The last thing any company wants is a misstep that hurts the trust it has built with customers. This is especially true for smaller businesses, which may not have the resources to recover from a reputational setback. To prevent mistakes, bad decisions and wrongdoing, smaller businesses can take a proactive approach to developing ethical business leaders and business cultures. In doing so, experts say businesses can achieve benefits for their bottom line, their employees and the common good.
It can happen anywhere
Often, leaders at small businesses with few employees feel protected from or less susceptible to fraud or unethical conduct because of the close-knit nature of their teams. But research shows the issue of unethical behavior is more widespread than they realize, and certainly isn’t confined to one type of business. According to a 2017 Ethics and Compliance Initiative survey, nearly 47% of U.S. employees at companies of all sizes said they personally observed workplace conduct that “either violated organizational standards or the law.”
A 2018 Better Business Bureau survey found that 84% of consumers trust small businesses the most. That’s important for business owners to recognize, because the more trust a consumer puts in your company, the greater the ramifications when that trust is broken. This means business leaders have every incentive to develop strong ethical standards and cultures.
One university is looking to empower smaller businesses through a new open-access website. The University of St. Thomas recently launched the Business Ethics Resource Center (BERC), with U.S. Bank as the founding sponsor. The BERC is part of the university’s Center for Ethics in Practice in the Opus College of Business and provides practical resources for small and midsized businesses, focusing on ways they can develop ethical leaders and cultures.
Resources include videos, articles, toolkits, example plans and other multimedia assets that can help companies promote ethical conduct as part of their core mission. The BERC is designed to help time-strapped business leaders develop and sustain a strong ethical culture within their organizations and realize the inherent benefits that come along with that.
The benefits of ethics
While it’s difficult to determine the true cost of developing an ethical culture within your organization, it’s clear there are a number of tangible benefits. For starters, practicing ethics can help you avoid costly legal issues while enhancing your company’s reputation. It will also help you build customer loyalty, with 80% of customers saying they are more loyal to a company with good ethics, according to a recent survey from Salesforce. The same qualities that attract customers will also increase your ability to attract and retain outstanding employees. When you’re able to establish ethical standards as the foundation of your company values, you foster a more positive, meaningful work culture for your employees.
Promoting ethical conduct and compliance doesn’t have to be expensive. By utilizing the resources available and cementing strong ethical standards as a critical part of company values, businesses can establish an ethical company culture that benefits everyone involved.