CFO Book Review: It’s About Excellence: Building Ethically Healthy Organizations by David Gill

CFO Book Review: It’s About Excellence: Building Ethically Healthy Organizations by David Gill

The author has several objectives in writing this book. His first objective is to provide tools and resources for the entrepreneur and business developers to build ethical and excellent companies that do what’s right and do well financially. The author notes that while there are many good ethical companies, there are too many companies whose leadership has failed morally and ethically. So he writes this book with the intention of calling the leaders in the business world to a new level of ethical leadership. The last objective of this book is for corporations to consider ethics first and foremost as a matter of excellence. Ethics needs to be more than a stop-gap measure to contain the damage after something has gone wrong. Ethics means being proactive in operating a business with excellence.

The author starts his case by trying to define ethics in a way that recognizes the widely diverse world that we live in. He identifies six criteria to consider when determining if a corporation or an individual is acting ethically or not. First is an acknowledgement that our laws are based on an ethics of right and wrong. Second, industry or company codes of ethics are important to follow. Third, almost all humans have a general sense of right and wrong, or a moral compass, and this should be followed. Fourth, obey the Golden Rule: Do unto others what you would have them do to you. Fifth, if you don’t want the public to see what you are doing, don’t do it. Sixth, do no harm to others that would be considered irresponsible.

The author then goes on to acknowledge that even if someone knows what is ethical, he/she does not always want to do the right thing. Many times corporations or other entities of authority must implement incentives for people to choose the right action. These incentives can be either a fear of negative consequences or the desire to experience a positive consequence. This then can create an environment for the right thing to be done on a more consistent basis. However, not all scenarios can be anticipated in advance, and so a company needs to have a thought out strategy of how to deal with an ethics crisis before it happens.

The author goes on to describe four additional proactive measures a company can implement to build ethics and values into an organization. When a company has an inspired and shared mission and vision that its employees can get passionate about there is a much greater likelihood that they also will willing follow a set code of ethics. This passion about the mission of the organization also feeds into creating a healthy culture within the company. Having a code of ethics and expecting a certain style of operations leads to an atmosphere that is values-oriented. The expected style of operation comes out of identifying what principle-guided practices are important in the day to day operations of the company. When a company’s mission and vision aligns with the culture or environment of the organization as well as the expected practices and principles, ethics becomes a positive outcome of operations and not a negative restraint or list of what not to dos. Ultimately, these measures will be ineffective if the leadership and governance of the organization is not leading by example. Good ethical leadership is essential for a company to implement an environment of good ethics.

Each of these measures must be supported by a continual process of education for the stakeholders in the organization. A company must clearly articulate and continue to remind people what is important in accomplish the vision and mission of the company. The company must be proactive in implementing the values, principles and processes that are important. Finally, a company must continue to evaluate how it is doing in accomplishing carrying out the values and ethics identified. Leadership needs to identify strengths and weaknesses and develop ways to improve processes. When the ethics of the company are violated an in-depth review should identify where the process failed, and how to keep it from failing in the future.

The value of a book like Excellence, is to provide leaders and employees a way to evaluate how their own company matches up with the ideal work environment. If each business leader decided to make a concerted effort to evaluate how he/she provides ethical leadership and begin to implement changes based on the measures outlined in this book, significant changes would be realized in the business world. The challenge is to break the herd mentality that says the company will be put in a competitive disadvantage if it operates in a completely ethical and transparent way.