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Ethics in Business…and What Do I Get?

by Luiz Alberto Verri

In a society where the scale of values emphasizes individual issues first, then the person’s own family and ultimately society, I purposely begin this article with the provocation of the question above.

I believe we are all at a certain point on the scale, from one to 10, according to our moral development and the education we received. Frequently, we recognize the lack of ethics in others, but hardly recognize (sometimes even realize) our own lack of ethics. So, let’s start this article by answering the question.

The person who practices ethics has at least the following advantages:

Sees the occidental society, formed mostly by individualists, as a crowd at a football field or the audience at a performance art event where there are places for everyone to be comfortably seated, but where no one sits because others are standing, blocking their views. But if most of them sit down (metaphor to practice ethics), everyone will watch comfortably. The game or spectacle of life is long, very long compared to a football game or an art show. Cooperation, therefore, leads to the well-being of everyone.

Realizes the requirements of working in corporate environments with respect to the environment and safety have been increased greatly. The companies that do not adapt to these new requirements will not survive or have not survived. The reason is simple: Society no longer accepts companies that pollute or cause accidents. The methods of pressure are very wide -- stocks lose value on exchanges, authorities interdict activities, customers stop buying, the community takes actions against the company, etc. This will certainly happen to the ethical question. Incidentally, it is already beginning to happen. Pretty soon, the pressure on companies to issues ethics will be so large with regards to safety and environmental issues. And you, the reader, as a member of a company, will have to fit. You better start practicing now.

Notes that, apart from the exceptions that prove the rule, the chief executives of companies are always in the top third of the ethics scale. The reason for this is because people hardly follow a leader who is not ethical. This is so true that I have observed some entrepreneurs hiring extremely ethical executives to lead their companies. So once again, your professional future soon will depend on how ethical you are.

Business Etiquette

Etiquette, according to Wikipedia, is a code that delineates expectations for social behavior according to contemporary conventional norms within a society, social class or group.

To a greater or lesser degree, we all received a basic education on the rules of coexistence with others. Among them, say good morning, respect the line, answer when asked and answer when someone rang the bell. By love or pain, we learned these rules, even in car traffic. We are able to live and deal with traffic, high speeds on highways and other various everyday situations with codes of conduct created for all of us to take the best in these activities.

I feel, however, that a basic set of rules on business etiquette is not clearly defined and, in many cases, not defined at all. In my opinion, few managers are willing to teach it. I, therefore, shall venture to suggest some rules of business etiquette to help the relationship in corporations.

  • Answer e-mails: Of course, no one should respond to a direct sales pitch through an e-mail. I am referring to those e-mails that ask and ask for a clear answer. It seems to me something surreal in not replying to them. It’s like someone asking something to another person in a public place and this person out-and-out not answering. Strange, is it not? We are always running about, not having enough time to complete tasks. But even so, you can evade answering with a simple, “I’m sorry, I do not have time to answer this right now.” How many seconds would it take to send a reply like this?
  • Do not send unnecessary e-mails: Given the ease in sending copies of e-mails, it is difficult to hold back on the urge to send copies “just in case” or “it is important that everyone has this news.” But is it, really? Put yourself in another’s shoes. How many unnecessary e-mails do you receive per day? The senders could decrease these numbers and probably you could, too.
  • Meet schedules: To me, a very large amount of time and money is lost from people who are just expecting others to meet a schedule, thus generating unproductive hours. The lack of objectivity leads to endless activities, generating significant losses due to these non-productivity times.
  • Pay attention to what people are telling you: Assume that when a person is speaking, the least you have to do is listen. After all, we all know that one of the supercritical manager’s skills is listening to people. It’s better to say, “look, I have no time to discuss this now,” than have your body present, but your mind working on other things in total disregard to the other person.
  • Answer the phone when no one is available to do so: Okay, answering a call directed to another person is almost always a “mess” since it will give us additional work. But think of it this way: It could be that customer you, yourself, are waiting to hear from, or the vendor telling something important, or even family information extremely important and urgent for that person. Put yourself in that person’s shoes. Wouldn’t you like that person to answer a call for you, especially, for example, it’s a call from a loved one in urgent need of your help? Then, answer the phone for the others, as well. After all, a polite, “how can I help?,” leverages the image of your company, your department and your image as a professional.
  • Return a telephone call, including mobile: It’s amazing the number of times that I, as a consultant, leave a message for someone to call me, with no return call. I know people are very busy and usually have more urgent and/or important things to do than talk to me since I’m currently a supplier. But it costs nothing for someone to return a call to solve the issue at hand, or at least give the person satisfaction in acknowledging their call. I did that when I held the position of general manager at a large refinery, so I know this is entirely possible.
  • Ask if the person can talk on the phone at the moment you call: It is common to receive calls on a cell phone at any time and someone starting to speak incessantly without asking where we are or if we can talk on the phone at that time. The caller should ask the person if he or she can talk now. Besides demonstrating respect for each other, in the future, that person will most likely respond to your calls.
  • Check how your stakeholders are being treated at your company’s gate: I asked a friend of mine, a former president of a leading multinational in Brazil who is now a recognized consultant, how he deals with the profound disrespect we often receive from the “receptionists” and “guards” in the ordinances of the companies. He replied that none of his customers treat him in this manner because he would abandon them at the first occurrence of such treatment. I’m not as radical, but I use to work with more motivation in places where I am treated well. And I think this happens with all stakeholders, including customers and authorities.

Notice, readers, that at no time I have defined ethics. I believe it is not necessary. To me, ethics derives directly from a rule of thumb that we have been taught almost 2,000 years ago: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”

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