Great products. Low prices. Brand loyalty. Customer service. Strong leadership. Knowledge. Strong code of ethics. Which of these give your company the biggest competitive advantage? Which do you look for in the companies you do business with, as a consumer or a business partner?
Chances are that ethics aren't at the top of the list, even if your personal beliefs about the topic are strong. I'm not suggesting that there aren't companies whose names are already strongly associated with long-standing commitments to ethics. But by and large, it's not a place where companies seek competitive advantage.
Dov Seidman would like to change that. Admittedly, he has a vested interest. He's the CEO of LRN, which sells Web-based tools and services for legal compliance and ethical-awareness training to some of the largest companies in America. But he's very passionate about the impact technology and business-technology managers can have in avoiding an ethical crisis. "I deeply believe that CIOs have a central and leadership role to play," he says.
That's a topic that's spurred a lot of letters from readers over the past few weeks. Some believe that suggesting that a CIO can or should help prevent accounting or other scandals puts them in a policing role that they aren't equipped to handle. Others, however, believe they can--and should--help foster a set of core values that create an ethical culture and implement technologies that can help make it happen.
While technology has created a significant amount of visibility into business doings, ultimately, the transparency has to go far beyond the numbers, Seidman says. Yeah, it's good to have the CEO and CFO sign off on the financial results, and it's good that some companies are divulging more financial data and going to greater lengths to ensure accuracy. But it's important to open the books on how you hire, whom you compete with, who your leaders are, and more.
Skip hanging the codes-of-conduct posters around the company. Instead, infuse it through online courses on conflict of interest, antitrust, E-mail etiquette, etc. Then measure it and perform a gap analysis between spoken values and actual practices, Seidman says. At the very least, this could help create a work environment where ethical lapses are much less likely to happen. But it could also help create standards for building an ethically aware ecosystem. Who could argue with that?