If your news feed looks anything like mine, you’ll have noticed a trend in articles that speaks to business ethics as applied to the people who work for you as well as the clientèle you serve. Humane treatment of employees becomes crucial in attracting and retaining qualified people, especially in a tight labor market. The Internet enables job candidates to research companies before they accept job offers, and many do just that, not only checking company websites, but also seeking out employer reviews posted on such sites as GlassDoor, Great Place To Work, Indeed, Vault, and The Job Crowd.
However, does your company’s kinder, gentler outlook manifest in actual practice or in your company’s mission and vision statements? If employer review sites suggest otherwise, you’ve got a big task ahead of you to turn that around with existing staff, because you’ve already lost that chance with former employees who have nothing left to lose by posting scathing reviews. The company that pursues its mission and vision without concern for the human consequences may succeed in terms of dollars and market share, but it will lose in terms of human resource costs. It’s no secret that high employee turnover gets very costly in terms of staff morale and the company’s bottom line.
Once a company has its vision statement, it must develop a strategy to accomplish it. The vision statement serves as the company’s overarching objective: this is what we are going to do; this is our purpose. The mission statement serves as a general directive on how the company will accomplish that overarching goal and/or fulfill the purpose. Writing for Forbes, Larry Myler states that fewer than 10 percent of all organizations effectively and successfully execute their strategies. The missing element in that execution, he says, is alignment. Businesses tend to veer to either extreme: either a declaration of their identity regardless of who likes it or a loss of identity in the whiplash-inducing effort to accommodate their clientele’s every whim. Myler further cautions against the loss of coherence in the company’s vision down through organizational chart levels. Matthew Harrington, writing for New Directions, concurs: “If there is no clear vision or it at least it hasn’t been communicated down the ranks, then how could we expect employees to make decisions that are in alignment with that vision?” Simply put, if the rank-and-file employees on customer-facing front lines don’t understand the company’s vision and mission, then they can’t effectively carry it out.
The vision and the strategy to execute it must have the support of values at all levels of management. This requires integrity, because your employees aren’t stupid. If they see or hear of dishonesty and duplicity in the C-suite, then they have no reason to trust that the lip service given to those values holds any meaning whatsoever. In short, talk the talk and walk the walk. Harrington explains: “values are what make sure the decisions being made are not self-serving. They take into consideration moral obligations and ethics, and often are seen as the pillars on which we stand.”
The process of aligning a company’s vision with its values involves a critical review of workplace ethics. According to Dona Dezube, writing for Monster, work ethics transcend cultural and generational borders and include trustworthiness, responsibility, good citizenship, caring, justice (or fairness), and respect directed to both customers and employees. The policies that enact the mission statement to fulfill the vision statement should translate the company’s values into actionable form that every employee can understand and follow. This includes statements in the employee handbook that define what they may and may not do and apply equally to everyone.
Aligning the company’s vision and values integrates ethics into the common business practices and establishes a culture of dignity and respect that serves employees, customers, and the common goals of the company.
As children we learned the Golden Rule: Treat others as you wish to be treated. In business, however, we see winners and losers and those that win don’t appear to play by the rules. Read articles on systemically poor treatment of workers by such commercial juggernauts as Walmart, Amazon, Enron, McDonald’s, and more. These companies received scathing press for treating the callous treatment of their employees, yet they remain potent and influential in the realm of commerce.
So it seems that nice guys (or gals) finish last.
CBS concurs. In their article “Want to Be Successful? Don’t Play by the Rules,” the subjectivity of societal rules affects how we see others and ourselves. However, self-limiting rules–those which we impose upon ourselves–says the article have unintended consequences. Such rules, opines the writer, are more about trying to exert control over one’s world; they don’t concern ethics, morals, or conviction. Breaking those self-imposed rules frees one to achieve success.
Beyond those self-limiting constraints we impose upon ourselves, how often do we fail to recognize that the perceived rules and assumptions by which we live are more subjective than we thought? An article on thinkbusinessgrowth.com relates the switching on of the proverbial light bulb in a graduate classroom experiment. The result? Students discovered that the rules by which billionaires play are flexible. Such rules may impose the same limitations as self-imposed rules, such as not asking for assistance unless the problem is serious and that independence is the truest sign of strength.
Liberarianism.org points to examples in sports where the common abrogation of rules occurs to prevent easy scores by opposing teams, to extend games, or to reduce the margin of winning by opposing teams. Like sports, many consider business a game with rules that govern transactions and guide ethical behavior. Deliberately unfair play gives undue advantage; however, those who use the rules to their best advantage without breaking them, says the author, are the most successful.
We can’t escape the morality of rules, legal, societal, or self-imposed. Marketing entrepreneur Tori Kyes observes that “if you read anyone who’s ever been successful’s memoir, you’ll find two common denominators: 1. They failed, at some point in their life. Probably a lot. 2. They didn’t do it the way everyone else did.” Kyes follows that statement with the example of a friend whose plan to launch a product contained three major flaws. The first, that person didn’t believe in his project unless someone else believed in it enough to dedicate a significant chunk of time, expertise, and effort into marketing it. The second, reliance upon an expert dumps one’s fate into the hands of others who may not have a vested interest in one’s success. The third, this friend held the conviction that effective marketing followed the One True Way, when, says Kyes, “you can do it any damn way you please.”
Doing it “any damn way you please” doesn’t mean shooting from the hip and taking a scattershot approach. It means analyzing what needs to be done and then figuring out the best way for your business to accomplish that within the available budget. That means–you guessed it–developing a process for implementation. That process should guide the effort and be adjusted as setbacks occur (and they will) and as successes follow through. It means taking calculated risks and investing cold hard cash in the success of your business.
So, what are the rules?
The buck stops here. As a decision maker, every choice you make concerning the business affects the business, its employees, and even its clients. Many of those consequences may be minor, such as changing the brand of copy paper used in the office. Other decisions carry far-reaching and significant consequences that swing the pendulum of success from achievement to failure and back again. Savvy decision makers don’t assume they know every facet to every decision that must be made concerning their companies, or even their departments. They also have more to do than make decisions all day every day. In short, they delegate.
While important corporate decisions that affect employee livelihoods and clients should follow standard guidelines to ensure that those decisions are made from thorough analysis of the best information available, strict protocols that force decision making along a specific path stifle creativity and prevent innovation. Approval processes that add layer upon layer of unnecessary bureaucracy also clog the pipeline for simply conducting business.
Case in point: A manager needed a bookcase to hold the many manuals related to regulatory, organization and union rules, and the vehicles repaired and maintained by that department. The manager identified the basic bookcase that would serve the purpose and submitted the request for approval to his supervisor. He approved the purchase and submitted it to the next manager in the organizational hierarchy. That manager disapproved with the comment, “What are you going to do with this piece of equipment?” The manager’s sarcastic response to a colleague: “I’m going to build a nuclear submarine with it. What does he think I’m going to do with a bookcase?” The manuals remained in piles on his office floor.
Decision makers at every level need freedom to make the choices that will aid in their work. While executives understand that approvals are necessary to avoid unreasonable purchases, excessive layers of bureaucracy add frustration and resentment.
In addition to facilitating the daily work of business, decision making authority increases productivity and job satisfaction. According to Discover Business, “In a recent study from the University of Chicago School of Business, research found that happiness depends more on opportunities to make decisions (i.e., freedom) rather than money or connections.” Rather than hold tightly to authority and power, executives can unleash the productive and innovative potential of their employees by helping them learn to make good decisions.
The 6-step value analysis process, cause-and-effect analysis models, PEST, FMEA, and SWOT analysis, and other decision-making strategies aid in:
● Determining what information is pertinent to the issue,
● Collecting the necessary information,
● Analyzing the information,
● Generating ideas for resolving the issue,
● Evaluating those ideas for feasibility and benefit,
● Selecting the best ideas for action.
Critical decision making depends upon asking questions–the right questions. If you remember your parents urging you to think before you speak, carry this a step further: Think before you act. The thinking process involves critical questioning that “allows you to clearly distinguish facts from biases, stakeholders from observers, and solutions from potential solutions.”
Contrary to the belief of many executives, structure, scale, and disposition of resources do not determine performance, although they may affect it. In their article “The Decision-Driven Organization,” Marcia W. Blenko, Michael Mankins, and Paul Rogers refer to a study by Bain & Company: “57 reorgs between 2000 and 2006 found that fewer than one-third produced any meaningful improvement in performance. Most had no effect, and some actually destroyed value.” Their research shows that structure, scale, and disposition of resources “produce better performance if and only if it improves the organization’s ability to make and execute key decisions better and faster than competitors.” That means innovation, not organization, should be a company’s strategic priority.
Innovation requires freedom.