Saturday, 7 January 2017


{This is the first part of a multi part analysis into the ethical aspects of doing business in India}

Ethics, morality, integrity are all aspects that are not discussed too often in the business world; often, there is good reason for it, to be honest. These terms are not clearly understood even in the best of times; and are misunderstood more often than not. This is a first article in a series that attempts to clear certain misconceptions, and define ethics to the normal everyday workforce, and clear the air around these concepts. In this first article, I attempt to clarify what ethics means, or what it should mean in a business environment

The trigger for this series was an interesting incident that occurred, wherein I shared some of my thoughts around ethics in some of my contacts. Unsurprisingly, not one person responded – which is only to be expected. This  in a group of active people who normally respond to concepts and shares quite enthusiastically. This was part of a larger experiment that I am conducting at my own level – how people respond to these words, and what trigger words and the concepts people do respond to.

That triggered my mind : what is it about the word “Ethics” that we cant even discuss in hypothetical discussions? This is something I have noted for a long time, and across segments and modes of communication. Mention “Ethics” in a business sense, and you are immediately targeted as a “Raja Harishchandra”, a do-gooder, a change-the-world-person! The most amazing aspect is that in my 17 years experience, true unethical conduct in business has always resulted in a business loss to the organization, 100% of the time! And yet, we refuse adamantly to confront this scourge within us. All it requires is for the good people to remain silent – remember that

The above can mean two things – one, that nearly everyone is unethical. Now this is just plain ridiculous; having 17 years work experience, in my experience true unethical conduct in business, though quite rampant, is nowhere near being ubiquitous. Neither is it the modal behavior, though it does come close. And yet, the few people who do speak and write on ethics make it sound as though the people are all like that, which, as I said, is not the fact.

Two, the term “ethics” is not understood in business and by the large majority of the business professionals as it applies to our daily jobs. This is a failure of our management schools and training departments, which have not risen to the task, and tend to classify everything under ethics. Ethics can be defined asThe basic concepts and fundamental principles of decent human conduct. It includes study of universal values such as the essential equality of all men and women, human or natural rights, obedience to the law of land, concern for health and safety and, increasingly, also for the natural environment 

This is not helped by academia in the articles I have come across on this topic, which list a whole series of aspects in ethics, which does not do justice to the business reality on the ground. For example, you cannot mix basic disciplinary issues like office timings or market visits under ethics; some aspects are common in person and at work, and have to be dealt with independently. If some employee/s is/are not visiting the market regularly, it is not strictly an ethical issue. We frequently confuse it with one; it is plain and simple a managerial control issue, or an organizational culture issue. As are any number of other aspects that are thought to be ethical in nature – but are in reality basic human nature.

Laziness, work-avoidance {procrastination} and others are basic human traits, and will need to be countered, fought with, and overcome by every human being. The person who does it will succeed in life more often than not. Equality of the sexes is again a core cultural construct, and is an entirely different issue – and cannot be considered with ethics in my considered opinion. These are just examples, and even in these – true ethical issues may arise, as we shall see in the next part.

The question then arises – then what exactly is unethical? Breaking the law is unethical. Bullying employees in whichever way is unethical, so long as the term “bullying” is well defined in the organization for all functions. Withholding information in a business negotiation that is critical for decision making for both parties is also unethical. Breaking your word, or giving oral promises and not coming through is also unethical. From the above examples – it can be readily seen that only one is clearly defined and black-and-White; all the others are vague, and highly situational in both their context as well as their real-world applicability

In light of the above, it is rather strange that people are just not willing to engage in conversations around ethics, and ethical conduct. Why the assumption that this is a negative aspect? Our management schools need to develop a sustained discussion around ethics as they apply to the real world, to specific job functions and industries so that a better understanding can arise in the general populace – as do all employees. Most importantly, it can also be readily seen that all of the ethical issues will have wide industry differences, and cannot be understood without understanding the core industry and its realities.

And yet, we the people just refuse to engage in ethical conversations even in a hypothetical atmosphere. This is what I would ideally like to understand in the due fullness of time…

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