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Trust Is Built, Not Bought Why acting ethically is key to building a business where teams thrive.

By Charli Wright

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.


If we all lived by the old adage "treat others how you'd like to be treated," ethics in business would be a given. However, having worked with a variety of companies, from SMEs to global multinationals, I can tell you it certainly is not.

Ethics is a term often thrown around by businesses to protect their rep, or simply to tick a box to prove that their employees are being treated fairly. This isn't to say there aren't businesses that operate ethically in the region, but rather an observation that there is a gap between preaching and practicing it.

On the surface, ethics are the moral principles and values that guide an organization. Deeper than that, they are the constant consideration of how decisions and actions affect others. The ethics of your company lie at the core of its culture. When the two don't align, you have a problem.

In my opinion, businesses have a habit of throwing money at the issue -such as throwing an outlandish Christmas party- rather than investing in culture and employee wellbeing day to day. It's one thing to establish ethics and values on paper (yes, they also look wonderful plastered on a boardroom wall!), but it's another to put them into action, and make employees feel secure, valued, and truly motivated throughout the year.

As the Managing Director of UAE-based creative marketing agency JWI, what I've learned in my time leading it is that running a business is not about the destination, it's about the journey. To get the best out of your team, they should feel truly seen and heard, not only when there's a problem, but each and every day. Having built a creative agency from the ground up, I've picked up a few things about turning ethics into actions to create a thriving company culture- and I've listed them below:

1. The ethics of your business should not be limited to the law. In this region, ethical business behavior is generally determined by the parameters of its respective nation's labor laws. Whilst undoubtedly important, it's important to remember that providing employees with visas, health insurance, or an annual flight home is a mandatory legal requirement- not the foundations of your company values or culture.

At JWI, we go beyond transactional HR requirements, and invest time and effort in creating two-way relationships with each employee that foster mutual trust and respect. On top of quarterly performance development reviews, our dedicated employee experience manager carries out regular one-to-ones with each team member to provide a safe, confidential space for sharing. This year, I also implemented personal reflection sessions to deep dive into the personal motivators and mindset of every employee. The learnings have been invaluable, and reintegrating them back into the working environment has helped create a company culture shaped from within.

2. A transformational leadership style should prioritize passion. "Transformational" leaders are known for being empathetic and attuned to the needs of their employees. But there should also be an element of reciprocity, in which employees inspire leaders to lead. Without your people, there is no business, so giving them the opportunity to play a leading role in their own development is necessary to nurturing passionate employees that really care about their work and your business.

That's why training and development is a huge focus for the leadership team at JWI. Team members are encouraged to pursue their passions -even beyond their job role- and play a part in carving their own path. Take our Global Exchange Program, for example- members from our Dubai and London teams are awarded with the opportunity of a two-week, all expenses paid trip to their sister office. The program gives employees the chance to explore new markets, learn new areas of the agency and teach new team members their expertise and passion.

Related: Turning Your Creative Talent Into A Successful Business: The How-To

3. Empathy should be deeply rooted. Empathetic workplaces are proven to benefit from stronger collaboration and greater morale. Since teams are a collective of diverse personalities, tension and miscommunication are inevitable. However, when team members act with compassion and understanding, miscommunication is minimized, leading to greater synergy. Still, despite their efforts, many leaders struggle to actually embrace empathy as part of their company culture.

JWI is a place where everyone feels seen and understood. The JWI leadership team has grown with the business. Since they've experienced the breadth of agency challenges and roles, they have a deep understanding of what their team faces every day. On the flip side, employees know their managers have been in their shoes, creating a dynamic of mutual respect.

Ultimately, acting "ethically" is subjective, particularly in a region with a huge diversity of mindsets. But at its core, ethical behavior involves taking a human-centric approach that places people before profits, and integrates actionable ways for this to be felt in the workplace everyday. With the UAE termed as a job-hopper's market, creating a company that your employees don't want to leave has major commercial benefits. When you place people first, employee retention remains high, leading to greater business success.

Related: 10 Lessons From 10 Years Of Running A Business In The Middle East

Charli Wright is the Managing Director for the Middle East at JWI, a creative marketing agency with offices in London and Dubai.

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