Added values Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2007

With everything it takes to run a business, defining corporate values can often be low on the to-do list.

But what will you, your managers and your employees refer to when faced with an ethically challenging situation? Making up the rules as you go shouldn’t be an option.

Smart Business spoke to Ginny Beneke, vice president of regional operations and marketing at National University, about the importance of setting a precedent and sticking to it.

Where should an ethical mindset begin in a company?

The important thing about an ethical organization is that it has to start at the top. Just like anything else, it’s a business practice, but it’s really a cultural principle that sets a foundation of what is right and wrong. Then, within the different departments, you would implement that as an organization.

It’s important that it’s done through training both for internal purposes and external purposes, such as customer service. It’s relevant for the external and for training internally to have corporate core values that you all believe in, and then to reinforce those through correspondence, communications, meetings, business practices and policies, and customer service. So it’s really setting the clear expectations of what it means to be ethical in that organization and then reinforcing it through training and your practices.

At the end of the day, it’s not always the easiest thing to do, but it’s what’s fair and what’s right and helps people feel good about working there. And customers like to be treated fairly: instead of just getting the good deal, they’re treated fairly and justly. We all like to feel that way, whether it’s within our own organizations or dealing with other organizations.

Can defining ethics sometimes become an afterthought?

It can. People tend to think about their businesses too much. They’re busy creating the deal and creating the business model. They sometimes forget to create an overall principle and underlying ethical foundation. You also have to create a model upon which to base your decisions and your business policy: how you want people to treat each other and how you want people to treat their customers. Because it has to work both ways. You can’t expect your employees to treat your customers right and with respect, and then not do that internally within your own organization. It has to be ingrained within both areas of the company.

What are some roadblocks?

How you define ethics may be different for different people. It’s very hard to say what is right, what is wrong. People may have a different opinion on that and set different boundaries. Sometimes an owner will overlook setting boundaries. If you think about it, it’s very hard to manage those principles within your business. It’s almost like tough love — these are things we have to want in an organization, how we treat people, how we talk to people, the decisions we make — making sure that it’s fair and ethical. It’s a very tough thing, because it’s something that’s not normally taught, but it’s something that does provide an important structure in the company.

Are there resources for someone wanting to create an ethical organization?

We took the Ritz Carlton training program on customer service. So there are training programs around customer service and there are training programs around organization design. Stating your values and then incorporating them into both internal and external training are important. Going outside the company creates a benchmark against what’s there and how you can use that information within your company.

How can ethical values be clearly stated and encouraged?

A lot of companies have values cards that employees carry with them. Our values are stated on our Web site.

To clearly set expectations is important, whether that’s on a card or whether it’s just reinforced by the owner or CEO. Make it a part of orientation training for new employees and ongoing training.

There should be employee rewards for good customer service. If someone does something really nice, he or she gets what we call an A+ card. It reinforces the values of respecting and appreciating other employees and creating good customer service relations between them.

We also do a lot of rewards and recognition. It’s not just that people get things done, it’s the attitude and the way they treat people. So it’s important to ingrain your values in a lot of things that are done throughout your organization. This attitude should also be reinforced in business practices, meetings, the way you conduct meetings, and so on.

It’s a tough thing to do — it can be as tough as running a business — but at the end of the day I think we all want to feel good about having the opportunity to do what’s right.

GINNY BENEKE is vice president of regional operations and marketing at National University. Reach her at (858) 642-8357 or