Can your employees figure out what’s right?

We recently featured a webinar about establishing an ethics program and why this is important, even for smaller businesses. It’s been my observation that a business owner needs to be very intentional about this subject. The tendency is to assume that their shining example or their employee’s mystic power to read minds is good enough substitute for outlining a code of conduct and policies that make up the pillars of an effective program.

But the foundation of an ethics program has to be the company’s explicitly identified values. If you can’t articulate what you want your business to stand for then you’ve got a long road ahead expecting compliance.

A few days after our webinar was presented, I ran across this Harvard Business Review article about the three kinds of knowledge. I assumed this is why the article had three authors but it actually is discussing a concept from Aristotle.

The connection I made was not with the ancient Greek sage (although I want to now thank my high school English teacher for making me read Will Durant’s The Story of Philosophy).

Instead I thought about the three kinds of decision making that a small business owner has to consider. Let’s call them Financial, Market and Executive. When any kind of business question is up for a decision these are the spheres of interest that should be considered, namely:

— What’s the financial impact on my company and its long-term viability?
— What’s the impact on my customers, what they expect and how they will respond?
— And, in summary, what’s the right thing to do and how will I implement the decision?

These all probably fit into the ethical judgement realm that the article identifies as phronesis. But you don’t need a philosophy degree to know that your business will be better off if it always steers an ethical course. If only your employees understood just what you mean by that.

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