputation. "We're not saying we won't accept a client who's had problems in the past," says Salsman, "but we don't want to be taken by surprise."
Get advice. Your industry's trade association may have a code of ethics that will help you establish your own company's policies and procedures.
When faced with an individual dilemma, Wilson consults fellow business owners at the Greater Houston Partnership (similar to a chamber of commerce). "Sometimes you don't know what's best," he says. "That's when it helps to turn to your peers."
Avoid hypocrisy. Suppose you have no compunction about lying to clients, you cook the books and--worst of all--you have no interest in changing your evil ways. Go with that. But don't promote yourself to clients as a paragon of virtue. "People are a lot more observant than you realize," says Wilson. "You can't lie about being ethical."