Moral in business: does the end really justify the means? Why we need a new conversation about values now.

I know linkedin is a business platform and not about politics but I don´t think we can separate what happens in the world right now from some key business questions that we may need to ask ourselves. Everything is linked somehow. That´s why I dare to share some personal views and experiences.

I must say that some of the decisions and behaviors of Mr Trump and some other men and women of power on the planet are challenging my generally respectful view of the world and cultural differences. I don´t know how it is for you but I find it rather difficult to suspend judgment and respect somebody else´s opinion and way of thinking and behaving when I feel that it is deeply going against some of my core moral values and beliefs about mutual respect, inclusion, democracy, peace, integrity, freedom etc.. I confess I need to work on myself in order not to become as judgmental, intolerant and even aggressive as the ones I am blaming for this kind of behavior. It is interesting to observe the inner struggle I am going through at the moment. Do you know what I am talking about?

Interestingly I observe this kind of -often unspoken- inner moral struggles in companies as well.

I have been working some times ago with a Board of Directors on a crisis topic. They had to find a way to quickly cut costs substantially in order to ensure the short term survival of the company. Like always they had to reduce staff cost. This kind of things happens. But the even more difficult question was: what to do? Who should go and how? Should they decide alone and secretly without involving anybody? Should they talk openly about the company’s struggle or hide the truth? And many other critical questions… Not an easy exercise as you can imagine. Of course there were legal constrains, financial considerations and business aspects to take into account. But it was not what was causing them to fight in the meeting I was attending.

It was their divergent views on the “How” that was creating the conflict: “We can´t do that!” was the spontaneous and loud emotional reaction of one the directors after a proposal he heard. “Why not?” asked another one surprised and not understanding what his colleague was talking about. After a long silence.. he answered: “Because it´s unfair!”.

All of a sudden, the conversation was not anymore about numbers, legal etc.. Neither was it about rational arguments. The conversation was highly emotional, personal and subjective, and crucial for the future of the company.

Personally, I felt relieved that the topic came up. Not only because I shared his views about fairness, but also because the team came finally to talk about the deeper underlying issue that had been in the air for a long time: their fundamental disagreement in leadership principles that had regularly created difficult discussions between them and had never been brought to the open before.

The crisis and the unexpected conversation about what is fair and what is not, about what is right and what is wrong gave them the chance to finally talk about their moral values in the way they deal with their business topics. Even if they didn´t agree at the beginning, luckily, after a long conversation, they found some kind of a common ground, in the interest of the company and the staff.

Not only in crisis situations but in every leadership decision you make, you will find the question of moral values. It often appears as the question about “what is right and what is wrong?”, provokes emotions and is actually omnipresent in any company.

How do you deal with this question? What are the values and moral principles that guide you personally in your leadership decisions and your behavior towards colleagues, clients and business partners? Are those principles and values shared in your teams? Are there things that you don´t do? No-gos? As a matter of principle? Not because it is illegal or not good for the business, but because you feel inside you that you cannot behave like this? Can you stand up for those “no-gos”?

Companies are changing all the time and facing all sorts of challenges. I wish there would be more conversations about those values and moral principles that guide your decisions and behaviors in business no matter what is happening in the company or outside. These are key to company culture and keep people together, especially in times of great uncertainty.

Drissia Schroeder-Hohenwarth is an internationally experienced Senior Coach for Executives, Teams and Organisations. Feel free to visit: DSH International HR.

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