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"Do the Right Thing" is Not a Code of Ethics

Nov 01, 2013

I had the owner of a large business suggest that her code of ethics was enough and it was simply to tell her employees to "do the right thing and wondered if that was really adequate.  Telling your employees to “do the right thing” is better than nothing, but it is pretty close to nothing.  Most people think of Business Ethics in simple terms (don’t steal, respect others, etc.) while in reality Business Ethics are what guides employees and organizations when the choices aren’t clear.  It is also important to note that what you might think is the right thing may be different from what your employees think is the right thing:  An employee might cut a corner in the sales process knowing that by doing so, they will get your business a big sale, which to them seems to be the “right thing”.  Substitute “skip a step in the production process” or “use a cheaper inferior part to bolster the profit margin” to see how this example can apply to any part of a business.

Think of Business Ethics as part of your corporate culture and how important it is to have your values as an organization be part of every decision and action you and your employees make.  Instead of a rulebook, think of Business Ethics as a rule framework so that when new issues arise that weren’t covered in the past, they can be addressed within this framework to ensure your business’ ethical standards are maintained. 

Rather than telling your employees to “do the right thing”, develop your business’ values and  its own set of ethics to create your business’ code of ethics.  Once you have this code of ethics, you will need to make sure every employee knows and understands them and their importance to you and your business and continue to revisit the code of ethics, not just let them become a document on your network drive.  In the meantime, I would recommend everyone have a copy of Texas Instruments’ Ethics Quick Test on hand:

  • Is the action legal?
  • Does it comply with our values?
  • If you do it, will you feel bad?
  • How will it look in the newspaper?
  • If you know it’s wrong, don’t do it!
  • If you’re not sure, ask.
  • Keep asking until you get an answer.

Wyoming Entrepreneur assists businesses develop ethics programs and helps businesses when they find themselves in ethically complex situations.  Contact James Drever (, (307) 766-3505) or your local Business Advisor for more information about our free and confidential assistance and whether it is a cause or an effect, businesses with good ethics programs tend to outperform those that do not.

Category: Strategy

Jim Drever

Jim Drever is a counselor with the Wyoming SBDC.

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