When faced with an ethical dilemma, the best course of action is for a business to do the right thing, notwithstanding the current focus on getting the job done no matter what.
Being good is not just right, it’s smart, especially in a digital and reputation-driven world.
One of Interfor’s core values is maintaining the highest standards when executing a job. There are no cutting corners to stay just within the law – as some business intelligence firms seem to miss. One must act responsibly ethically, and with an eye on potential PR and other risks.
From our perspective, organizations using questionable practices might see short-term results but, in the end, clients will ultimately see beyond ruthlessness and opt for the most effective long-term results. Despite organizations run by jerks lionized in the media, the reality is that most successful organizations play a long game, distancing themselves from unethical and immoral practices. When a client hires a business intelligence firm, do they really want to brag about the company’s ruthlessness, as Harvey Weinstein did?
One often hears that ethics in the business intelligence community is just a matter of culture and that certain standards in parts of the world are not applicable universally. This slippery slope can be an excuse for bad behavior. Example: in the secretive yet lucrative world of corporate spying, Interfor uses a less invasive approach to check if former executives indeed poached staff or stole trade secrets when leaving. This includes discrete monitoring of employee flow, financial situation, and monitoring the lifestyle of an employee in question.
The scandal around the Credit Suisse executives whose fight at a New Year’s party in Zurich turned into a major and embarrassing affair for the bank is an example. A petty drama over nonsense quickly snowballed, and one of the executives, Iqbal Khan, ended up leaving for a competitor, UBS – but not before he was placed under surveillance and trailed for fear he would cause damage to the bank on his way out. Ethics and boundaries need to be observed in corporate investigations, including no surveillance on family members and showing sensitivity to local customs (ex., the Swiss banking community’s hyper-sensitivity to intrusions of privacy).
Similarly, running background checks on romantic interests may almost pass for behavior out of abundance of caution. But when you are an insurance tycoon who also happens to be under investigation by the FBI for alleged bribery and conspiracy, hiring dozens of surveillance operatives to follow past and potential dates may be considered not only creepy but also headline-worthy.
Another recent example can be taken from Ronan Farrow’s new book. In his recent tell-all the story is shared of one particular business intelligence firm’s sub-contractor; he felt bad when he found out he was being used to intimidate a reporter and later came clean after the act. In the short-term, employees might carry out a task, but when faced with the real-world consequences of their actions (especially when innocents are hurt) the truth will always come out.
In the sometimes emotional and urgency-driven world of corporate intelligence, the wise strategy is to stay professional and on the ethical side without venturing into questionable areas. The first reason is that reputation matters – a lot. In the highly competitive world of business intelligence, clients will work with your firm not just because of the work executed, but because of how the job was done. Ruthless is an adjective some use to describe themselves, but most people feel comfortable knowing the firm hired holds to the utmost internal principles.
All of this falls under the organization’s reputation – and the reputation that precedes business development is key. Employees need to believe the organization they’re selling is built on a solid foundation. Organizations which knowingly violate ethics will suffer in the long term because they are not based on a strong moral foundation. Unethical business practices ultimately lead to the deterioration of an organization’s culture.
Being good is not just good karma. Adhering to a high moral code, especially when no one is looking, is the key to long-term success in today’s competitive environment.