But when we get enough people who don't care, and who don't accept personal responsibility for high ethical standards, our organization gets the "M" disease. Mediocrity. Anybody in the place can be a carrier. By the same token, every individual can carry the cure: the ethics of excellence.
The legal system doesn't always serve as a good guide for your conscience. You can step way over the ethical line and still be inside the law. The same thing goes for rules, policies and procedures - you know, the organization's "internal laws." You can "go by the book" and still behave unethically. Still not move beyond mediocrity. High standards-the ethics of excellence-come to life through your basic values, your character, integrity and honesty. Obeying the law is the bare minimum.
Excellence is a process, not just an outcome. Sure, we have to hold out for high standards in the products or services we provide. The goods must be more than "good enough." But so must our approach - you know, our methodology, the way we do business and deal with people. How could the ends be considered excellent if we can't be proud of the means?
The only way we can develop muscle is through regular exercise. As soon as we stop stretching and working toward higher ethics, our standards start to sag. The muscle gets soft, and instead of excellence we have to settle for mediocrity. Maybe something even worse.
High personal standards aren't enough for organizational excellence. You've got to be intolerant of low standards in others. . . . If you accommodate questionable practices in others who touch your organization, you risk soiling its reputation. Anybody whose hands aren't clean can get the place dirty.
The ethics of excellence require a sense of perspective. Look at the big picture. If you live for the moment, do you mortgage the future? What happens if you put your reputation at risk . . . and lose the bet?
Live according to the ethics of excellence, and you can always stand proud. Pride - not vanity, but dignity and self-respect - should carry a lot of weight in helping you make decisions. Let pride help you decide.
We can't achieve excellence through talent alone. Or merely by making technological improvements. We can't even buy our way to excellence, no matter how much money we have available to spend. More dollars will never do it. We have to develop a strong corporate conscience. Ethical muscle. And that doesn't happen by accident either.