Ethics: do we understand what these are, and once understood, can we achieve and live by them?

A guest blog by Eliot Charles Heilpern – Chief Executive Officer at Parthenon Communications.

Eliot is also a Director and Co-Founder at The Payments Business – join the payments debate at

There is a valuable and real sense of purpose concerning what I see as an “overlap” between the commercial, financial and “not-for-profit” sectors, and the approach to ethics and standards in our professional life. As part of my consultancy work, I speak at various industry forums about ethics, commercial and professional standards, and the need “to do the right thing.” I believe there needs to be a greater sense of respect, probity and morality in public life, and within the financial and commercial business environment. These elements should encompass greater trust, a great sense of value in business relationships, and more demonstrative leadership skills. If this can be achieved, we will enhance our ability to provide a more transparent approach in our debate and communications.

How do we achieve this goal? I believe there needs to be:

  • An honest and transparent re-examination of society’s current behavioural attitudes, and ethical approach within the commercial/financial sectors, from a regulatory, business, and moral perspective
  • A re-building of professional communications and confidence in our financial and commercial institutions, and business leaders and politicians.

Maintaining clear and achievable ethics and standards are key to this approach. The challenge is that the term “ethics” is not always understood. It is probably easier to say what ethics is not. For instance; it is not a religion and it is not necessarily doing “whatever society accepts” by simply “following the law.”

From my experience, I would say that that ethics is: a well-formed set of standards concerning right and wrong, which leads to a moral belief and a moral code of conduct. As a result, an ethical society is one that values a commitment to do the right thing, regardless of the personal cost to oneself. I do not believe these are easy criteria or standards by which to live; but I do believe they are well worth preserving, and pursuing. However, conflict arises when one has to consider what the law requires, and what one’s personal ethical standards require? In short; how does one conform and live by both? Herein lies the challenge, in particular with regards to today’s financial and commercial sectors.

To progress the argument further, I would say that there is a need for clear and understandable ethics and standards throughout the professional work environment, and also in our personal interactive attitudes towards one another. Ethics and standards apply to all professions and work roles, all ages, and all members of society. I believe that we can build a better society, and hence a more fruitful economy, through the deployment of an alternative set of behaviours which is absolutely crucial to today’s social and professional environment.

My professional experience in the banking and “not-for-profit” industries has taught me that when such an approach is adopted at the top of an organisation the values, culture, and behavioural attitudes tend to cascade downwards from above, to management and staff; resulting in a more cohesive work force, and a better corporate performance.

To make this actually happen, ethics has to be engaging, creative, inclusive and even exciting! But how does one make this topic so? For example; is “doing the right thing” particularly exciting? I would say that it can be if espoused in the correct manner. Let me explain; the biggest asset is never shown on the corporate balance sheet, and that is staff. However, if staff are treated in a fair, ethical and responsible manner with transparent standards laid down, if they (the staff) are given responsibility and recognition, and if the CEO shows conviction, courage and empathy towards staff, and the towards the mission of the corporate, then to me this is an exciting business environment in which to work. Such an environment will allow for a more decisive and communicative presence between all employees and their seniors. That clearly is a good thing! But the onus initially is on the employer in this instance, to exude such behaviour through their own individual and branded “corporate culture.”

How do we meet this exacting goal and virtuous demeanour? This is a further challenge. My view is that we require a strong moral standard, and clear code of professional conduct, in order to enable the commercial world in its widest sense, to function in an orderly and trustworthy fashion. In particular, when businesses “go-wrong,” we require a “code” for us to adhere to, in order to “right the situation” by using accepted methodologies, systems, and processes. An acceptable professional etiquette, and standard is required to enable the “Trust” factor, the “Value” factor, and the “Leadership” factor to flourish, and resonate through society. (More on these three items in the next article). However, this is not happening to a great extent in today’s business and professional arenas.

Why is this the case? I would offer the following as a possible answer, as just one of many reasons; but I believe a key reason. There is a strong connection between: (1) an individual’s contentment, and (2) an individual’s mental and physical well-being.

To clarify:

  • With a strongly structured set of positive standards in the work place, I see a “generic uplift,” in our society; thereby allowing for society to achieve economic and cultural advancement, and greater success.
  • From my experience, this approach enables better social behaviour and improved social cohesion, resulting in a more contented society.
  • With society’s greater contentment comes greater success. A more contented and successful workforce and society allows for an improved economy; and an improved economy, means an enhanced and better-off country.

Therefore, individual members of society find their contentment, and their mental and physical well-being are all linked to a more productive society; both socially and economically. As a result; clear and strong ethical values and standards that have enabled this “productivity” and “success” to happen, are the catalyst behind this progress; and without these ethic and standards, the progress referred to, would have been far less, if at all!

As such, it is up to every individual, strong set of family structures, and a robust and creative educational system, supported by society’s emotional intelligence to take this “ethical linkage” forward. This approach is too important to leave to governments and faceless regulatory bodies. It is the human condition itself and human enterprise that will allow for this process to be inculcated and progressed through the absolute freedom and transparent democratic processes we enjoy in our Western Industrial Culture. The human condition is a bit like “nature”. It will find a way, in spite of all the vicissitudes along the road to its eventual destination! To my mind it has to, or the human condition is doomed to complete and absolute moral relativism; and that is a plague I would not wish on anyone.

A guest blog by Eliot Charles Heilpern – Chief Executive Officer at Parthenon Communications.

Eliot is also a Director and Co-Founder at The Payments Business – join the payments debate at

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