Ethics was a gut course in college and that, by itself, carried a strong message. As we worry about businesses paying taxes, shouldn’t we be much more worried about a business approaching, for example, the City of Hartford under former convicted felon Mayor Perez, to do work for the city. The costs ranged from a $100,000 payoff to the Ward Boss, a $40,000 home renovation, or having to hire “no-show” workers. At least with taxes we know what the bill is. We can decide whether to submit a proposal and bid to do the work knowing what the costs are. In the environment just cited a business doesn’t know how much a project will cost, what it will take to get it done, and how many hands will be out along the way. No organization can be successful without strong ethical grounding and, even though we think the ramifications are only relevant to a small group, all the stakeholders are damaged in the process. Why would any legitimate business do business with an organization that requires bribes and political chicanery to get a job done? Why would a business stay in a community where bribes were commonplace? How does anybody know if the product and/or results will be satisfactory or if they’re accepted because of a payoff? At a corporate level, the lack of ethics and the lack of a strong Tone at the Top was instrumental in the death of 29 miners, the ecological devastation of the Gulf and 11 lives, the “news at any cost” culture at News Corp, and the landscape is littered with numerous companies having to file bankruptcy. These lapses weaken us all, either through higher taxes to pay off bribes or through denigrating our own culture and values by having those in leadership positions have low ethics, integrity, and values. As a board member it’s important to remember the results in these lapses and ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to ensure high ethical standards and integrity and are we doing enough to ensure the employees will alert us of wrongdoing in the organization? Have we developed a culture of ethics and integrity? Is the CEO open to listening to different perceptions, points of view, and problems within the organization? If not, (s)he will be the last to know if there’s a serious issue and we’ll be the next BP or News Corp.
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