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Aside from making your work meaningful, running a business according to ethical and moral principles makes good financial sense. When your customers trust and respect you, they're more likely to bring you their repeat business. When you bring integrity to the products and services you provide, you'll have a strong foundation that allows you to stand behind these offerings with conviction and build strong relationships with the people who buy them.
What Are Morals?
Ethics is a general belief system governing your convictions about right and wrong. Morals are the specific principles through which your ethical belief system manifests. In traditional philosophy, ethical ideas are usually expressed in terms of motivations or consequences. An ethical system based on motivation will look to the bigger idea behind an action, such as whether you treat your customers well because all people deserve to be treated well. An ethical principle based on consequences will address whether your customers feel they have been treated with respect, regardless of whether you actually respect them or not. The moral action of treating customers with respect may look the same to the customer, regardless of whether you do it because it's right or because it's expedient.
Ethics and Morals in Business
Business owners are individuals, with diverse belief systems and codes of behavior, and ethics and morals play out very differently in different businesses. For some entrepreneurs, ethics and morals are at the very core of why they are running a business in the first place. This is especially true of businesses that are founded for a purpose, such as engineering environmentally friendly technologies or importing Fair Trade products. Other business owners run their companies as extensions of their personal values, for example by treating customers and employees with kindness. Fair transactions are moral as well, and a business owner can apply ethics and morals to practices such as providing quality products and services, paying invoices on time and giving accurate change.
Codes of Ethics
Many companies post their codes of ethics specifically detailing their guiding principles and commitment to morally sound operations. But it's not enough to just write and post an ethical code: you and your employees should also work this code into every aspect of your daily operations. At their best, business ethical codes are tools that remind management and employees about the deeper purpose behind company operations. An explicitly stated code of ethics can also empower employees to behave in ways that comply with the stated code.
Posting your specific ethical guidelines will serve to eliminate confusion when it comes to customer service and business practices. There are any number of different ethical frameworks in business; new employees may have worked under vastly different ones before joining your organization.
Devra Gartenstein founded her first food business in 1987. In 2013 she transformed her most recent venture, a farmers market concession and catering company, into a worker-owned cooperative. She does one-on-one mentoring and consulting focused on entrepreneurship and practical business skills.