I saw the impact of unethical behavior firsthand when I grew up in Moscow during the late 80’s and early 90’s. As a result of the establishment of the Russian Federation, private businesses were created. And during the transition, economic inequality, increased corruption, scandals, and bribery became the new norm.
I moved to the U.S. in 2006 for my own freedom and an opportunity to have more than two pairs of jeans in my wardrobe, and I immediately recognized differences both in geography and culture.
The most difficult experience during this transition was adapting to a work environment that was starkly different than what I had been accustomed to. Working in a different country showed me firsthand the importance of understanding the values and ethics of other cultures, and adapting business practices to them.
The Importance of Ethics
Ethics are principles, values, and beliefs that help us define what is right or wrong. They fall into three categories: code and compliance, destiny and values, and social outreach. When working globally, ethics also include respecting differences between co-workers, honest communication in the workplace, and trust.
To avoid confusion about ethics in global businesses, it is suggested that businesses take three steps to help guarantee their companies’ employees behave appropriately and ethically:
- Develop a clearly articulated set of core values as the basis for global policies and decision-making. Companies must align its decisions with its values. The most shared values are honesty, dignity, responsibility, and respect for others. And when working with other cultures, it is important to recognize differences in values.
- Train international employees to ask questions that will help them make business decisions that are both culturally sensitive and flexible within the context of those core values. Companies often have training and policies that teach employees its ethics code. And while formal legal protection may be a necessity for businesses, it’s important to consider how these policies are supported by leadership within the organization.
- Balance the need for policy with the need for flexibility or imagination. Companies should establish an approach that is flexible but robust with guiding the employees to exercise responsibility and make a good professional judgment.
Clients and coworkers may have a different perspective on ethics and proper behavior than those to which you are accustomed. When I went to school in Russia, for example, I was told to not voice my opinion. But when I moved to U.S., I learned I was able (and encouraged) to share my own views. These cultural differences may seem trivial to some, but helping your team understand and value how clients and peers in other countries approach work can help bridge these cultural gaps, and ultimately, improve your chances of succeeding in the global marketplace.
The global business environment is constantly changing and becoming more diverse. We can no longer assume that our own values and ethics are the only “right” way to approach business relationships with other countries. By helping your organization appreciate the differences between cultures, you will help your employees better understand how to best approach their work as your company scales globally.