Leaders have many balls to keep in the air: staffing, profitability, safety. The list goes on and on. But one item that can never be left off the list or ignored is ethics. Companies that don’t make ethics a priority create needless problems and challenges for their businesses, staff, and customers. Bob Doll is a senior executive at Nuveen Asset Management. He’s graciously answered some questions about ethics, and he offers some advice for putting ethics back on a leader’s ‘to-do’ list.
1. Business ethics are once again in the news (Wells Fargo). In your view, what is the responsibility of the business leader in ensuring proper ethical actions in the marketplace?
Business leaders are culture carriers. Proper ethical actions are foundational to a credible ongoing organization. Without proper ethical actions, trust and integrity break down, leading to the absence of confidence in the enterprise and lost business. While proper ethical actions don’t guarantee success, success without them on a sustained basis is difficult, if not impossible.
2. What practices have you seen that help ensure employees understand what ethical behavior is expected in the organization?
Proper ethical behavior must be a stated part of organizational values with consistent modeling by senior leadership. Expressing how to interact and treat fellow employees, customers, suppliers, etc., doesn’t guarantee proper behavior, but establishes a standard by which actions can be evaluated. And dealing with improper behavior, rather than ignoring it, is key.
3. Can you tell us a story from your career experience about the importance of business ethics to an organization (positive or negative impact)?
In the investment management business, often the best product ideas come at a time when no one wants them; and the worst ideas can immediately raise zillions of dollars. Sadly, I witnessed the offering of two high technology products within days of the peak of the tech bubble in 2000. While the offerings generated immediate business “success,” the organization’s reputation took a noticeable (and deserved) hit, given the severe client losses that immediately followed.
4. How do poor ethical decisions impact the people who work for us? What is the right action to take when your organization suffers the impact of a poor ethical action?
Poor ethical decisions begin to erode the very fabric of an organization, damage employee morale, and eventually erode business achievement. When wrong choices are made, consequences will inevitably happen. Like a cancer, they must be dealt with swiftly and completely or the disease will spread.
5. Do you think good business ethics are important to a high performing company? How do ethics enhance performance?
Believing that good business ethics is foundational to long term success, such behavior is imperative. Good business ethics help to enhance a virtuous cycle of success, confidence, and morale; the opposite eventually tears all of that down. While success requires good products and services, competence in execution, and smart marketing, etc., good business ethics helps to enhance reputation.
6. How do you personally train up leaders in your company in ethical actions?
Training leaders to make good ethical decisions starts with hiring the right people, having stated ethical standards, modeling good ethics, and swiftly calling out poor ethical decisions. Like anything worth pursuing, practice and repetition help make good ethical behavior more likely than not.
7. Do you have a favorite article or book on this topic that you would recommend to our readers?
Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller addresses many aspects of work, including ethical behavior and its origins and motivations.
8. What would be your counsel to a developing leader on this topic?
I repeat #6 above—start immediately with high standards, don’t “develop it later.” Consider good ethical behavior a necessary ingredient for success. It’s worth it!
Bob Doll is a senior portfolio manager and chief equity strategist at Nuveen Asset Management. Bob manages the Large Cap Equity Series, which includes traditional large cap equities, specialty categories, and alternative strategies. He is a highly-respected authority on the equities markets among investors, advisors, and the media. As the author of widely-followed weekly commentaries and annual market predictions, Bob provides ongoing, timely market perspectives.
Bob appears regularly on CNBC, Bloomberg TV, and Fox Business News, discussing the economy and markets. He has also been quoted in major business publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, and Financial Times.