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How To Get Your Company Back On Track: Best Practices In Business Ethics

In an era when breaches of public trust are far too common to count, there has been a seachange among many in corporate America. From Washington to Wall Street, companies are realizing the meltdown that caused the economic downturn wasn’t a financial crisis but an ethical one.

Corporations have recognized that they need to regain the confidence of the consumer and better their business ethics if they ever hope to profit, and create jobs to get the economy back on track. Thanks to this realization, more and more, we see companies are proving they can be the engines of growth by making ethics a larger part of their business plans.

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The Ethisphere Institute, an international think-tank, recently announced its 2011 World’s Most Ethical Companies, recognizing organizations around the world that put ethics first. The 110 companies on this year’s list understand that good, smart business leads to higher profits and stronger organizations. Companies like Aflac, The Hartford, General Electric, American Express, and eBay are demonstrating–with a tone that’s set from the top- that increasing transparency and making high standards a priority are key to operating sound businesses and ensuring better brand reputation, customer loyalty and higher employee retention rates.

The World’s Most Ethical (WME) Companies prove there is a clear correlation between ethical business practices and financial performance. If indexed together, the WME companies have routinely and significantly outpaced the S&P 500 every year since the recognition was developed in 2007. On average, the WME companies outperformed the S&P 500 by 7.3% each year. The 2011 World’s Most Ethical Companies have already surpassed the S&P 500 year to date.

The companies on this year’s list are putting principle into their best practices, demonstrating the importance of senior executive leadership, a thorough compliance program and a commitment to organizational-wide employee engagement.

Aflac, Juniper, and Manpower Group share their tips to being among the World’s Most Ethical Companies:

“Appearing on Ethisphere’s list of World’s Most Ethical Companies is not easy. It requires a dedication to the kind of values that inspire employees to commit to doing the right thing. At Aflac, that means a top-down approach to ethics. As Chief Executive Officer, I know that I set the tone for the company. As such, I try to operate under the following principles:

* Treat employees well. If you do, they will take care of the business;

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* You cannot fake authenticity. As leaders, we face challenging decisions every day but if you expect your employees to adhere to high standards, you have to set those standards at the highest level, even when a commitment to values represents the toughest alternatives;

* Always consider the three principles of risk management: Never risk a lot for little gain, never risk more than you can afford, and always consider the odds. Remember; a lot people are depending on your decisions;

* Always consider that the shareholders own the company and consumers keep the company going. Before making a key decision, place yourself in their mindsets and ask yourself, is this the right thing to do?; and

* Never let bad news linger. It is not like wine. It does not improve with age.”
– Dan Amos, CEO, Aflac

“At Juniper Networks we have focused on developing a layered approach to compliance. For example, a particular area of compliance might be covered by several different policies, training and communications, with the intent that the cumulative effect is greater than if the subject was covered in a single policy or communication. Similarly, while a single person is designated as the responsible owner for the compliance program for a particular area, oversight is provided by a cross functional steering committee and supported by a training and quarterly certification process that involves employees at all levels of the company, not just senior managers. We believe that this depth of involvement and layering effectively embeds compliance into the fabric of the company.”
– Mitchell Gaynor, Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary, Juniper Networks.

“[At ManpowerGroup,] our sense of mission sets us apart. Our co-founders pioneered the industry over 60 years ago with a mission to connect people with the possibilities of meaningful work. For more than six decades, we’ve remained committed to that mission, and to helping our clients achieve more than they thought possible, all while building more sustainable communities. Today, we’re in 82 countries and territories, serving over 400,000 clients of all sizes, interviewing 12 million people annually and placed 3.5 million people into jobs last year alone. Throughout that growth, we haven’t lost sight of our heritage and along the way we’ve developed an unmatched deep understanding of our clients’ ambitions and the unlimited possibilities of human potential.

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Doing well by doing good is core to our DNA, as we help our colleagues and clients win in the most human way. As a result, our brand is the world’s most recognized and trusted in the industry. Our 30,000 colleagues worldwide live our culture according to our vision and values focused on people, knowledge and innovation, not just in what they do, but how they do it. In other words, we are helping people succeed, sharing what we know and continually enhancing our global expertise with local knowledge.

Our culture inspires our daily work, drives our profitability and enables us to deliver innovative workforce solutions in a sustainable way. Our colleagues respect our brand, what it stands for, and embrace their role as ambassadors who are the protectors and champions of ManpowerGroup’s reputation.”
– Jeff Joerres, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, ManpowerGroup

We often only hear about ethical missteps in the news, but it’s important to celebrate doing business the right way. We’re on the road to recovery, and this year’s World’s Most Ethical Companies are helping to lead the way.

About the author

Alex Brigham is the Executive Director of the Ethisphere Institute, a research-based international think-tank dedicated to the creation, advancement and sharing of best practices in business ethics, corporate social responsibility, anti-corruptions and sustainability.

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