Paul Voss is an ethics expert
To understand the gist of his message, just think about those drunk driving Public Service Announcements you see on TV nowadays. If you drive drunk, the commercials warn, you'll get caught.
Voss has a similar point of view: If your company does something unethical, you — and the company — will ultimately be found out.
On that point, it's hard to argue with him. In the old days, Voss recalled his father would say, what happened behind closed doors stayed behind closed doors. Not so much now.
"Your reputation belongs to the Internet," Voss said.
Guilt by Association
Regarding trust, integrity, honesty — "You don't even have to make that business case anymore," he said.
Damage can be inflicted even when a company hasn't done anything directly wrong. Just look at how former Subway pitchman Jared Fogle is "crushing" the sandwich chain right now, Voss said.
Fogle, 37, has admitted to having sex with at least two underage girls and to obtaining child pornography of 12 other children as young as 6 years old.
In the case of drunk driving, the best solution is to stop driving intoxicated.
When it comes to building an ethical company, stop hiding from reality — and do what you can to grow trust, integrity and honesty.
Define Your Culture
"Culture is the No. 1 buzzword of business right now," he said.
The importance of what Voss promotes lies in his definition of "culture."
It's not what you do as a company. Anybody can do what you do.
It's how you do it. It's the experience you give all of your stakeholders — your customers, your employees, your investors. You have to behave better than the competition."
Voss is founder and President of Ethikos, where he consults with companies that are interested in establishing metrics for measuring the cultural and ethical DNA of their leadership teams and divisions.
He is also an instructor in Georgia State University's English Department.
For his clients, which include the FBI, General Electric, Home Depot, FedEx, NYPD and American Express, he merges academia and ethics.
He informs his business teachings and seminars (say, on the ethics of safety, sales and integrity) with 2,500 years of cultural and literary history.
He calls on the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Virgil, More, Erasmus, Shakespeare and scores of other profound thinkers to provide historical, religious and artistic perspective about ethics and the development of ethical behavior.
Forget the Tools
Michelangelo’s commitment and vision never wavered or changed, for instance, no matter what tools he was using. Neither should a retailer’s no matter if they’re selling in brick-and-mortar or on mobile.
If companies are willing to pay for Voss’ peculiar brand of ethics consulting, more power to him ... right?
Well, except the notion of ethics can now be proven to provide more than just Voss' income. It pays returns, literally, to companies.
Research from earlier this year, for instance, on "servant leadership" — a concept that builds a top-down culture of ethics, responsiveness and engagement—suggests that it pays off.
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago analyzed 71 Jason's Deli stores. They found employee job performance improved 6 percent, customer service by 8 percent and employee retention by 50 percent.
Research from 2013 looking at over 3,000 firms linked corporate social responsibility (CSR) with decreased share price beta, making firms more resilient because of better customer loyalty and their share prices less volatile.
The one thing we may disagree with Voss on is the need to broadcast changes in culture. He again cites an ancient saying: "A good wine needs no bush."
In Roman days, wine merchants would place a bush out front of their store when their wine was ready. If you had good wine, however, people would find you when it was ready, bush or not.
Once you have the culture right, in other words, customers and employees will find you.
"Word of mouth is just so incredible."
Do you agree? Or do you feel we should make sure that “bush” is placed out front loud and clear?