Tuesday, March 17, 2009

It's Time To Rethink Business Ethics

This blog originally appeared on AtlantaWomanMag.com.

For anyone who has been following the financial tales of woe lately, one word seems to be at the heart of our nation's economic collapse. From subprime mortgages to unqualified borrowers, the collapse of huge banks and financial institutions, the Madoff Ponzi scheme that ruined many, and even reaching back to Enron, Tyco and Worldcom, "ethics" are now being called into question.

In response to the most recent monetary outrage - that of ailing, bailout-recipient AIG paying $165 million in bonuses to executives - CNN.com in a recent report cited President Obama as stating that "...the impropriety of the bonuses goes beyond economics. "It's about our fundamental values," he said.

"All across the country, there are people who are working hard and meeting their responsibilities every single day, without the benefit of government bailouts or multimillion-dollar bonuses. You've got a bunch of small-business people here who are struggling just to keep their credit line open. And all they ask is that everyone, from Main Street to Wall Street to Washington, play by the same rules. That is an ethic that we have to demand.""

It would seem that "ethics" has lost much of its meaning in much of the workplace.

Atlanta Woman chose to highlight this issue at its recent Ethics 101 event, inviting Dr. Elizabeth Kiss, president of Agnes Scott College, Debbie Sessions, partner and COO of Porter Keadle Moore, Accounting, and Lyn Turknett, principal of The Turknett Leadership Group, to engage attendees in candid discussions on workplace ethics, leadership and trust.

Dr. Kiss told the audience that the most effective way to establish a transparent code of ethics in the workplace is to first establish a core value set, and to then establish a culture of conversation about those values. She added that you must always be open to criticism, and show transparency when engaged in the decision-making process.

Turknett echoed her comments, adding that business ethics don't have to be an oxymoron. She iterated that the behavior of superiors most reflects employees' ethics in their respective organizations. In other words, you have to walk the walk if you expect people to follow your lead, which, as the media has led us to believe, is happening all too often in today's business world - but in the wrong way.

Sessions added that, in today's media savvy world, perhaps you should ask yourself when faced with an ethical dilemma, 'How would this decision come across if it were broadcast on the 6 o'clock news?' Or better yet, how would this decision come across if Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert pitched in their two cents?

Seems like a no-brainer, but the gray areas of ethical decision making seem to be far outweighing the black and white ones. As one AW audience member commented, perhaps it's time Atlanta Woman takes this conversation to Capitol Hill.

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