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Ethics, Blinders and Business

Everyday challenges to business ethicsThis is our topic for this week’s #kaizenblog, a weekly Twitter chat that uses the concept of kaizen to critically think about various aspects of business, enhance our skills and deepen our self-understanding. You can join this conversation every Friday at 12pm Eastern.

Do you think you know right from wrong? Are you consistent every time? We’d all like to think so. However, recent research on self-discipline and decision fatigue makes one wonder if there may be a slippery slope we didn’t take into account. It’s easy to identify corporate scandals that involve blatant greed and social pressure. But are there smaller moments when ethics are placed aside?

Everyday temptations

  • Conflicts of interest are probably the most common situations any of us encounter. Competing loyalties and desires can make us squirm. Sometimes we want to please someone. Sometimes we are in an uneven power dynamic and feel we must comply. Maybe we’re in a culture that is foreign or opposed to what we believe.
  • The weight of our values change. Over time, how we value things changes. It isn’t so much that you throw out your “old” values as change the level of importance. Our values can clash with one another as well causing cognitive dissonance. If you haven’t reviewed your values recently, here is a ValuesInventory that I often give to my clients.
  • Who or what in our environment entices us? Many times we are confronted with situations where we want to be in with the “cool kids”. The desire to compete, show off or be part of the glamour tempts us to put our integrity aside. Other situations include using an excessive amount of company time for personal calls, shopping, social media (unrelated to your job) or chatting with co-workers.
  • Expediency can undermine our integrity. How many projects have you been a part of that included giving a customer a product with defects. Maybe it really doesn’t affect the  product is a major way and maybe the customer won’t notice? It’s also fairly common to tell someone what they want to hear so they stop bothering you. The old “the check is in the mail” is a great example of this.

But what makes us put blinders on?

It would be nice to say only “bad” people make unethical choices. It’s not that simple though. Fatigue and stress undermine our ability to make good judgements. Since self-discipline is a finite resource, we might compromise ourselves (on a small scale, I hope) because we just don’t have the juice to see through the more challenging choices.

Maybe it’s the system of capitalism? It’s so easy to say “let the market sort things out”. Although sustainability and social responsibility has become a bigger piece of the business landscape, old habits die hard. The idea that it must be “winner takes all” creates an environment where cutting corners or simply avoiding certain choices makes money. It’s hard to beat that kind of reinforcement. Not that it can’t be done. It merely is a challenge. And as long as there are bubbles in the market (think the dot.com, housing and maybe gold right now?), people will ride those waves and build businesses to answer perceived needs or wants for these markets.

So, how do we encourage ourselves and others to act with integrity?

We could leave all this ethics stuff to academics, ethicists or philosophers. However, the most effective way to get this stuff out in the open is to talk about it. Frankly, a code of ethics written in the employee handbook is not worth much if it is never actually tested with conversations and critical thinking. There are some great suggestions on how to create these conversations on the HBR Blog Network by Francesca Gino. It’s been noted by Dan Ariely and other researchers that we are adept at rationalizing our choices. By stopping to examine our behavior, even if the conversation isn’t about us directly, we are given the chance to build up our ability to act with integrity and courage.

What other everyday temptations occur in business settings?

What do we  risk by making ethical choices?

How would a common code of business ethics work in real life?

What would help each of us to act with more consistent integrity?

 

Join us for the Twitter chat, #kaizenblog, this Friday, August 26th as we take a look at this topic, “Ethics, Blinders and Business.”  We meet every Friday at 12pm ET/5pm BST/9am PT .

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Who You Are Comes Out In How You Run Your Business

What are you tempted to do for you business?

What are you tempted to do for you business?

Seems logical, really. We have a certain temperament, a set of values, and certain behaviors and habits. So what would anyone expect?  As we develop our businesses and move in ever-changing circles, we come across information in the form of articles, advice, and opportunities. Some of these strengthen or weaken how our small businesses participate in the world.

I did a quick search on Google and discovered there are 21, 400,000 links for business ethics. And that wasn’t even a specific search for business ethics research, business ethics articles, or any other variation on “business ethics.” There has been a fierce debate on a coaching forum I follow about article spinning and whether it is really plagiarism. When we were kids, we got messages about being honest, not stealing, and asking permission. But what if you struggle with writing and really like a turn of phrase about a particular topic? Is spinning even your own work reinforcing your message, a failure of imagination, or something worse?

On Twitter, there are tweets encouraging certain strategies that dramatically increase your followers. You would think that more followers means more eyeballs looking at your messages about your area of expertise. Yet, there is also a vocal group that deride these strategies as gaming the system. That does seem cheesy and lacking integrity. And yet, any marketer will tell you it’s a numbers game. The more people see, hear, and experience your message, then you increase your odds that you will sell something. Small business owners talk about integrity. Marketers talk about the “know, like, and trust” factor. Social media consultants talk about engaging in conversation and building relationships. So many messages about authenticity which leads back to ethics.

If you are a stand-up guy or gal, where does it show up in the bottom line? What is temptation and do you have a price? In the end, does it come down to strength of character? Our businesses are paying our bills. The economy may be recovering but it’s slow. There is pressure to make sure revenue is building somehow. Pressure to decide what is best for your business, pressure to act…

How do you choose your actions?

How do you handle giving in and compromising your ethics?

iStockphoto JakezC

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Of Tightropes, Humility, and Self-Promotion

Walking a tightropeLast week, I participated on a panel discussion about the changing landscape of women entrepreneurship with Susan Penta and Rudi Scheiber-Kurtz at the NAWBO Boston chapter event. That’s not the cool part.

The cool part was during the question and answer part of the presentation. Susan Penta of Midior Consulting and adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at Northeastern University strongly urged us to consider that women are too humble and struggle with self-promotion. During the conversation, participants noted that sometimes their ethnic backgrounds had rules about how much attention you draw to yourself while others noted that they were given gender-based messages. You know, the “nice girls don’t do that sort of thing” message. 

There was a great deal of energy during this conversation as it spoke about an experience that many of us struggle with when we have an opportunity to sell our businesses. This is the tight rope that many women entrepreneurs walk. However, if your venture is going to succeed, you must promote it. Since entrepreneurs start small, promoting one’s business is really self-promotion too. Really small businesses know the old sales adage about people doing business with those they like, know, and trust. This is about the sole proprietor. But being aware of promoting oneself is not limited to small business. In large corporations, there is a trend to treat one’s career as if it is a small business. Highlighting your talents and accomplishments is important to moving into your desired position. One participant who is a C-level executive noted that she is in a larger organization that works in teams. It is not her style to point out publicly her performance within the team and she asked if she was making the right choice by subsuming her performance into the team’s performance. Another tightrope.

The conversation seemed to dance around the dilemmas of balancing one’s ethnicity (which is perhaps more of an American dilemma than anywhere else), one’s gender identity, and where one is in the organizational system. The  antidote, according to Ms. Penta, is to be passionate, honest, and act with integrity as this is truly what brings people to want to do business with you. 

Yes, Michael, we talk about this sort of thing in Boston. Just imagine!

But what is humility really? When I think of humility, it is usually in a religous context but I suppose it serves. Real, true humility has little to do with one’s confidence levels. Neither men nor women have a lock on humility. It seems to come from a deeper, more sure type of confidence. I am often inspired by my clients who speak of their businesses as its own entity and less about their prodigious skills at creating a valuable and stable business. They are confident in their promotional messages and the quality of their work but have a detachment that it is not a referendum on their person whether or not someone buys their products or services. These same intentions go into all of their conversations.

On sites like Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn, we are given a stage to present our expertise if we desire. Some people take the stage and ham it up. Or perhaps I should say spam it up. A lot of others take the stage, say their piece, and go onto engage with their followers in conversation. This way the self-promotion carries more weight. There are several on-going conversations on transparency and authenticity on Twitter but a blog post seemed to describe the tightrope between humility and self-promotion in a pretty funny way. In The Great Gatsby’s Last Tweet, Michael Benidt (@michaelbenidt) noted that there were many people who really ought to know better were just jamming their tweets with messages of how awesome they are. 

So, I left a comment:

In a different and yet not so different vein, Shakespeare wrote the line about “all sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

This blog post is part of a theme I’ve been experiencing this week. There is the on-going discussion about transparency. This past week , at the NAWBO Boston chapter event, we had a great discussion about humility and self-promotion. The crux of the conversation was to eliminate hyperbole and be yourself.

Integrity, particularly when one is not face to face, becomes important currency.

Michael Benidt (@michaelbenidt) of Hidden Treasures of the Internet (www.goldencompass.com) was so taken with my comment, he urged me to write a blog post about the conversation at NAWBO about humility and self-promotion. So, what’s really the point about humility and self-promotion? I think Kneale Mann of YouIntegrate (@knealemann) may have gotten it right in his comment in Shakespeare and Shelley Take On Twitter ,

“To butcher the cliché, humility and starvation make strange bedfellows. I wrote recently about trust – do you trust your social network? That’s another tricky one. And it was best answered by someone who commented that our online trust network is no different than the one in person – it depends on the situation. With specific regards to social networking, we often see the “salesman” get attacked immediately if he/she “sells their wares” but how do we let others know what we do or what we are good at? It’s a delicate dance and humility cannot be forgotten – but neither can confidence.”

Over-confidence is really arrogance and contains a high level of insensitivity. There is most certainly a tightrope when promoting on-line. You cannot see with whom you are speaking. It can be difficult to meaure the effectiveness of your message. So what are the rules of promoting oneself in social networking? Well, it seems pretty straightforward. Do what you would do if you were face to face.

What does humility mean to you?

How do you define self-promotion?

What role does authenticity and integrity play in how you conduct business?

Would you throw your business card at everyone you meet without qualifying them in some way?

 
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