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The Ethics Coach on Practicing What You Preach

The Ethics Coach on Practicing What You Preach
Image credit: Illustration by Jason Schneider

Do you have an ethical dilemma?
Write to The Ethics Coach at ethics@entrepreneur.com.

Q: Online game development is profitable, but is it ethical to make money this way? I'm concerned that I'm stealing precious time from children and students.

A: Doing good doesn't mean taking an oath of poverty. Anchor your game company with a values statement--and, as you create new products, keep going back to that statement to make sure the games uphold your values. Have you thought about creating a business developing online games that are fun but educational and eschew violence and demeaning stereotypes?

Many entrepreneurs want to be successful and have a positive impact on society. There are countless sources of inspiration to stimulate your thinking.

Michigan State University's Children and Technology Project, led by professor Linda Jackson, found that playing video games increases children's creativity in activities like drawing pictures and writing stories. James Paul Gee, a professor at Arizona State University, has written many articles and books on the positive impact of video games on learning.

Also, there are plenty of lessons to be learned from the Institute of Play, a nonprofit founded by game designers that "pioneers new models of learning and engagement." Need more? Your local university may have programs on social entrepreneurship that can push your thinking about how to start a business developing popular video games that make a difference.

Cheap Trick

Q: We created a new position in our startup and budgeted a salary for it based on analysis of the labor market for like-kind professionals. However, the best candidate's current salary is substantially below the amount budgeted. We can save money -- important to shareholders -- by not offering what we budgeted. How do we balance shareholder interests with building long-term commitments with employees?

A: A consequence of hiring good people at bargain-basement prices is that eventually they figure out what others in similar positions are paid -- news that doesn't do a lot for their happiness or motivation. (Being undervalued is a big incentive to start looking for a new job.)

Why penalize this person--who has the potential, credentials, talent and ability you want--for having a low salary, especially when the market has identified the going rate? While money is generally tight in a startup, investors expect that any investment will create optimum return. Building long-term commitment from an employee who is a great fit for the job and feels valued and respected points to a solid investment.

Losing Consciousness

Q: Isn't "business ethics" an oxymoron?

A: Claiming that business and ethics don't go together gives us permission to lower our own standards without even realizing it. Most people are convinced they are ethical and see the other guy as the problem. Yet when we give ourselves credit for having values but don't act on them, we create personal and organizational vulnerability. All too often, companies involved in ethical scandals prove that point; while their mission statements or websites showcase the values the company is supposed to stand for, the crisis usually stems from a leader or employee acting in a way that goes against those values.

Leaders who actively reinforce company values send the rest of the management team and employees a clear message of what is expected of them. That helps reduce the likelihood of lawsuits, bad publicity and financial and reputation costs. Operating ethically is far easier than continuing to learn lessons the hard way. It goes hand in glove with creating sustainable business success, fueling growth and maintaining trust and credibility.

Gael O'Brien is publisher of The Week In Ethics and founder of coaching/consulting firm Strategic Opportunities Group.

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This article was originally published in the September 2013 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Do It for the Children.

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