Corporate culture grows a conscience

By Peter Allatt and Barbara Mains
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 06/19/2002

The Enron debacle hasn’t exactly boosted public confidence in large corporations. As Andersen and friends plod their weary way through the courts, the tide of cynicism rises around them — and washes over the corporate world. Journalists, meanwhile, sharpen their pens for the next case study in corporate greed. Who will take the walk of shame tomorrow?

The silver lining, if there is one, may be a resurgence of interest in business ethics. Business ethics examines the conduct of business toward clients, staff, other business, professional organizations, regulatory bodies and the public. It’s a mistake to dismiss ethics as a frill or an afterthought, corporate leaders are now saying. In response to pressure from clients, shareholders, boards of governors, regulators and the public — as well as their anxiety to avoid media scrutiny — a growing number of businesses are learning to regard ethics as an investment.

Employees make myriad choices every day, choices which — if unethical — can damage a company’s productivity, profits and reputation. So, where to start? An organization’s leadership must understand what ethics can, and cannot do for corporate culture: how to formulate a corporate code of ethics and — this is the hard part — how to implement it. Without implementation, the best code of ethics is empty rhetoric.