Small business ventures face a number of ethical challenges in today's world. Some from leadership and management approaches, others from decisions involving profit margins versus 'the right thing to do'.
The 'organisational culture' of a business encompasses the shared values, goals, rules and routines that make up that organisation. Once this is established, it is the hardest thing to change. As you set up your business, consider what you would like your organisational culture to resemble. Encouraging your employees to take an ethical approach to their work and leading by example, will help to embed this train of thought throughout your business. As Anita Roddick, 1942 (founder of The Body Shop) states: "Being good is good business.".
What Customers WantThere is a high consumer demand for ethical businesses in today's society. Clients want to feel that they are valued and provided with a high quality service. Disillusion occurs when customers hear grand claims that turn out to be poor sales gimmicks, or when they feel a company is putting personal profit before their clientele and the good of the community. Some businesses seem to believe that an alienated customer will forgive and forget, but very often this is not the case.
Knowledgeable staff who provide easily accessible information are also a big plus. There is nothing more frustrating than asking for help from someone who doesn't know how. Customers want value for money, respect and good service.
EmployeesThose that work for you are key to the success of your business. They provide the front line for customer satisfaction, or lack thereof. The way you treat them will have a huge impact on their motivation and morale. Consequently this will affect their productivity. Employees appreciate a listening ear, someone who values what they have to say. If you decide to provide a reward system for great ideas, or effort beyond the call of duty, make sure you follow through.
Ensure you communicate your needs clearly and concisely to your employees. It is frustrating to work hard at something, only to be told 'That's not what I wanted.'. Good communication is vital to efficiency and clarity of vision. Poor communication leads to confusion, wasted time and a lack of motivation.
Learn the strengths of your employees and use them. Find out what interests them, get to know them. Most people respond poorly to a culture of micromanagement, which does not foster an ethos of trust and mutual respect. It can lead to a lack of creativity and progress. Far better to encourage a 'growth mindset' where employees take control of their own productivity, with the freedom to use their initiative and thrive. This also presents a far better use of the manager's time, rather than checking up on every last detail of every last employee.
Your FootprintFinally, consider the footprint you want to leave behind. Are you consuming scarce resources or protecting them? Do you encourage others to consider how their behaviour and lifestyle affects others? Setting up a small business brings responsibilities other than the obvious. Take time to think about how your business will affect others, locally, nationally and globally.
What will your ethical business look like in the future? How will it look to others?