It is human condition that we take things for granted, we accept what we have and soon after we have a sense of expectation and even entitlement. But all things that are worthwhile take conscientious effort and often time to develop.
Take the mechanical watch, a series of many parts – cogs, springs, jewels, hands, and a crown. Over a hundred parts, manufactured and refined to the tightest tolerances. Each part has a purpose, has a role to play, without all the parts, the watch would simply fail to function. And when they work in harmony, the result is one of amazement and wonder. Tick-tock, tick-tock – the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. It’s not just a wonder that it works at all, when all the pieces work together, it performs its function with aplomb.
The same kind be said for any machine – the internal combustion engine, the personal computer, or even the humble vacuum cleaner, all are made up of parts which work in harmony to form a greater whole.
As intelligent beings, the human race has invented machines of great complexity and wonder. Bring any living being to the present from just a few decades in the past and watch their jaw drop. The human race has a voracious appetite for development and advancement. The rate of growth and change is as relentless as ever. And much of this change can be credited to our ability to work together, to form teams and leverage on each other’s skills, and to have a collective vision and see it through as a team. These groups, very much like the aforementioned machines, are made up of specialist parts/members, each carefully chosen and trained to play their role in the team, bringing their skills and expertise to the project at hand. Individuals in their individuality will naturally have their own way of thinking, so it’s vital to share a collective vision so everyone one is working with the same goal in mind. Not that individual input is unwelcome, there are different ways to view the same goal and another viewpoint should be encouraged, perhaps to spot problems and to identify opportunities. It becomes a balance of working to a single vision and allowing individuality to alter the course of progression. The answer, as is the case for most things in life, lies not at either extreme but somewhere in the middle. It’s not about passing instruction for each team member to act upon, but a shared vision, which is open to some interpretation. Each member that makes up the team must be on board with the project, they must agree to the end result and the meaning of the goal in mind. The end result is not a result of their conduct in precise movements (unlike a mechanical watch) but to impart their own experience, skill, and individualism. You can say that the end result is formed as a result of top-down leadership together with bottom-up individuality. It really is a team effort.
This is very much the case for business ethics. It is not just an instruction coming from the top, although training in the matter is required, but business ethics comes from build in as well to each individual. It stems from the integrity that is pre-built into each individual – at least we hope. Each industry as their own way of defining business ethics, the wording altered slightly to ensure pertinence to each particular sector. But overall, ethics and integrity have a lot in common. Integrity, like business ethics, like work ethic, cannot be taught, but it can be encouraged. Meaning you cannot turn a rotten apple into anything other, but you can prevent an apple from rotting. As such, robust business ethics should be at the core of every business, from day one and reinforced on an ongoing basis. It takes effort and it takes everyone to partake in their own reinforcement of ethical behaviour. And a chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link. Like any machine, each part has to work, and this certainly applies to business ethics. It only takes one rotten apple to spoil the pie. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, rotten apples will just be rotten apples. In these cases, it’s time to admit the truth and dispose of said apple. Like I mentioned earlier, integrity cannot be taught.
We are a product of our environment. We always have been. We naturally adapt to survive. Which is why a healthy work environment goes a long way to nurturing and retaining the right talent within the organisation. What is a ‘healthy’ work environment? Well, I think the core of the matter is that the team members, the staff, the employees, call them what you will, I don’t believe they work for the organisation, they are the very fabric of the organisation – a living entity if you will. And like any living being, it needs nourishment and nurturing. Like a houseplant, it needs the right environment.
Staff should be valued, trusted to take on responsibility, to learn and to grow, they must be allowed to play their role within the organisation, that’s what they were hired for. A healthy work environment also means giving them time to rest and recharge. No organisation wants a team of exhausted minds working on anything. It’s a recipe for disaster. Financial security is another important measure which contributes to a healthy work environment. Staff need to know where their next pay check is coming and that their income is dependable. No one wants to work for a firm on the brink of liquidation or missing wage payments. They want to know that their pay is at least keeping up with inflation and expect real pay raises. No one wants to be treated like labour, workers being squeezed for every ounce they’re worth. Ultimately, a healthy work environment comes from the top down – a executive attitude that staff are indeed the organisation and not just workers.
Organisations which are able to embrace this attitude of team work, that each part of the machine has their own role to play for the whole to work, that for the organisation to grow the team must be given a healthy work environment, that business ethics must be start from day one and reinforced continuously, only with this true embrace of team work will an organisation thrive and succeed.
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