Danger time for trust, integrity and ethics

Take great care to associate with ethical people and avoid those who are not. In turn, provide your colleagues with an impeccable example of integrity.

Managing for profit by Peter Hughes

The latest 2017/2018 Global Competitiveness Report produced by the World Economic Forum makes for depressing reading.

South Africa’s state healthcare and education are low ranked amongst the worst in the world! It was naïve to expect anything else, I suppose.

This is what happens in any country (or company) when the ethics of top leadership degenerate and the focus is on looking after Number 1.

The attitude of everyone in the organisation and, in our case, the country, becomes, “If the boss gets away with it, why shouldn’t I do the same?”

We’ve seen how this disastrous decline in the ‘tone at the top’ has affected state-owned enterprises; just look at the mess at South African Airways and Eskom.

I was hoping that we in the private sector would have the mettle to hold up our end, but events have unfortunately proved otherwise.

A frightening example has been the collapse of Steinhoff, supposedly governed by a board that includes some of South Africa’s top business people. It has demonstrated just how far personal standards and levels of governance have declined.

Trust, the glue that makes for organisational success, has gone out the window. We’re going through a period in South Africa’s history where we can no longer take ‘trust’ as a given, even, regrettably, when it comes to our most respected corporate leaders.

Integrity
We shall all have to be extremely vigilant in managing our personal and company affairs until such time that our ‘tone at the top’ levels are back to where they were in the early days of the new South Africa.

But how do you protect yourself and your family from the insidious decline in governance standards in our society? I think I’ve found an answer.

Writing in the newsletter The Credit Strategist, Michael Lewitt gets straight to the nub of the problem.

“When choosing with whom to associate, be it socially or in business, whatever else
the merits might be, the overriding consideration has to be character,” he says.

“And yet, we so often see issues of character and integrity overlooked when it seems there is good business to be done.

It’s a terrible mistake to deal with disreputable people, even if you think you will benefit from the relationship. You rarely come out ahead when you deal with dishonest and dishonourable people.”

He also makes the telling point that character flaws are seldom confined to a person’s private life. If you witness erratic, bizarre or unscrupulous behaviour in a person’s home and personal life, be assured that it will emerge in any other relationship.

Thus, ensure that you choose your business associates, and even your friends, with care.

Employees take their cue from the top 
South Africa’s national decline of integrity and ethics carries more risk for you than that of making the wrong choice with whom to associate and do business.

It can affect your entire organisation, with many of your employees taking their cue from the likes of our disgraced political leaders and captains of industry.

Now is the time for you and your senior leadership to ensure that any behaviour that could be perceived as unethical is nipped in the bud, under pain of dismissal.

You and your fellow managers have to set a cast-iron and visible example of impeccable levels of integrity and, as Lewitt points out, this should apply at work and play.

There is simply no other way.