Trust factor

Eleven years ago, I owned a
fledgling business that, like
many young companies, was struggling to grow past the
start-up phase.

Through a calculated risk, I put
my trust in an overseas partner
whom I’d worked with for several years and who had always
talked about being honorable.

Unfortunately, my trust was
misplaced. Through a series of unethical
actions that sullied his honor, my partner
reneged on his end of the bargain. The disastrous results crippled my operations and
nearly left me in personal and professional
financial ruin.

As painful as the experience was — it took
several years to recover — I received a valuable lesson in business ethics. It can take
years to build trust with your clients, vendors, partners and employees, but you can
destroy all that hard work with a single unethical action. Worse, the
damage you cause sometimes
can’t be repaired.

A friendly reminder of the
importance of ethical behavior
arrived recently in the form of a
letter from a former cover story
subject. In it, this CEO
announced his organization’s
new code of ethics and included
a copy of an 18-page pamphlet
that contained sections on, among other
things, accepting gifts, vendor-sponsored
travel, honorariums, improper payments
and conflicts of interest.

The CEO’s letter expressed gratitude for
the relationships the company had built
over the years and explained that to maintain these relationships, it was critical to
hold every member of the organization
accountable for following fundamental principles of ethical business conduct. Then the
CEO went one step further by including a compliance hotline phone number to call if
any part of his written promise was broken.

It’s a bold statement, but one that instantly
caught my attention, as I’m sure it did with
others who received the package.

Not every company has the resources to
develop and implement a program with this
level of detail for its constituents. But it’s an
idea any CEO can adapt.

Just saying you run an ethical ship doesn’t
make it true. Ethics deserves more than just
lip service, and putting it in writing is a good
way to make everyone in your organization

Say what you’re going to do, then do what
you say; it’s as straightforward as that. As
this CEO wrote in his letter, “Honesty and
integrity are the hallmarks of this code.
There are simply no substitutes.”

Contact Editor Dustin Klein at [email protected]