Are there true, honest and genuine business ethics in large corporations beneath their carefully crafted veneers? And what about the dog-eats-dog culture where small business scrapes for survival. I suppose I should start by defining ethics, because integrity is open-ended without them. Then we can get down to the meat and potatoes of integrity and climbing the corporate ladder.
Ethics is a side-shuffle of philosophy, trying to draw a line between right and wrong. When I joined philosophy class I remember the prof saying, ‘Don’t expect to get straight answers about anything here. Anything with a clear answer is not of philosophical interest.’
If you are expecting to get straight answers about integrity and corporate ladders, then you could be reading the wrong page too. Because right and wrong have a great deal to do with society, and cultures rarely seem to agree. We are born into communities that program us with certain values. It is no easy task shaking those traditions off.
Integrity is Relative, Not Absolute on Each Rung of the Ladder
If there are no universal boundaries between wrong and right, it follows integrity depends on the individual and the situation. I might believe it is morally incorrect to profit from selling food to poor people, however, it’s an undeniable fact we would have no food stores without a return on investment.
Integrity is a quality that nudges us in the direction of being honest, upright, and having strong moral principles. However, honesty and uprightness are a function of the culture we live in, less our own insight to the extent we break free. And we cannot assume our principles will be the same as every employer in town.
Society has collective power to sanction us, if we don’t behave within its rules. We may reach a point where our centre of loyalty no longer holds. We either have to ship out to where we fit better, or adapt in order to remain.
Each company has its own particular values it nails to its mast. People that are loyal to those beliefs move up to the corporate ladder, although this may involve negotiating their integrity. We make our choices in life. We have to accept and live with their consequences.
Corporate values are usually top down from the executive suite. Those at the apex have the power to influence them. Those in the lower echelons have options of bedding down or moving on. If they try to change the organization from within, it gradually squeezes them out.
Company Values, Personal Integrity and Moving Up the Corporate Ladder
There is thus little point in joining a company with the intention of changing it from the bottom up. Unless of course we are appointed at senior level to help change it around. We would in any case still face up an uphill struggle against entrenched values.
We are therefore far more likely to succeed in a corporate world where our values align, and we are therefore a natural fit. But even then we need to put our personal aspirations to one side, and put shoulder-to-the-wheel by supporting company goals.
In that way, we keep our deeper opinions to ourselves while moving steadily up the corporate ladder. And when we approach the pinnacle of our career, we should be a natural choice for a top position.
This will be our moment to introduce change, and bring company values closer to our own hearts. I don’t believe our integrity only comes into play then. But I do know success in life is about timing and how to play cards.
No, I don’t believe that’s the case. I agree there’s a mismatch sometimes, but I would not go as far as saying they are incompatible. Beyond that, I’m afraid I don’t have a definitive answer. For if I had, then I would not have pitched my article from a philosophical angle.
In summary, we should choose an employer with a good ethics match. Then we can remain true to our integrity as we move up the corporate ladder. For if we lose our inner self, then what’s left is a mere shadow. We may gently try to influence company ethics from below, but that’s as far as it goes. We still have the option to strive for a better world as an individual, in a private capacity, not as an employee contribution. There is some food for thought.