Saturday, November 19, 2011

Business Ethics in 2012

In addition to all political issues raised by the financial crises, the bank bailouts and the Occupy movement, one factor that runs as a consistent theme through all of this seems to have been neglected by pundits and the media alike. Thankfully we have The Onion, who through the application of satire and exaggeration, raise the point I'd like to consider.
CHARLESTON, SC—With its firm grounding in honesty, loyalty to friends, and a strong spirit of generosity, the asinine ethical code of Kevin Premus has cost the 42-year-old idiot millions of dollars over the years, reports confirmed Friday.The moronic small-business owner, whose moral tenets are said to include basic human kindness and always trying to do what's right, reportedly never cuts any corners and is unwilling to fuck people over, poor habits that have led him into a life of endless mortgage payments, credit card debt, and a relatively small personal net worth.Worse yet, sources indicated, the dumbshit has no one to blame for being a good person but himself."What a complete and utter fool," Stanford University sociologist Anya Arneson said of the astonishingly stupid man, describing his insistence on providing quality health care for his employees and paying them fair salaries as "just plain dumb." "It's as though he's operating under some kind of intangible but deep-seated conviction that being a fair, decent human being is somehow more valuable than making a quick buck."
Through ridiculous acts of moral rectitude such as returning found wallets and lending his brother $2,500 for vocational school, the dumb-ass—who by all accounts is a weak-willed individual who treats his business rivals with respect instead of simply crushing them—almost seems to be looking for ways to lose money, sources noted.Moreover, at every turn, his steady moral compass has reportedly prevented him from ever embracing shady business deals, hiring a crooked accountant to skirt income-tax laws, or taking advantage of numerous moneymaking schemes that could have vaulted him into a higher tax bracket.According to colleagues, Premus previously worked as a corporate account manager, but his lackluster career floundered as a result of his shortsighted refusal to stab his coworkers in the back, a boneheaded move that cost the retarded dumbfuck several promotions, hundreds of thousands of dollars, and a chance to one day become a partner in the firm.
While his efforts to be a responsible citizen, faithful husband, and devoted father have made him look like a drooling moron in the eyes of his peers, Premus himself still doesn't seem to understand that each day he spends clinging to his scruples, he screws himself over a little bit more."My parents always told me to treat others the way you would like to be treated, and that's what I've taught my daughters," said the idiot, who in one sentence summed up why no one in his entire family will ever live free from financial worry or hardship. "In the end, it's just the right thing to do." (Source)
 I think this illustrates accurately the attitude we see in business, especially big business, today. 
Businesses have abandoned any interest in their customers beyond enticing them to buy a service or product. Product quality declines as businesses learn that most people won't bother complaining or returning a product for replacement, they'll just go out and buy another one, often from the same company that just produced their defective one. Defects are corrected in versions 2 or 3 of a product, forcing consumers to continuously upgrade to get a fully functioning product.

Customer service is so unimportant to most businesses it's been relegated to offshore companies with employees who are unfamiliar with both the product and the language spoken where that product is sold, so they rely on scripts that they cannot deviate from and that usually don't cover the specific issue the customer has. In the end most complaints are unresolved. Once you've purchased a product or service, most companies would prefer not to hear from their customers again until they're ready to purchase a newer, fancier, less problematic model or version.

Many businesses have discovered social networking and have staffs working those networks for their benefit. But they don't use those networks to reach out to their customers and attempt to engage them in a dialogue so that they can learn more about what their customers think of their service or product. Instead they use them as marketing tools, a way to push their brand out into a new marketplace. In this way they coerce brand loyalty instead of earning it. They exhibit a blatant disregard for the true value of social networking by using it as an advertising medium instead of looking at it as a way to listen to their customers and respond to their questions. I go more into this in a blog piece I wrote earlier this year titled Push or Pull?

Smaller businesses are being bought up by larger ones daily. Acquisitions and mergers have become the primary means of enlarging a business's market share and profits. No longer does a company need to increase their manufacturing capabilities, no longer do they have to develop a better and more productive way to produce their own product. They can just buy a smaller company that already provides what they need and incorporate it into their own business. This often entails laying off the workers from the smaller company and in the process of integrating that business into their own, degrading the potential benefits that product offered as a stand-alone company. A&M also allows a huge company to gobble up smaller competitors and thus coming very close to monopolizing their market. All they have to do is leave a few small providers alone, companies too small to offer any real competition, so they can point to them as "proof" that they aren't being monopolistic. They have managed to distance themselves from criticism by encouraging the politicians they own to focus on insubstantial, inconsequential matters that emotionally charge up the electorate and blind them to their unsavory and unethical practices.

I hear people complain constantly about how our society has lost all its moral values, how we're headed to hell in a handbasket for our immoral behavior. But I hardly ever hear these same people complain about the decline of ethics among businesses. Yet our country is far closer to being run by big business than it is to being run any longer by the will of its citizens. It seems to me the lack of ethics in business are having a far greater impact on the quality of our lives and the future of our country than whether or not gays are allowed to marry.

The Onion piece sarcastically exposes a truth. The best way to get ahead in business these days is unethically. And once you've managed as a business to get big enough (too big to fail) and are sufficiently unethical, you'll have the power and influence to push the government where you want it to go, which will be in whatever direction benefits you the most as a company.
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