Business Ethics: Why it’s time to do business “for better”

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Professor Ian Eddie, Head of Business School Excelsia College
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As the public looks to businesses for the stability and guidance that many international organisations, governments and political institutions have failed to provide, there’s a golden opportunity for Australia’s small business sector to lift the bar and change how it does business.

But how can small businesses walk the walk when it comes to upholding their corporate social responsibility?

From bushfires and lockdowns to protests and political uncertainty, the wild ride that’s been 2020 has seen consumers place greater ethical expectations on businesses of all sizes.

While the ability to measure an organisation’s sustainability and societal impact has become a popular point of discussion and top strategic priority for most larger corporates, many within the small business community perceive to be just that – a priority for larger corporations or publicly listed companies with deep pockets and sustainability teams who are solely tasked with delivering ambitious environmental, social and corporate governance targets. 

However, as businesses and consumers grapple with the changes brought on by the political and social events of 2020, small businesses now have an opportunity to build stronger brands and customers relationships by prioritising their social purpose and values.  

Small businesses are at the heart of local communities 

Small business owners and managers are directly linked to their local communities through everyday interactions with customers and suppliers. This is a key advantage as listening to customer expectations has never been more important, especially following the economic turbulence of the coronavirus recession. 

While executives and directors of large corporations are often distant from their customers and rely on abstract surveys to detect customer expectations, small businesses know the pulse and mood of their community. This makes them well placed to listen to customer expectations and respond quickly when the expectations and values within society change.

Businesses that succeed in the post-pandemic economic recovery will be those offering products and services reflecting values based on cleanliness, safety, integrity and value for money.  Setting the right values and sticking to those will provide a strong sense of security that will build customer loyalty and retention ensuring strong profit growth.

What’s clear is that companies with the right values and ethical business practices will outperform their competitors as economic growth rates accelerate in the coming economic boom.

Why the events of 2020 have seen greater emphasis placed on ethics 

The coronavirus pandemic has been a major economic disruptor and resulted in a rethinking of business operations and a resetting of values and expectations. The transition to online and digital business platforms has accelerated, resulting in many organisations and businesses jumping ahead of their digital transformation agendas. 

The importance of trust between a business and its key stakeholders has become even more fundamental, especially as the pandemic has required customers and employees to both shop and work remotely using digital platforms. 

While this undoubtedly posed challenges for businesses who may have not been prepared for the transition to digital, long-term the shift provides a platform for greater transparency and agility for businesses to listen to and engage with key stakeholders.

Just as 2020 has had a transformative effect on businesses’ digital agendas, it has also had an accelerating impact on moral expectations consumers place on businesses.

Whether it’s been spurred by the devastating bushfires, the consequences of COVID-19 or the spotlight that’s been placed on racial equality, consumers increasingly expect businesses to take a stance on the biggest social, political and cultural issues facing societies and their local communities. 

Environmental, social and corporate governance tips for a post COVID world

Successful businesses post-pandemic will have increased managerial emphasis on ethical business practices. So how can you make sure your business is successful in a post Covid19 world?

  • Understand your local community and the expectations and standards expected to promote your social purpose and business integrity.
  • Prioritise a safe and healthy working environment for all employees and other stakeholders who are
  • on your physical premises – it sounds obvious but operating in our ‘new normal’ poses many challenges for upholding a safe and healthy work environment and the stakes are higher than ever before.  
  • Consistency, consistency, consistency. Ensure your supply chain, digital operations and physical business environment uphold the same standards of quality and reputation.
  • Meet all your legal or statutory obligations – staying on top of laws, regulations and policies can be difficult, especially in the face of constant change as a result of COVID-19. But remember, bad news travels fast and will undo years of hard work in an instant.

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