By Tom Sponsel, CPA/ABV, CFF
As a proud CPA for over 45 years, I was embarrassed to read recently that Ernst & Young, one of the top four accounting firms in the country, has been intentionally enabling its employees to cheat on ethics exams for years. They were required to pass these exams to acquire or maintain professional licenses, thus losing all credibility by cutting corners. It is like an oxymoron — cheating on an ETHICS exam? Ethical behavior should be a “non-negotiable” in your enterprise — it IS that simple.
The Indiana Professional Licensing Agency also requires a similar ethics exams and continuing professional education (CPE) in ethics every three years — the required CPE cycle in Indiana. At Sponsel CPA Group, we take ethical behavior very seriously and ingrain it in our regular operating procedures. Any business that’s not run ethically is hardly a valid business, and it will not achieve its desired level of success in the long run. Business isn’t just about making a buck any way you can. It’s about building relationships, loyalty and trust. If you lose those critical elements, you’ll soon have nothing left — professionally or personally.
Business ethics are really no different than the ethics you employ in your personal life. Always ask yourself, “Am I doing the right thing?” You should do the right thing even if it costs you money. For example, if you give refund to a dissatisfied customer, you may find yourself worrying about your short-term financial results. Think about the long-term benefits instead. You’re establishing your business as one with integrity, one that cares about its customers and stands behind its products and services. Those are the businesses that can be trusted and will be around for the long haul because their customers know they are in reliable hands.
Your employee group will also rally around this honorable habit of doing the right thing. They will be proud to work with a company that values the customer experience and is profoundly focused on the relationship with its customers. In many cases, these same companies have an above average relationship with their team of employees, as people like to work in environments that make them proud. They will be proud that you are a “man or woman of your word” — and can be unequivocally trusted.
If you operate with Best Practices, employees and customers will respect you and pledge their loyalty. Think of the regulars at mom-and-pop coffee shops. They would probably prefer the convenience of a drive-thru Starbucks, but they keep going to the family-owned store because it has a sense of history and character. They like good, honest people pouring coffee from a pot they brewed themselves. That personal touch.
Our competitive culture unfortunately leads to short-cutting customer service and sometimes corruption in the business world. But there are fortunately consequences for those misdeeds. (For the aforementioned ethics exam offense, Ernst & Young had to pay a $100 million fine.) We can’t let wrongdoing slide. Business owners especially need to step up and set an example of doing the right thing.
If you’re not doing what’s right for your customers, employees and other stakeholders … what are you doing exactly? Stay focused on what’s right, and your business will keep booming.