The ethical dimension of business assumes significance when we realize that business organizations, particularly in the corporate world, are perpetual entities. They exist to fulfil a specific need of people in the community.
They will continue to thrive and survive as long as they strive to meet that specific need or a set of specific needs, in a manner that is acceptable to the customers or service seekers. For this, they must earn and sustain people’s trust and confidence on an ongoing basis.
They are very much unlike the fly-by-night type of businesses, which operate with a short-sighted, profit-at-any-cost motive. Communication, to be effective, should take cognizance of this phenomenon.
Commitment to Core Business Principles:
In order to earn and retain customers’ trust and confidence, progressive organizations are value driven, and they affirm their commitment to core business principles. In their communication and relation-building efforts, they are governed by such principles to which they are committed.
When it comes to advertisement, the vision document or the mission statement, words and deeds should clearly reflect the value system which operates in that business organization. This set of core business principles may take many forms such as the following:
1. An organization may decide not to make any adverse comments, implicitly or explicitly, about its competitors and their products.
2. An organization may decide not to advertise in any politically affiliated newspaper or journal.
3. An organization may decide not to pass on to the customer any loss arising out of mistakes committed by its employees.
4. A bank or a financial institution may decide not to finance liquor or tobacco business or certain other activities which are not in the best interests of the society.
5. A business organization may lay extra emphasis on eco-friendly products and environment protection.
Such principles can be many and varied, and business organizations may commit to such values through sheer conviction, and keeping in view larger societal interests.
Beyond Caveat Emptor:
Value-driven business organizations transcend the ‘Caveat Emptor’ or ‘Buyer bewares’ attitude. The attempt is not to outwit the customer and make a fast buck. The attitude is not one of carrying to any customer inimical information in fine print in some corner, hoping that it would miss attention.
Enlightened business managers do realize that, ‘You missed the fine print, so you suffer’ days are over. Good customers are hard to come by and should be given fair treatment.
The sense of fair play, it is now clear, is an important value that should permeate communication and customer relations. In this context, it is appropriate to note that in the early part of the nineties, many companies, which came up with their Initial Public Offers (IPOs), deliberately carried vital information in fine print and the gullible investor was taken for a ride.
While some companies made a quick buck and vanished, in the process the investor confidence in the primary market activities took a severe beating. There is, of late, a growing realization, especially among the market leaders, that the best business practices are to be followed by the players, so that customer or investor confidence is not eroded.
A value-driven approach is a must if the faith in the market is to be kept up. Everyone associated with communication should make every effort to abide by such values.
Corporate Governance and Communication:
Values relating to communication are also to be seen in the larger context of business organizations moving towards corporate governance. The term ‘corporate governance’ has a wide connotation. It supports a business ethic that shuns shortcuts and unethical practices.
It brings out the accountability of the management to shareholders. In its broader sense, corporate governance is said to encompass the entire range of formal and informal interactions of the corporate sector with the society at large.
Corporate governance strives to ensure fairness, honesty and transparency of a business organization in relation to its dealings with various stakeholders, viz., shareholders, creditors, the state and employees.
The widely referred prescriptions in the Cadbury Code in the United Kingdom deal with the role and responsibilities of the board of directors and its sub-committees. Among others, the code lays down that the board report should contain a coherent narrative, supported by figures of the company’s performance and prospects, and that the board has an obligation to present a balanced and understandable assessment of the company’s position.
These aspects of corporate governance are particularly relevant in the context of ensuring adequate and proper communication.
Cardinal Principles of Communication:
The three cardinal principles of communication for any good business organization are adequacy, transparency and consistency.
Adequacy implies that all relevant information is made available by the business and management to its employees, customers, investors or shareholders, as the case may be, to facilitate fair assessment of the state of affairs.
Transparency relates to the degree of openness, in the sense that no attempt is made to withhold from or hoodwink the stakeholders.
Consistency, in a sense, reflects the core principles, statements and performance-related claims, which the company stands by over a period of time. It means that there is no attempt to contradict the statements and claims made by senior management functionaries and that they speak on the same wavelength.