But can you measure it?

There are businesses struggling to stay in the game. Margins are shrinking as costs rise. Competition is fierce making it very difficult to raise prices. The game is getting tougher.

Scan the daily business news. Almost weekly there is some big food recall. It’s common to see a story about dangerous chemicals found in some product. Companies are being caught and fined for breaking environmental and safety laws. Baseball players are using steroids. Olympians are surrendering gold medals. Politicians are caught in scandals.

Maybe it’s time to change the game.

What if companies decided to put ethics first? That would mean treating the customer with respect as though you actually valued them as people and your source of income. It would mean treating your employees as “Talent” (thanks Seth) instead of “Human Resources”. It would mean working to find ways to protect American jobs instead of looking for cheaper foreign labor. If Toyota can come here, open a factory and sell cars at a profit, can’t we make, say, a toy telescope here? It would mean complying with laws instead of looking for loopholes. It would mean trying to minimize your company’s impact on the environment. It would mean putting the company and the people you employ ahead of executive greed.

This wouldn’t be easy. It would require a sea change in corporate thinking. For some companies this would require a change in management. You can’t fake integrity. You have to have it and want it. Shareholders will have to demand it.

Now imagine the benefits. Your customers trust you. They’ll pay a little more because they are willing to buy security with their widget. Your talent will work harder and be more productive because they know you are looking out for their success as much as they are contributing to yours. The community will support you too because you bring jobs, taxes and growth without poisoning the water, air or in the case of many companies, their children.

Would it be expensive? I don’t think so. The market is going to change soon. As we compete with China for resources, consumers will want to support the “home team”. As environmental and consumer protection laws are more strictly enforced, liability for unethical behavior will soar. I think it is a lot cheaper to act ethically than to continue cheating at the game.

I work with companies that do it. They don’t make a big deal out of being “good”, they just are. And they’re successful. I work with a few companies that don’t have a very true ethical compass. They struggle. They struggle largely because nobody cares. Why should we? If a company of poor values fails, there are plenty of others to take their place.

It’s worth considering.

Chris Reich, Author of TeachU’s Business Talk Blog
[email protected]