The phrase ‘it’s just business’ is often used to justify morally questionable behaviour. The immense power business wields over the well-being of this planet makes the issue of morality in business more important than ever.
Outside of the “sanctified” realm of business, where profit rules above all else, most of us are pretty good at knowing good from bad. Good is when someone is true to their word, when they act with generosity, respect and compassion, and when they treat others fairly. Bad is when someone exploits another for their personal gain or lies, steals and kills.
Strangely though, we have been letting businesses literally get away with murder. Why is this so? Who is to blame? Is it the individual decision makers, the businesses or the system?
When it comes to money and profits, people in general seem quite prepared to throw the accepted norms of social decency out the window. Such group-think says: as long as we make money ASAP and don’t immediately or directly see the cost of that activity, we are a-ok.
Certainly the systems we have constructed around business perpetrate this lack of conscience. We actively celebrate the making of money and extravagant consumption. We often divorce our purchasing and investment decisions from the causes we profess to champion. Witness the greenie driving the smoke-belching car, the human rights activist who buys sweat-shop brands and the anti-war protestor whose investments fund the development of new weapons.
The individual leaders must also be held accountable. In the Enron and HIH scandals, the finger pointed clearly at the moral failure of those in charge. In part, I believe shareholders are also to blame; collectively, their actions fuelled by the desire for big returns contributed to the appointment of these so-called leaders.
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All business decisions have moral implications that must be considered. Business is personal because it directly affects our lives and our futures. It is also personal because each and every one of us can use it to choose the sort of world we want to be part of building.
Google’s motto – don’t be evil – is a clear moral stance. It is no longer good enough to say “business is just business”. There is a price to be paid for every dollar we make and spend.
Just as you choose to be the person you are in life, you can choose how your business acts. As Stefan Engeseth wrote in his book ONE: A consumer revolution for business:
In a world where consumers see their purchases as votes for a better world, “management by goodness” would be more than a phrase, it would be a competitive advantage. Management by goodness gets the biggest boardrooms.
Will your business choose to be good or bad?