What's in it for Me? How I Define Company Ethics

Article by:
Todd Palmer, EO Detroit
Todd Palmer
EO Detroit

Todd is the Founder and President of Diversified Industrial Staffing, a provider of skilled labor talent in southeastern Michigan. He is the incoming President of EO Detroit. Todd can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].

To me, business ethics is simply about doing the right thing. What that means may differ from company to company, but the principle is universal. For my company, Diversified Industrial Staffing, our success is dependent upon the key corporate values we’ve defined and to which we are committed. The concept is simple: if we did something outside of our corporate values, that behavior would be unethical.

For example, we’re a staffing company, and one of our core principles is the belief that employees should earn a fair and reasonable wage for the work they do. If a prospective client wants to pay our candidates below market wages, we will pass on that opportunity because it is unfair to the candidate. We know what values are important to us, and those values govern our actions.

Determining a core system of ethics is invaluable for a company. That’s the first lesson I learned— the importance of defining your company ethics system in the form of mission, vision and value statements. In my experience, this will provide a road map for hiring great employees who will believe in both the company and what it stands for. As an entrepreneur, it is my responsibility to define those guidelines prior to hiring even the first employee.

Starting with the hiring process, I look for candidates who already follow our value system. I will always hire someone who is a cultural fit over someone who has great experience. After all, you can teach a skill, but you cannot teach a cultural fit. Many of the people I hire don’t even come from the right backgrounds, but if they have the right enthusiasm, work ethic and values, sometimes that’s more important.

In my company, we have a staff handbook that we give to all of our new employees. The first page outlines what we’re about and explains our mission and vision statements. These are the key ideals of what I would consider to be our ethics system. I also include key senior employees throughout the interview process as our way of introducing our values to prospective employees. Before the candidate commits to working for us, we want him or her to know what we are like as a company and what our company culture is.

Obviously, company ethics are important in determining the actions of the company as a whole and of its individual workers. I have terminated internal employees who did not reflect our company values or who did not fit into our company culture. I find this is always evident within the first 30-60 days of their employment. I refuse to sacrifice the company culture or values for the sake of any one employee.

While each person’s values will differ to a point, I’ve learned that one thing is universal: People operate from the WIIFM (What’s in it for ME?) position in life. This philosophy is a part of human nature; it cannot be helped or overcome. It must be allowed for—embraced, even—in our expectations of peers’ and employees’ behavior and values. In my opinion, it is our job as entrepreneurs to use that position to maximize what we do: To help companies acquire great people and to help great people get great jobs. That’s what ethical business is all about.

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