Business Ethics and Values Do Not Have Expiration Dates

Posted on 24. Feb, 2009 by in Business ethics

Walk through the aisles of any grocery story or even convenience store, pick up any product and you will see an expiration date. These dates are for your consumer safety as well as to receive the most benefit from the nutrients within the food product.

Yet, recently, I have come to observe that many individuals in business who profess to be true professionals as well as those in government are demonstrating business ethics or values with expiration dates. Initially statements specific to their behaviors are made without a date. Then realizing that change is more difficult than originally expected or will take additional effort a date is added. If the added date is not made, a new date pops up.

The work ethics associated with these behaviors become a moving object. As new dates are added, the impact of the quality decreases to those who are on the receiving end of these expiration dated values.

For example, how many times have we heard that during the tenure of this leadership or management team it will be the most ethical in the organization’s history? Then as time moves forward, we hear, not from leadership, but outside sources about unethical behaviors. Then leadership makes excuses and sets a new expiration date.

Why business ethics or values now have expiration dates may be connected to the relativism that has affected the U.S. during the last several decades. Relativism has many definitions, but essentially means that everything is truth and is relative to the individual. In other words, values become moving targets or simply are now produced with expiration dates.

The recent meltdown of Wall street, the bailout of Wall Street, the ponzi schemes, the individuals who knowingly violate the law and believe that they are above it are all examples of values with expiration dates. Even before these incredible examples, many of us heard this expression, “Do as I say, not as I do.” This is a values statement with an expiration date.

So how do business leaders and true professionals avoid values with expiration dates? First, make sure that you have a values statement that has been clearly articulated within your organization. Everyone from the bottom up to the top down understands the specific acceptable behaviors and equally unacceptable behaviors.

Next, enforce the values statement. Recent surveys of college graduates and high school students show an increase in cheating and that cheating is acceptable. These surveys also reveal that these cheating young people believe that they have high ethics.

The old expression everyone does it is another justification of having a values statement with expiration dates. In other words it’s okay to cheat to get the best grade in school and when I leave school, I will no longer cheat. If you believe that, I have a bridge I would like to sell you.

Having a values statement may cost you some business in the short term. However, in the long term you will gain far more than any potential short term loses.

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