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Column: We need a revolution in business, and these scandals prove it

Doing business ethically must become a priority – and done right it will make us more prosperous, writes Brian F Smyth.

Brian F Smyth

IT MAY SEEM fairly obvious to many that being ethical in how we manage our businesses makes good sense from a business viewpoint.

With all the abuses and scandals of recent times, it is easy to see that good practice and good ethics contribute to safer and more sustainable companies and so are inherently good for business. There is a general surge of public opinion in support of this, which would seem to augur well for the future conducting of business along more ethical lines. However, this is not and will not be enough.

The introduction of new and tighter regulatory stipulations – either at the overall political level or as legislated by independent nation states – are likely to fail just as they failed before. We know that there were ample regulations in the past to keep everyone on the straight and narrow, but that there were equal numbers of clever mechanisms and experts hired and expected to find quasi-legitimate ways of deviating from or getting around what were regarded as unnecessary fetters holding back the growth of companies and, of course, jobs, jobs, jobs.

But this is only part of my reason for saying that this belief in and support for ethical management is not and will not be enough.

Such a belief will get blown away very quickly if the tide turns and opportunities for growth − and jobs – re-arise. Only the real conviction that managing in a good and ethical way is the best way to manage will suffice and work. This conviction will come from a clear awareness that business is NOT ‘just business’. As long as human beings are involved, it is governed by the laws of what being human means. There is no escape from this. And these laws are stronger, more effective, more penetrating and more rewarding than any institutional laws we can up with.

‘We will police ourselves’

If we can respect these laws and reach the understanding that some things are good in themselves and will always remain so irrespective of how supported in general they are – or how apparently beneficial to business they may be – we won’t need regulatory stipulations or regulatory authorities. We will police ourselves, because we will realise that doing the right thing feels good and is good – for us, for others, for business and, perchance, for the world.

This of course calls for really hard work to find out what is right in every situation, but nothing less is expected from us and nothing less will suffice. This is so because the success of any business or enterprise is never and can never be ultimately what is most important.

I recently listened to a business programme on the radio where two experts were being interviewed by the presenter about handling emotions in the workplace. The basic message, as I understood it, from these two experts, was that emotions need to be controlled in the workplace. One of them, the female, recounted an incident where she did become emotional and regretted it.

Quite apart from the fact that emotions were being given a very bad name and neither of the experts talked about the importance of emotions such as passion and courage – not to mention love of course – the one criterion they were using in giving their advice was what works in the workplace and what doesn’t. There was nothing deeper, nothing more fundamental and nothing about the importance of being truly human, emotions and all.

‘We have no choice’

All of this can still sound as if we are putting the brakes on managers and businesses and that sticking to what is good and right, while lovely things to do, will hold them back. But this is the greatest sadness and the biggest lie. Far from holding us back, doing what is right will enable all those with whom we work and deal to be truly themselves and to give of their best.

I consistently show companies and organisations with whom I work that by thinking and operating in this way they become significantly more powerful and effective and, as a result, more successful. Managing our businesses in an ethical way is actually better for business, too.

And, while it is better to operate in an ethical way for the health of our businesses, it is equally necessary to do so for the overall health and welfare of those around us, for the world and for ourselves. We have no choice but to go this route. It need not be a straight and narrow route, but an exciting, rich and fulfilling one for ourselves and for everyone around us.

We won’t know ourselves if we can begin to think and work in this way and we can do it right now and reap the fruits immediately. Our customers will trust us, our suppliers will want to be partners in our success and our people will be committed and give their all to a cause that is worthwhile and to a management that is credible. Yes, it pays to be ethical.

A former NASA and General Motors employee, Brian F Smyth has over twenty years’ experience helping organisations in different parts of the world to achieve new levels of performance and success.

His new book Managing To Be Human, published by Orpen Press, is about how to manage staff and workload within an organisation while retaining your humanity and consideration for others.

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Brian F Smyth

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