Enron, one of the most infamous companies of this millennium because of its corporate ethical scandals, serves a very useful purpose for all businesses. The lessons learned from its mistakes have helped identify new boundaries and standards for what should be expected of all companies. It also brought the value of ethics and integrity into proper focus.
As a result, the past decade has seen a renewed focus on maintaining an ethical culture in industries across the country. But, what does that really mean? The corporate mantra of “maintaining an ethical culture” is so overused these days that it has almost become an empty cliché.
Despite its overuse, an organization’s ethics are more important than ever. Consumers and business partners need to know that not only are a company’s business practices sound, but also that the company’s employees follow a high standard of integrity in their daily functions.
This need for an ethical foundation is perhaps more critical in the healthcare setting than in many other environments. Healthcare is an industry that affects the lives of every single person. Patients and family members desire high quality care, patient safety and the latest medical technology. But, ultimately, trust in the integrity of the caregiver is the foundation for their peace of mind.
Similarly, those who work on behalf of hospitals need to share the same commitment to ethics and integrity. The healthcare industry includes entities such as support personnel, suppliers, distributors and group purchasing organizations. The ethical practices of each of these parties are equally important to ensuring patients receive high quality, safe care.
To successfully operate within a culture of ethics and integrity, organizations should focus on the following best practices:
Always tell the truth
Truth is always the best policy. Nothing can be gained by covering up issues or bad news. Getting in front of issues and being upfront with customers – whether they be hospitals, patients or vendor partners – builds an atmosphere of trust. Transparency of business practices and maintaining a culture of honesty are the best ways to maintain the confidence of customers, business partners and the general public.
Avoid even the appearance of wrongdoing
Most people and organizations know to avoid situations such as outright conflicts of interest or unethical business practices. But it is equally important to avoid even the appearance of such actions. Innocent but thoughtless actions can be quickly misinterpreted. The mere appearance of a conflict or a breach of confidence can often be as serious as an actual conflict or breach, and can result in irreparable damage to an organization’s reputation. If in doubt, it is generally better to simply avoid all situations that could lead to the perception of wrongdoing.
Make the welfare of the customer the top priority
At the end of the day, if an organization’s first priority is to provide the best possible service to its customers, then integrity and ethical behavior naturally follow. Keeping the welfare of the customer in mind at all times leads to good decisions.
While these points may seem obvious, the reality is that organizations are faced daily with issues that are complex and difficult – and the path forward is not always easy. It is my experience that the most ethical companies use sound judgment and common sense, and seek advice when facing uncertainty. If these best practices serve as the foundation for daily business practices in all situations, then integrity and ethics will result.
Again, this is especially true in healthcare. The financial challenges presented by the economy, reduced reimbursements and the unknowns of healthcare reform are unprecedented. Hospitals are being challenged on all sides, and they need to be able to rely on ethical business partners and employees to help them continue to deliver the highest quality care.
Each of us has a critical role in maintaining our collective integrity. Likewise, we have a responsibility for safeguarding the honorable reputation of our individual organizations. Consequently, we must consistently demonstrate our commitment to ethical and transparent business practices in our actions and decisions.
Jody Hatcher is the president and CEO of Irving, Texas-based supply contracting company Novation.