When it comes to good business, how can we be ethical if we don’t know what it means, asks Bird Lovegod?
If you ask a hundred people what ethical means, you’ll get a hundred answers. This is one of the fundamental problems of trying to create ethical businesses, ethical economies, ethical systems and ethical lives. We don’t actually know what ethical means: we think we do, but we don’t.
If you ask, you’ll get examples of what people think of as ethical; green this, sustainable that. You’ll get examples of morality – indeed, ethics and morality are frequently conflated. The dictionary definitions include phrases such as ‘moral behaviour’ and ‘right actions’, yet these change, from place to pace, time to time, instance to instance. When it comes to ethics, we need to set a foundation of truth and common understanding, for without it, our attempts are doomed to underperform, invert, and fail.
Let’s come to an agreement from the outset.
Ethical is a scale, a spectrum, and should be considered a dynamic slider bar of impact. How ethical something is changes, constantly. As individuals, we’re all ethical to some degree. There is only more or less, higher or lower on the infinite scale. The scale of what?
These two words can be used to explore and apply ethics. How life enhancing is something? How can we make this product or service or job more life enhancing?
Using life enhancement as a definition we can begin to usefully consider ethics.
Is a diamond ring life enhancing? The person wearing it thinks so. It makes them feel successful, wealthy, powerful, loved, attractive.
And yet the gold was taken from a mine; a thousand trees were killed in the creation of it, mercury poisoned the river and the diamond was the result of bonded labour.
Is that life enhancing?
When we talk about life, we’re not just talking about the individual life of the end user – or even exclusively the life of humans. In ethics, life is all life.
Can we use this definition of ethics in business to drive competitive advantage and commercial success? Let’s find out.
The principal is this: if you embed an ethical core within an organisation, then focus on that core, fuelling it into expansion, it will permeate the entire enterprise, transforming it. The core will then radiate beyond the organisation to become an attractive force for customers, talented people, publicity, and economic growth.
If one intentionally designs a business to have a maximum life enhancing impact, it will drive expansion whilst maintaining stability and sustainable growth. If the focus is on the ethical core, refining it and expanding it, every other thing will automatically happen to create success.
Imagine a pie chart. All the departments are slices. The ethical core is not a slice, it’s the centre. So when it grows outwards, it influences and transforms every department. Internally, this immediately impacts employee wellbeing, culture and productivity. This is before the core has even reached the external impacts of the organisation.
How to achieve commercial growth through ethics in this way? The first thing is to agree on this course of action and fully commit to it. The second thing is to agree what ‘ethical’ is. This is vital to create a consolidated understanding of purpose. Therefore we establish the definition of ethical as ‘life enhancing.’ Two words, applicable to every department and every situation. It now becomes easy to apply an ethical perspective to any situation with simple questioning. ‘How is this life enhancing? How can we make this more life enhancing?’
Involve everyone in the organisation. Everyone. Equally. Give everyone the role of looking at their department activities, processes, systems, and culture, with the core determining question at the forefront of their thinking. How can this be made more life enhancing? For me, and for others.
This engages the entire company in asking the same question. It might be that your cleaner struggles with low quality mops and chemicals. Give them the best, and suddenly the whole office is better for everyone. Nothing is too small to make a transformative impact. It might be the extra 15 minutes for lunch which gives people time for a walk in the park and noticeably increases afternoon productivity. Make all the changes, and the results will prove the system. It will enhance the organisation and the working lives of everyone in it.
The process of doing this within a company will immediately bring everyone onto the same exciting page, creating a cohesive intention. A true team. The actionable result will be the identification of dozens of changes, perhaps hundreds, some small, some large, that will have a life enhancing impact. Make these changes. The fact of them all being made from the same perspective will have the further advantage of causing the alignment of systems and activities and removing friction, including those between departments and individuals. A cohesive organisation is formed.
And once that has been fully understood and established, all other considerations will be subject to it. It’s the prioritisation of ethics, of life enhancement, over everything. The aim is to create an enterprise for whom long term success is a result of its life enhancing impact. The ethical intent, delivered fully and correctly will create a new kind of inspirational business, one that will commercially outcompete others for clients, for talent, for value, for every meaningful metric.
Once the ethical core is expanded into external activities of the business; the sales, the market, the suppliers, the advertising and promotions, the customers, it will facilitate and drive organic business growth. The organisation will find itself operating within a sphere of influence of its own creation and be an embodiment of life enhancement and outstanding in its field.
The success of the company will be a direct result of the expanded ethics embedded within it, commercial success not compromised by the life enhancing core, but driven outwards and upwards by it. The ethical core is the engine. And the fuel that drives it is a common, and higher, purpose. Life enhancement.
The first companies to do this will thrive. The ones who follow will have to be more imaginative, more compelling and creative in how life enhancing they can be. And the overlapping ethical cores of a multitude of organisations will create a transformed society.
One where the game is to make things, everything, as life enhancing as possible. The ones who do it best at scale make millions, billions. And with that you can enhance life at an even greater scale.
Life enhancement through expansion of ethical cores.
Scale that, the world is totally transformed.
For better and for good.
Bird Lovegod is the co-founder of EthicalMuch.com, and winner of the Good Business Journal’s first writer’s pitch.