Rest assured, as the owner of a small business, you have a built-in advantage: You'll be respected until you do something that forces your employees to question your integrity, or their own. Your company is still small enough that everyone knows the leadership, which offers advantages in setting a good example. In fact, in the Walker/Hudson study, companies with fewer than 100 employees fared better than larger ones.
Creating an ethical work environment starts with defining what integrity and ethics mean to your industry, then outlining your core values as an organization. Discuss where these values could be compromised day to day, and bat around strategies for dealing with them. Let your employees feel comfortable voicing the ethical dilemmas they face on the job, as well as the ones they see facing the company. Finally, make sure that the values honored in the office are applied across the board to clients and shareholders.
"Ethics covers one word: respect," says Nan DeMars, an editorial contributor to OfficeClick.com and author of You Want Me to Do WHAT?: When/Where & How to Draw the Line at Work (Simon & Schuster). "Employers need to establish codes of conduct and tell employees that they want an ethical company."
The single most important thing you can do as a leader is to "walk the walk;" that is, you have to follow your own edicts. Remember, you're setting the example for your employees-and they're watching.
Chris Penttila is a freelance journalist who covers workplace issues from her home base in the Chapel Hill, North Carolina, area. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org through her Web site, www.sitting-duck.com.