Ethics Coach

When Exercising Caution Is the Best Move For Your Business

When Exercising Caution Is the Best Move For Your Business
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Magazine Contributor
The Ethics Coach
3 min read

This story appears in the September 2015 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Q: We passed all inspections, but I am concerned that a machine due for replacement in 18 months might pose a safety risk sooner than that. Ideally I’d replace it now, but money is tight; I plan to address the potential safety issue another way. No employee has expressed concern, and my legal and compliance obligations are met. So why do I keep worrying that I’m not doing right by my employees?

A: Operating ethically doesn’t mean putting yourself through guilt trips. That said, when a gut feeling keeps nudging you, pay attention. It is a signal that you need to ask yourself more questions. Here are some to consider:

Can a reliable third party validate that your safety fix would work? Would you feel comfortable with your fix if a member of your family or an employee you’ve known for years operated the machine? What would the ramifications be if something went wrong and someone were injured—or worse? And, if you were to replace the machine sooner, are there any benefits that could offset the cost, possibly in productivity, efficiency or—even better—the value of letting employees know that their safety comes first?

There is never justification to gamble on safety. If doubts linger, act on them and figure out a way to replace the machine early. Then think through how you want to share your decision with your team and employees as a demonstration of your company’s values.

Q: I received funding from investors to launch our company. They backed me as CEO, and we agreed on my hiring five employees to get things going. What can I do from the get-go to gain trust, create a team motivated to tackle the difficult work ahead and fill employees in on my company’s values and ethics?

A: Before you hire anyone, think about the kind of leader you want to be and what kind of behaviors you can model to earn respect and trust while inspiring people to do their best work. From day one, lead by example to instill ethical standards and behavior into the culture, fostering an environment where trust can flourish.

You likely know the competencies you want in each person you’re hiring, but you should also factor in the values and personal traits you believe will be assets in building a culture and company that will inspire prospective customers. This focus can give your product a differentiating edge and sustainable value. Once you have that picture in mind, your radar will be even more attuned to finding and hiring the right people.

The early days of a startup are best for laying the foundation where trust takes root. Create an ongoing forum where the team comes together to share information so that surprises—big derailers of trust—can be avoided. Share information and your expectations, and encourage discussion about the ways team members can support one another and communicate what they need from you. Share your vision for the product and the company’s culture and the role each employee will play.

As CEO, you’ll gain and keep trust when you are consistent in what you say and do, treat everyone with respect, own up to your mistakes and encourage continuous learning. Avoid blaming and shaming. As you support team members in using their talents on behalf of advancing the product, push yourself and your leadership skills forward as well.

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