Today’s Dear Coach is How You Demonstrate Ethics In Your Business.

I am really excited to be the recent recipient of a BBB Torch Award for Ethics. The application process gave me a lot of opportunity to reflect on things that I simply do but maybe have been taking for granted. I think a lot of conscientious business owners are like that — we’re focused on taking care of our clients the best way we know how. It isn’t something that we necessarily articulate let alone document. Like Nike, we just do it. And yet the effect of what we do matters a lot to our clients, our employees, and our community.

So I thought I’d take everyone through how I answered one question in particular to give you a few ideas for things that you can do to put some structure around all of your good efforts. After all, if you have a structure, you have something you can explain. And if you can explain it, you can use it to distinguish yourself from your competitors.

The question was “Please discuss any broad measures you have taken to infuse more ethics across operations in your company.” Since I’m a solopreneur, I don’t have a lot in the way of operations. But, as a coach, I do get into the guts of such things with clients who have much more complex businesses. Here are three ways that I help them, which you can put to use in your company:

First, you can develop a Purpose, Mission, Vision, and Values statement. Business owners sometimes write this off as “fluff” that lacks true meaning. “Sure, I’ll hang this in the lobby, but we all forget to look at it.” But when I go through this exercise with clients, asking them to keep drilling down their answers to the most essential elements, it’s like they re-awaken to why they get up every morning ready to take on the responsibilities they shoulder. That connection to their sense of purpose — to wanting to share their values and promote a highly ethical standard of conduct — that becomes their primary driving force. This has led business owners to act on any number of stated values, from decreasing their eco-footprint by going entirely paperless to donating a percentage of their profits to a charity whose cause is near to their hearts. One of my clients is a plumbing company that sponsors the Humane Society. They recently updated their branding to incorporate dogs, cats, and the HSSA logo; and they pay the adoption fee for the featured pet of the week. They constantly get positive comments about their newly wrapped trucks. So sharing their values, which they genuinely hold, also has been amazing for their marketing.

Second, you can distinguish between owning a business and leading one. Employers are faced with hiring, training, disciplining, mentoring, firing, marketing, networking, budgeting…. Understandably, it’s tempting to throw work at employees, expect them to read your mind, and hope they figure it out. Choosing instead to invest time in mentoring your greatest resource is the difference between owning a business and leading a business. Employers have to lead their teams, so they feel invested, empowered, and valued. The result is leadership at every level — and that has profound effects both professionally and personally. Professionally, you’ll enjoy less drama with better employee and client retention. Personally, you are helping other people to find their voice. And you may be surprised how many good ideas and observations they share once they’ve found it.

Third, you can practice the humane art of firing. Teaching business owners how to fire employees may not seem like an obvious example of ethics, but I have found this is extremely important. Avoiding uncomfortable conversations with problematic employees poses many ethical problems, not the least of which is sending the message to productive employees that their contribution is valued equally to someone who lacks results or a good attitude. If an employer can’t fire an obviously bad employee, it’s usually an indicator that they also have a hard time upholding other principles that are inherent to running a high-caliber organization. Business owners need to be diplomatically open and honest with employees about their performance. Doing so models a high level of respect and conduct for everyone in their company. They can have a respectful conversation in which they let an employee go, knowing that a good person can be a bad fit. In the process, they demonstrate to good employees that their efforts and integrity are valued, respected, and expected to continue.

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Small Business, Big Voices: Episode 7