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Merchant Group Ethics Presentation

Southern California Attorney Teresa A. McQueen, Principal Attorney at SAFFIRE LEGAL, PC, speaking at a local OC Merchant Group Networking Event, gave the following presentation on promoting ethics in business.

“Good Morning and welcome. My name is Teresa McQueen and I want to thank you for joining us for this morning’s presentation on promoting ethics in business….

Ethics can be generally defined as “moral principles of good and bad that govern a person’s behavior.” In a business context this general definition broadens to include those moral principles that govern – not only the individual – but the collective work-group’s behavior. So, broadly speaking, ethics in a business context can be loosely defined as individually and collectively “doing the right thing, because it’s the right thing to do.” And, as we’ll talk more about this morning, it is in promoting this concept of a ‘working group collective behavior’ that the business community plays a key role when it comes to ethics in the workplace. Whether its quality of workmanship or service, how you are perceived as an individual and how your brand is perceived can be the difference between success and failure.

Ethical issues and how you handle them, especially the tricky ones – the ones that live in the gray areas of our workday – become the cornerstones of who you are as an individual and how you are perceived as a business. Ethics in business is about how you handle the hard questions; it’s about the decisions you make when no one else is watching.

So, where do we start when we talk about promoting ethical behavior in the workplace? The most logical starting point is with our own moral compass. Most of us have some innate sense of the common moral principles governing good and bad behavior (defined by cultural, religious, familial teachings) which can sometimes push against what we know in a broader context to be right and wrong (social and societal norms – the laws we live within). Ultimately, it’s what happens in this push between the two ideals – what happens in this kind of ‘grey’ area – that really defines what it means to have ethical behavior in the workplace.

Working from a broad understanding of basic ethical practices such as ‘don’t lie,’ ‘don’t cheat the customer,’ and ‘don’t practice false advertising,’ let’s focus on some important key concepts to keep in mind when facing the types of daily decisions that challenge us ethically because there is no clear “right” choice. In the workplace these decisions can run the gamut from “do I tell the client/customer I made a mistake” to “how do I handle claims of harassment in the workplace”


Act with honor and integrity. What exactly does it mean to act with honor and integrity? It’s the idea that you are consistently acting in line with certain values, certain believes and principles, but with a high level of personal honor. This often involves doing what is right for the business without regard to personal outcomes or ulterior motives.

Set a good example. When it comes to engendering an ethical work environment the key is to lead by example. Consistently acting in an ethical manner with honor and integrity allows you to model ethical behavior within your own organization. Take the time to explain to your employees how their behavior and actions affect the business overall. Help your workforce to understand there is a direct link between ethical business behavior and the company’s success.

Be dependable. The concept of ‘under promise & over deliver’ is all about managing expectations. When you are called on to perform – with a customer, client or vendor – be accountable, take responsibility for your actions and the consequences. Building a reputation takes time.

Be Respectful. In business, the ability to take into consideration someone else’s viewpoint is important. Extending courtesy and grace to others helps create a level workforce and a more loyal client base. Showing respect or deference for others is a very easy way to improve the feel of the workplace and impact client/customer perception.

Honesty is the best policy. Truthfulness, being straightforward, showing loyalty, fairness, and sincerity when dealing with everyone in your business life will go a long way in solidifying your reputation as an ethical business person. Acting consistently with honesty and integrity will increase not only your personal value but that of your business.

A final touch-stone…..

Competence. Defined loosely as knowledge, skills, and behavior used to improve performance.  Just as you have become competent in your professional life, you need to become competent in ethical behaviors. In other words, you need to continue to grow in the knowledge, skills, and behaviors that make you a more ethical person. When it comes to ethics in business it is imperative that we all strive to learn and adapt.

It’s not easy. In some cases, developing strong ethical values can mean going against deeply held cultural values, familial expectations, and seemingly professional norms. But keep in mind, a big part of behaving ethically is how you answer the hard questions. It’s the culmination of those decisions you make when no one else is watching and the decisions you make about the gray areas of your life that define you and your business.

Thank you.”

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