Paul Palmarozza, Partner - Principled Business
Let’s begin by exploring the description of a good business, one which is successfully fulfilling its role in providing useful and necessary goods and services for the benefit of society. Here are 2 quotes from spiritual leaders of the 20th century offering useful guidance to business leaders. The first is from the late Pope John Paul II:
Profit is a regulator of the life of a business, but it is not the only one; other human and moral factors must also be considered which, in the long term, are at least equally important for the life of a business.
The other is by a leader from the Indian Advaita Tradition, Sri Shantananda Saraswati:
When work is for the satisfaction of the individual and also the society-if both gain from its production and use-then it is righteous.
Two important themes are highlighted here: morality and mutually beneficial service plus the practical consideration of working with a view to the long term implications of our decisions.
THE SITUATION TODAY
My observation of business practices over my business career of 50 years is that there has been a gradual shift away from the core values of honesty, loyalty, fairness and service in favour of intense efforts directed at obtaining short term results, usually financial, usually for ‘me.’ As standards slip more people begin to think that this is normal, this is the way things are done in business. This is the next step down the slippery slope toward a situation where corruption becomes commonplace. Here is a quote from Kofi Annan regarding the effect of corruption:
Corruption is an invidious plague that has a wide range of corrosive effects on societies. It undermines democracy and the rule of law, leads to violations of human rights, distorts markets, erodes the quality of life and allows organised crime, terrorism and other threats to human security flourish.
‘My word is my bond’, the ancient motto of the London Stock Exchange and the City of London, is no longer practised or used as the basis for agreements. Instead we need lengthy written contracts. Four years ago I had to sign a 47 page supplier’s agreement, before a company could be allowed to use our training product.
Clever justifications of policies promoting excess were devised and promulgated by many including business schools and management gurus, usually in the form of mantras like, ‘MAXIMISE SHAREHOLDER VALUE’. You will note it does not say OPTIMISE which might have brought about a more balanced approach to company goals. This encouragement of excess has been recognised by some of the top business schools as unsuitable and one major player, Harvard Business School, has established an ’MBA Oath’ which points graduates in the direction of working to fine principles for the sake of all stakeholders. An example of one of the pledges a graduate must swear to is:
I will refrain from corruption, unfair competition, or business practices harmful to society.
Here is a commentary on the state of the business community by another spiritual leader, the Dalai Llama:
The corporate leader as a hero has been replaced in the mind of many Americans by a view of individuals that are immoral, incompetent and interested only in enriching themselves. Greed is addictive. Money has replaced morality.
The essence of the problem is one of excess.
Not knowing what is enough or not knowing when to STOP!!!
In our modern societies all too often the key values have become:
While in the right measure these values are not bad but they have come to dominate without suitable regulation and measure which is the problem.
So far I have painted a rather bleak picture of the morality of the business community. By no means are all business people corrupt It is just that a powerful minority have been setting the wrong example In terms of the subject at hand, ethical business, I am trying to show the inevitable consequences if a company does not have established ethical values as a core aspect of its business decision making process.
There are many individuals and some organisations which are going against the tide. Some enlightened companies, where their executives set a good and positive example, are committed to investing in programmes designed to keep the issue of ethical values in the minds and hearts of their employees.
What is needed is a shift to natural values as the predominant guides for our life.
In 1999 at the meeting of the World Parliament of Religions, a regular gathering of religious leaders that began in the 19th century, the question was placed before the delegates as to what values could be recommended to the business community to help remind them of the basis for working which would be most beneficial to all. They reached an agreement that the four key values should be:
It is not surprising that these 4 have been chosen and it also highlights the point that on the question of universal, natural values, religions are able to agree.
There have been examples of modern gurus who have lived these natural values.
Here is some guidance from them:
Strength does not come from physical activity, it comes from an indomitable will.
– Mahatma Gandhi
The first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself. Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, of humility.
– Nelson Mandela
Let’s take a look at how these 4 natural values translate into practical guidelines for working in the world of business, in fact in any aspect of life.
TRUTH at Work
To illustrate these qualities I am using images taken from a new App I have helped develop designed to provide daily reminders about the application of values in life. It is called If I Can…Timeless Values for Today (see www.ificanapp.com). The inspiration for this app are the poem If by Rudyard Kipling and the Bhagavad Gita, works which have been a great inspiration to this person.
While it does seem incongruent to speak about Love in Business, there is clearly a vital role in any endeavour.
LOVE at Work
Another vital necessary value:
JUSTICE at Work
FREEDOM at Work
There are other important natural values that we all recognise but aren’t always able to live. Here are a few reminders:
and most importantly:
ETHICS - MAKING THE RIGHT DECISION
What is ethics exactly?
‘The moral principles by which a person is guided.’
– Oxford English Dictionary
Ethics is about the decisions we make. To be ethical is to:
MAKE THE RIGHT DECISION
We have a choice. Here is a quote from Indian scripture, the Katha Upanishad, about our choice:
The good is one, the pleasant another; both command the Soul. Who follows the good attains sanctity, who follows the pleasant drops out of the race.
What are some of the questions that we can ask ourselves to help determine the right decision, in any situation?
What is my motive?
Who benefits or is harmed by this decision?
What are the guiding principles here-Is it honest, fair, caring, responsible?
Is it compliant with the relevant laws?
Another one you might add is:
Would I be embarrassed if my decision were to be in the press or known by my family & friends?
When one seriously considers these various elements it more likely that a better appreciation of the options will be achieved, which opens the way for a more creative and appropriate decision to arise.
What is the basis for your decisions?
To determine the underlying basis of our own decisions requires careful self-examination. We need to examine our own thoughts, words and deeds to discern what principles we are actually following.
Do you refrain from lying because it against your spiritual/religious faith e.g. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
Do you act from a strong sense of Duty - doing what should be done for honour’s sake?
‘My word is my bond’ is an example of such a guiding principle.
Do you decide based on a utilitarian view, i.e. I am honest because it pays to be honest, also known as enlightened self-interest? Motive and intention are not important, it is the results that count.
Do you not lie to avoid censure or penalty?
It might be an established industry code of practice or standard set by a government regulator, an industry association or a professional body, e.g. the Financial Services Authority (FSA), the Law Society etc.
Is the basis of your decision not to lie based on whether it violates the written laws of the land. One example of this is a person who was accused of an illegal action. His reply reflected the basis of his decision- “ I knew it was wrong, but I did not think it was illegal.”
Is the basis of your decision whether you believe you can get away with it!
What is the nature and qualities of an ethical decision?
Ethical decisions are:
Based on principle
Made in the present moment.
The Power of the Present Moment
There is great power in the present moment. This is a state of simply being, being in the present, the here and now without reference to matters past stored in memory or imaginings about what may happen in the future.
The level of concentration of a sportsman
The fine attention required by an artist
The loving care that a mother gives her child.
It is easy to see how one can get lured into making the wrong decision in the hope of gaining wealth or success. In the latter years of my business career I spent considerable time developing a market for the product my company produced, an e-learning programme in finance for non-financial managers.
I founded the company in the later 1980s and it had grown to a stage that when the dot-com boom hit around the turn of the millennium we wound up as a listed public company on the London AIM stock market. After a short period as the CEO of a listed company I was moved by the Board to a positon of growing the business internationally, a role better suited to my talents and experience.
My prime target was China. It was interesting to note the Chinese approach to which on the surface seemed to be very different from our approach in the west. It takes a long time to establish a good working relationship with a Chines organisation. I later discovered that this was not just a negotiating ploy, although they are VERY HARD negotiators, it is part of the process of establishing TRUST. Their approach to business relationships can be summarised as Friends First then we do business. You can trust your friends and so you are better able to jointly deal with the myriad of decisions that are required.
In the west our approach to establishing a business relationship has become dominated by the contents of the detailed legal document that you both sign setting out the specific terms and conditions by which the business relationship shall be undertaken including the length of time of the agreement, performance criteria, the presiding legal domain and the consequences for not fulfilling the explicit terms. Needless to say the legal department of any organisation plays an important part in any such negotiation and there seems to be an unwritten rule when developing such contracts that you cannot fully trust the other party and that detailed provisions need to be made for all contingencies.
Part of the coming together process involved the exchange of gifts, visits in both countries and offices, meeting of the respective families as well as discussions on the what was expected of each party.
I was fortunate in meeting with someone who was in the training business, shared many of the values I held and who was keenly interested in bringing what he thought to be a necessary training offering to the Chinese business community. Richard had come from a very wealthy Chinese family who had specialised in making beautiful clothes. He said to me at one point that in order to help China assume an important role in international business, he was switching his business ain from creating beautiful things to creating beautiful minds through training. As we grew closer to an agreement we discussed the basic principle that would guide our relationship. We both agreed that it would be ‘To deal with each other as we would want to be dealt with i.e. our version of the Golden Rule.
As we were close to signing an agreement I had some pressure from the Board of my company to close the agreement quickly as they were in the process of negotiating a major acquisition and such good news would help. Such a desire for a quick close is not a good idea when dealing with savvy Chinese business people who will exploit the desire to get a better deal. At the same time I had a coinversation with Richard who brought into question the main plank of our agreement i.e. a major upfront payment from them. The combinataion of these two pressures got to me and the coinversation with Richard begame a bit heated. Seeing that this was not buseful told Richard I wiould call him back. I then put into practice quieting the mind and coming to rest in the present moment. What came to mind was the question-‘Would you speak to your friend like you just spoke to Richard?’ The answer was of course –No. So In a more calm state \i called Richard and set out the main isssues and then asked, How are WE going to deal with this? We soon settled the issue and in fact within 2 weeks the deal was done. As a good will ngesture Ridcard made vsure that the intiatil deposit reached our account the day after the agreement was signed.
Relying on the creative power of the present moment also can into pay about a year later when Richard called to tell me about a very big prospect who was having some difficulty running our programme on their US based software system. As it has run on that particular system at many other locations I encouraged him to go back and ask them to try again.
Richard came back the next day to say that the technical person at this company said that he we pay him a small fee i.e.a bribe, our product would run.
Richard said that this was typical and that they would be willing to make the payment. NO BRIBES was my emphatic reply. Seeing my agitated state as the possibility of our break-through order in China being blocked, I told Richard not to act and that I would call him back soon. Again coming to a quite reflective state which created space in the mind sufficient to trigger a memory of a meeting I had some six months before with the head of the Asian operation of the US software company who supplied the system being used by the prospect. I dug out his business card and immediately called him telling him about how the use of their system was being blocked in this particular account. I asked, ‘Are you going to let him get away with this?’
He didn’t and within a week our programme was successfully running on their system.
Richard was very grateful.
Here is a suggested procedure designed to put us in the best position to make a decision that is both Ethical & Effective:
Gather the relevant facts
Identify those affected & those who have influence
Assess the ethical/legal issues involved -ask ‘ What is the principle here?’
Set out the possible alternatives
Assess the ethics/morality/rightness of each alternative
Quietly Reflect -in the present moment
Decide and courageously implement the decision
The key question is: Can I work according to fine principles and values and still succeed?
Based on my own experience and the guidance of the wise I believe the answer is:
YES WE CAN.