Ethical Practices Need to be Reinforced by Leaders, Experts Contend

Ethical Practices Need to be Reinforced by Leaders, Experts Contend

With Enron's shenanigans and other forms of business malpractice dominating the headlines, it's probably as good a time as any for the owners of kitchen and bath firms to keep business ethics top of mind.

Here's a story some kitchen/bath dealers might relate to:
Some years ago, a contributing editor of Kitchen & Bath Design News was asked by a friend to recommend a local company to remodel a kitchen. The editor named several firms in the friend's area.

Not long afterwards, the editor received an angry call from his friend. "I called one of those companies and they said they offered a free estimate," the friend roared. "I asked them to provide it and they sent out some guy who paid no attention to what I said, didn't measure anything, demanded to get paid for the 'free' estimate and then asked to borrow money from me."

The editor called the kitchen retailer himself and relayed the story. "The homeowners didn't lend him any, did they?" asked the retailer. "He's done that before."

Unbelieveable, but true.
A survey by the American Society of Chartered Life Underwriters & Chartered Financial Consultants recently revealed some alarming news about our country's business ethics. An astonishing 48% of American workers admit to taking unethical or illegal actions in the past 12 months. Those range from cheating on an expense account and discriminating against their fellow workers all the way to trading sex for sales and paying or accepting kickbacks.

Also alarming is that the survey reveals the situation is getting worse. Fifty-seven percent of those polled say they feel more pressure to be unethical now than they did five years ago, and 40% say it's gotten worse over the last year.

What's especially sobering is that workers were asked only to discuss ethical violations due to work "pressure," from factors such as long hours, sales quotas, job insecurity, and personal debt. It did not address motives such as greed, revenge or substance abuse problems.

The most common ethical violation, according to experts in the field, is cutting corners on quality control. Nearly one in ten workers surveyed say they lied to customers, and one in 20 say they lied to supervisors. One out of every 40 admit they had an affair with a business associate or customer.

The best ways to curb ethical violations is to control the ethical atmosphere at your business, according to management experts. Do you stress winning at any cost? Guess what that cost is. Do you demand results and take no excuses? You are practically guaranteeing ethics are going to be bent somewhere along the line.

Furthermore, you cannot expect employees to be honest if you're not honest and open yourself. Do you cheat customers and suppliers? Then don't be surprised that your employees feel it's acceptable to cheat, as well.

Even workers agree. Seventy-three percent of those polled say that better communications and more open dialogue are the best way to curb ethical violations. Seventy-one percent say a serious commitment to address the issue will help.

Resist the temptation to let ethics slide. A good reputation, once lost, can never be recovered, and a bad reputation does irreversible damage.