Every company has a set of non-negotiables that cover situations like the hiring process, what is acceptable behavior in the workplace, and what makes for good leadership. Sometimes these are stated in a clear company objectives document, while other times, they end up being unspoken rules that employees find themselves following before long.
When it comes to business ethics, making these non-negotiables crystal clear is never a bad idea. You don't want to be caught in a situation where your employee thought they were making the best call for the company, yet it has compromised your business ethics.
Identify good practices Perhaps more important than focusing on what you don't want is focusing on what you do want. “Law of attraction” experts have known this for a while. If you focus on providing a strict set of rules, people will always find ways to get around those rules to achieve their goals. Situations that were handled well ought to be highlighted and praised in full view of the company, especially when you have the opportunity to reward an employee for creatively solving a problem in a way that benefits the company without skirting rules, looking for loopholes, or violating ethical guidelines.
Lead by example Start by treating every employee with equal respect and loyalty, showing heed for government guidelines (such as taxation regulations and wage standards), and not exerting authority to create silence. Instead, encourage openness, communication, and honesty within your company and people will feel free to make judgment calls that adhere to your company's non-negotiable ethical practices.
Admit your mistakes This is one of the hardest things for anyone to do, especially when you're at the helm of a large company. The way you behave during a crisis can often say more about your company's ethics than the way you strive to behave ethically in everyday situations, however. A few examples of common mistakes might be something that caused harm to a customer, disposing of byproducts in a way that can cause environmental damage, or accidentally overcharging a client. When you make these mistakes, be the first to admit to them if you are called out on them, and even if you aren't, bring them to light and rectify them immediately and with sincerity.
Build your culture As you hire new employees, try to keep these ethical practices you have identified as important in mind. What personality traits would your ideal candidates have? This can sometimes be more important than technical skills, as people who show respect, loyalty, and commitment are likely to listen to your practices and adopt the spirit of them rather than trying to adopt them word by word and find loopholes. Even more importantly, are you hiring employees who are courageous? It's difficult to speak out when you don't feel something's right, but if nobody is willing to speak up, ethically unsound practices are often allowed to flourish.
Identifying the ethical practices you want to encourage in your company is only the beginning. If you're concerned, as every business owner should be, about your company ethics, make sure you lead by example. It all starts with you!