By Dick Stark
RightStar applied for the National Capital Business Ethics Award (NCBEA) more than two years ago. This is an annual award presented by the National Capital Chapter of the Society of Financial Service Professionals. The winners are companies that demonstrate strong ethic programs and practice, along with community and civic involvement.
Without debating too much about this, I attended an introductory session and took the plunge. At the time, RightStar, an IT Consultancy and BMC Solution Provider, was five years old with about 40 employees. My thinking about formal ethics programs at the time was: set a good example at the top, and good things will happen. This means that ethics at RightStar consisted of “tricking down” my strong Christian upbringing and honest nature throughout the company. The problem with this kind of approach is that it doesn’t scale as the company grows and there is very little written down to go by.
The first step was to put together a formal Ethics policy and distribute it to RightStar for all to read and understand. An ethics policy was created, modified to meet our needs, and distributed to all employees. Since almost no one reads formal boring policy manuals, I followed up the ethics manual distribution with article in our Weekly Employee Newsletter, The Weekly Star with several real-life ethical situations in our space, about Value Added Resellers. This became a one page “code of conduct,” that is fun to read and understand. Thanks to the power of habit, I’ve ensured that we redistribute our Code of Conduct every July, followed up by another relevant Weekly Star article.
When it came to employees, partners, and customers, RightStar already had a firm ethical foundation, so putting a formal Ethics program together was really the fun part. We surveyed our employees and customers, added a Volunteer Time Off policy to our list of benefits, created an annual company wide-volunteer day—all big company activities. We completed everything well before the Ethics application due date, and finished the formal application interview process some months later.
We didn’t win that first year, but were one of the four finalists. With some encouragement, we set off to try again since it seemed like the right thing to do.
My first step the second time around was to meet with Kathy Albarado, CEO of Helios HR, a previous Ethics winner. Kathy gave me some good ideas about employee recognition programs, and corporate responsibility. She has an amazing ability to garner full participation from her employees. Whether it is their annual coat drive, food drives, and walks for the homeless, Kathy’s enthusiasm was contagious.
Armed with more information and better ideas, along with another year of experience under our belt, we submitted the award for the second time. Carefully reporting how RightStar responded to several ethical challenges related to new business opportunities (we did the right thing), helped bolster our application for round two.
It paid off as we received the 2011 award a year ago last October, small company category. Ethics, honesty, integrity, and doing what is right have become the foundation of RightStar and our success. Customers want to do business with other ethical companies and several times in the last year, we submitted our ethics policy along with a proposal for a new business opportunity. Having a strong ethics program already in place made this a cinch. Additionally, employees want to work for ethical companies that they can trust to do the right thing. We now see ethics as a business driver that adds value to our customers, employees, partners, and to our bottom line.