What It Means to Operate with Honesty and Integrity in Small Business

Honesty and integrity should be the norm in any small business, and yet we often hear of poisonous and duplicitous business environments that can affect staff and customers. Honesty and integrity is not just important but is vital to the success of a small business.

Some highly professional businesses must operate within a framework that sets out specific ethics rules. Attorneys, for example, operate under very specific and professional standards that are published. Rules are often set out by state bars and there can be sanctions for breaking them.

There are also strict rules for architects, CPAs, medical doctors, dentists, financial planners, estate agents and stock brokers to ensure they operate with honesty and integrity and don’t make misleading claims.

Small business owners operate in the same marketplace as the so-called professionals but there is a key difference. There is no universal written code of ethics and no regulatory body to impose sanctions on them.

The absence of a code of ethics does not mean small businesses should act in a way that would be unthinkable for professionals. If you are dishonest in business, it will catch up with you and your reputation will be tarnished. It’s all very well to talk about being ethical but how does it work in practice? Here are six ways you can operate with honesty and integrity.

1. Provide Full Disclosure

If you are selling low price beds that are flimsy, get your sales staff to tell customers the bed is only $120, but they likely won’t get more than two years out of it. Make sure they are not saying it’s a great deal and it will last for eight years. If the bed falls apart after two years, a customer who has been told it will last two years will have no false expectations. The customer who is expecting it to last for eight years will end up with a negative impression of your business. Provide full disclosure. Don’t make a customer sign a contract in ignorance and later show him small print that you didn’t mention at the time of sale.

2. Operate with Integrity At All Times

If you operate with integrity in everything you do, you are more likely to give your customers or clients a good impression. If you are being dishonest with the wholesalers you buy products from, it may not directly affect your relationship with your clients or customers, but it may make employees believe it’s acceptable to act in an untrustworthy way that will take root in your business.

3. Anticipate Potential Problems

Whatever your business, you should look beyond the sale or transaction. Part of integrity is seeing your service to clients or customers as being akin to a relationship rather than a sale. The best businesses provide after care and follow up and are willing to solve problems even if they are not making money. If you maintain a relationship with customers, you are more likely to receive repeat business and they are more likely to refer other people to you.

4. Tell the Truth

If you don’t know the answer to a question, say you are not sure but will find out, rather than giving a false answer. We are all familiar with the scenario of a mechanic who has given us an expensive shopping list of repairs. If we take the car to another mechanic who tells us the first garage billed us for numerous items that did not need to be repaired, we are likely to take our car to the second garage in the future.

5. Show Integrity to Staff

Many small businesses seem to forget members of staff are consumers too. They can be ambassadors or they can undermine you. If a business prides itself on integrity to customers but treats its staff in an underhanded way, the word gets out. Some bosses don’t seem to realize that staff can become vocal critics. They can also write online reviews after leaving that can undermine the integrity of a small business.

6. Keep It Confidential

Confidentiality is a very important example of integrity in the workplace, as well as being a legal requirement. Violations of privacy policies can lead to fines and lawsuits. It’s also important for owners and managers to be discreet about personnel matters outside of the rules and not to get drawn into gossip.
You can’t put a price on integrity. If you have integrity in the workplace it will set its own unwritten rules and foster leadership. Managers, owners and employees will want to buy into the system and the enthusiasm for your business will become infectious.