Business Ethics and Values: What Now?

Business-ethics-and-valuesIn taking a step back to look at what’s happening with business ethics and values, what do we need to remember for the future? What lessons have we learned from the 2008 financial recession?

It is good to remind ourselves that what matters most now is what’s always mattered: our bedrock values. ~ Gary Hamel, What Matters Now

The problem with reminding people about core values is that it often comes across as preaching. We’re too quick to parrot the company mission and values statement, that is if we can remember a few catch phrases. If we look honestly at the first decade of the 21st century, we haven’t had a good start in the ethics and values department.

While it’s easy to blame greedy CEOs and financial institutions, or the system, or Washington, we have lessons we can learn from the recent recession. We have two of the most successful systems in place: capitalism and democracy. And yet we still managed to create a mess. As Hamel writes in his book, “The worst economic downturn since the 1930s wasn’t a banking crisis, a credit crisis, or a mortgage crisis – it was a moral crisis.”

If any culprit is to be found, it is ego and self-interests run rampant. In a quest for success, for more profits, we forget what truly matters. The truth of the matter is we have had regulations in place to curb “irrational exuberance,” we just didn’t use them. It wasn’t capitalism that failed us, it was the custodians of capitalism. We had a lapse in collective moral judgment on all sides.

We often ask how could so many smart people get it wrong? It happens by small nudges, concessions, a slow compromise, bit by bit. Faced with a choice of self-denial or self-serving expediency, we are relieved when we find someone else has already lowered the bar. While capitalism is driven by freedom of self-interest, when its not tamed by moral self-discipline, it leads to deceit.

Will we create more “lapses” and have another great recession? Probably, certain. One thing we can remember, however, is that self-interest isn’t all that matters. I believe that most of us are capable of working to further our self-interests AND further the interests of our fellow human beings. But we just need reminding… maybe a lot.

What do you think? I’d love to connect with you. You can contact me here and on LinkedIn.

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