Yesterday, we heard about the outgoing Goldman Sachs executive who, in a blazing New York Times opinion piece, attacked the company for its “toxic and destructive” culture. In his controversial editorial, Smith states, “The firm has veered so far from the place I joined right out of college that I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for…I truly believe that this decline in the firm’s moral fiber represents the single most serious threat to its long-run survival.” Pretty significant statements considering Goldman Sachs’ long 143-year history.
Last weekend, I was talking with a friend who’s reading “Coming Apart,” in which author Charles Murray looks at an extreme divergence in behaviors and values between the classes, the different cultures people live in and different code of ethics they operate under. (Not having read it yet myself, I refrain from commenting.) My friend talked of little else besides this book, and one of the comments he made was that, in business, U.S. companies don’t behave ethically, citing the banking scandals.
While this is one individual’s perspective, it sparked an interesting debate. When I think about unethical behavior by U.S. companies, Nestlé and Wal Mart came to mind. Nestlé‘s accusations include dishonest marketing of infant formula, use of suppliers that violate human rights and abuse of water sources in bottling operations; Wal Mart has faced accusations of discrimination, unfair wage practices and employment of illegal immigrants.
In a recent blog, Robert Reich, who has served in three national administrations and is currently chancellor’s professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley, states that the “moral rot is…in the public behavior of people who control our economy and are turning our democracy into a financial slush pump. Salon.com summarizes Reich’s blog as “Santorum has it backwards. The real ethical breakdown is in Wall Street boardrooms, not private bedrooms.”
Ethics form the basis of an organization’s reputation. To “beat our competition,” ethics must be a top priority for U.S. businesses. To be integrated fully, values must be consistently communicated to internal audiences, and all external behavior must reflect them.
Ask yourself the following questions about your employer:
- What are your organization’s values?
- Do you take pride in and agree with these?
- Can you say, with certainty, that everyone in the organization would answer the same way?
- How are these values communicated and reinforced?
- Are they reflected in every business transaction?
- Are they upheld by your management?
- Do you believe your organization behaves ethically?
If you answered “no” to questions 2, 3 5, 6 or 7, it could indicate opportunities for improvement, or also be an indication that it’s time to consider how your own personal values align with those of your organization.