In this guest post, Hotwire Australia managing director Mylan Vu discusses the three signs good financials have gotten in the way of ethical business.
Following the Banking Royal Commission, ethical business decisions are more at the forefront of Australians’ minds than ever. While most professionals are aware ‘cut-throat decisions’ and ‘tough calls’ often have to be made to drive profitability, there is a fine line between that and developing an unethical business.
Past and present entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg are renowned for toeing this line every day, pushing their teams to the limit and then pushing further in the name of ‘changing the world’. Yet, many argue this in itself is going too far, and encouraging unhealthy workplace culture or mindsets leads to unhealthy staff, causing its own societal and behavioural challenges for the workforce.
So, how far is too far?
We’ll see just what lines are drawn by the banks and the government over the next few months following the Royal Commission, but here are three clear boundaries that should never be crossed regardless of your industry or state of business.
- The personal taking over the professional
Today’s workforce is increasingly encouraged to bring our whole selves to work, meaning we should start being more transparent about our stress levels, more open about what motivates us in our personal lives, and more embracing of work-life balance. However, the risk comes when personal decisions, opinions and motivators take precedent over those of the team or business.
For example, a CEO who loves hip hop may think that blasting it from 7am in the office is the best way to drive creativity and calm in the office. Whereas, for teams that thrive in quiet workplaces or who dislike hip hop, this exact environment could have the opposite anticipated impact – instead creating agitation and stress in the workplace. It may seem small, but it’s these types of actions that often lead employees to feel their boss’s personal interests are being prioritised over what’s right for the business as a whole.
More everyday examples include leaders hiring based on people they know on a personal level, but not professionally; or running team events based on personal interests rather than genuine team building outcomes.
When personal motivations significantly supersede the importance of business results, the vision, mission and values of a business become almost impossible to rally around.
- The team only associates the brand with money
Making money is of course what businesses are built to do, and there is barely a scenario where revenue and profitability should not be factored into a major business decision or strategy. Having said that, if this is the only metric by which success is measured within a business and the only association employees have with their employer, there’s something very wrong.
It’s important to be transparent about the numbers and the overall operations of the business. And it’s just as important to talk about team culture, the company’s reputation, training, client relationships, and the business’ contribution to the broader community. When someone asks an employee what they’re working on, it should be a mix of these things, all of which at some point are tied to driving revenue without revenue being the sole reason for their actions.
A company’s employees are its biggest advocates, and if you’re not a sales agency, they shouldn’t be out associating the brand primarily with money-making.
- What makes the business special has just been automated
Artificial intelligence (AI) and automation technologies are advancing rapidly, changing every industry. They’re transforming often administrative or repetitive jobs with machines that can complete the task faster, while improving outcomes over time.
The biggest challenges with AI and automation technologies comes with ethics and the human element of running the technology. Across all businesses, young and old, often what makes a business ‘tick’ and what brings it unique flare is its people. Would Uber be as special without the renowned service of its drivers? Would movies be as entertaining without the creativity of their scriptwriters? Would restaurants be as enjoyable without the smiles of their waiters and baristas? Probably not.
And yet, each of these aspects that make these businesses what they are today are likely to be automated within the next decade at a global scale. In media, we’re increasingly seeing journalists’ jobs being exchanged, despite most Australians seeing ethical issues with stories prepared by robots. It’s agreed by most in the industry this is detrimental to journalism, information sharing, and knowledge generation overall – replacing the human elements of an entire industry is possibly the clearest form of prioritising short-term financials over ethical practices.
The savviest business leaders will find a way to leverage the latest technologies to drive value for customers, without losing the most valuable part of their business and what makes them truly special – their people.