Deciding to embrace ethics is one thing. Figuring out how to incorporate ethics into your business is another. Yet it doesn't have to be painful or complicated. 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 is your highest priority? Wilson included the following words in his company's mission statement: "We put social responsibility in front of profit." Although this is not exactly a specific plan of action, it guides many of Wilson's decisions. "Whenever I have to make a tough judgment, I refer to our mission statement," he 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. To a homebased entrepreneur with no employees, writing a policy manual may seem unnecessary. In reality, putting guidelines on paper will not only help you make decisions now but will also guide the employees you may someday have.
Look for procedures that help guide you through the kinds of dilemmas you face daily. In Iris Salsman's public relations business, St. Louis, Missouri-based Salsman Lundgren Public Relations Inc., credibility is key. "We're putting ourselves out on a limb, asking the media to portray [clients] as certain kinds of people," Salsman explains. "If they aren't that kind of person, [that discrepancy] affects our reputation." So Salsman performs careful client interviews and does a little investigating online and with contacts to make sure the story a prospective client gives her 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. Don't reinvent the wheel. Ask one of your industry's trade associations if it has a code of ethics; the information it contains may help you establish your company's policies and procedures. At the very least, it will highlight important issues to consider.
When faced with an individual dilemma, Wilson consults fellow business owners at the Greater Houston Partnership, which is similar to a chamber of commerce. "Sometimes you don't know what's best," Wilson says. "That's when it helps to turn to your peers."
- Avoid hypocrisy at all costs. Suppose you have no compunction about lying to clients, you cook the books at tax time and, worst of all, you have no interest in changing your evil ways. Whatever you do, don't promote yourself to clients and the community as a paragon of virtue. "People are a lot more observant than you realize," says Wilson. "You've just got to be [ethical]--you can't lie about it."