Ethics in business can be understood in terms of four quadrants. Quadrant 1 represents ethically cohesive businesses. In this quadrant, ethics form an integral part of all the decisions made on behalf of the organisation. Ethics form the basis of the business’ purpose, and guide the way it treats all its stakeholders.
These are the companies that are ethical, not because it is the expedient thing to do, but because it is the right thing to do.
They do the right thing, not because they pursue a reputation, but because it is the only way to be.
The need for ethics – and the role of ethics – is almost surpassed by the need for businesses to move into quadrant 1.
Businesses in quadrant 2 have the easiest path into quadrant 1 in that, if they have been financially successful to date, they will have the resources and disciplines to start practising the principles of the servant leader.
What makes it easier: The existing values of the organisation will give it the necessary framework with which to move into this new leadership approach.
Causes for resistance: For businesses in quadrant 2, the resistance to this movement might be that they have been successful without it.
The only constant…
The difficulty that we face is that change is accelerating. The historian Eric Hobsbawn claims that there has been more change in the last fifty years than all the change that occurred from the Stone Age to that point. This accelerated change disorientates us. And it creates fear. In the words of the Tibetan teacher, Sogyal Rinpoche:
‘The fear that impermanence awakens in us, that nothing is real and nothing lasts, is, we come to discover, our greatest friend because it drives us to ask: If everything dies and changes, then what is really true? Is there something behind the appearances, something boundless and infinitely spacious, and something in which the dance of change and impermanence can take place?’
If, as a society, we try to create permanence in this changing world we become misaligned, and run the risk of being irrelevant.
The only way to approach the change is to live creatively – not despite the uncertainty but because of it. Uncertainty can inspire us because it forces us to make a choice. And, in making that choice, we acknowledge our freedom, and claim our responsibility for the outcome.
The next way of ethical change is upon us.
As change becomes ever more constant, situations become more and more fluid. There will never be enough time to apply the traditional approach to an ethical outcome. The need for discernment needs to be intuitive. We are moving into a different paradigm. Sustainability and relevance will be found there.
The future will not be like anything that we know now.
The earth cannot sustain the Western way of life for everybody on earth. The average American citizen consumes 25 times that which the Bangladeshi citizen consumes. For every South African household to have a minimum income of R36 000 per year would require a sustained GDP growth of 4,5% per annum for the next 20 years. Clearly, we cannot make the planet bigger so that everybody can have an ‘American’ lifestyle. Nor is a sustained growth of 4,5% in SA feasible. Therefore, the discussion as to whether there is a need for ethics, a role for ethics, and the resistance to ethics is moot.
If things carry on the way they are going, things are going to get a lot worse for the poor, and the economically active will become even more protective of what they do have. The divide between the haves and the don’t-haves becomes more significant all the time. Our ethical journey has to enter another paradigm: a paradigm that is based on a different approach to life. A paradigm that is based on our spiritual evolvement.
Do you agree? What do you think the role of ethics is in business? Are we on the crest of a new wave of ethical enlightenment? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.