Here at NIBE we talk about how great a place the North East is to do business. Businesses in the North East tend to be Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) with up to 250 employees, reflecting a trend across the UK where 99% of business are SMEs, of which 96% are micro-SMEs with less than 10 employees (source: BEIS).

This is important because when I read about business ethics, it tends to be from one of three sources:

  • Academics who study, research and publish on the subject of business ethics, often without having run a business, let alone a business that was considered “ethical”,
  • Large, corporate organisations, who have teams of people responsible for setting and monitoring their ethical policies, money to sign up to initiatives, etc, or
  • Lone consultants who advise on business ethics and have the benefit of being able to set their own ethical agenda, without employees to deviate from the stated or inherent ethical culture of the owner.

SMEs on the other hand are in a challenging position: Owners often don’t have time to read what academics publish, they are often short on time as they will be delivering their product/service whilst also managing (occasionally errant) employees, without the structures and support of larger corporates.

This isn’t to bemoan the situation SMEs find themselves in, as the owner of an SME myself, I find the role very fulfilling, but I am feeling increasingly challenged on how we display and evidence our own ethical behaviours.

I was, therefore, pleased to see The Chartered Insurance Institute, the professional body to which I belong, bring out a guide to help SMEs evidence and implement ethical standards to increase public trust. Obviously, the guide is aimed at firms of insurance brokers, underwriters and so on but a lot of content would be useful for any SME. It highlights the challenges faced by SMEs in determining the culture and processes of the organisation before offering practical steps to codify the organisation’s position. I recommend anyone interested in business ethics, particularly if you work in or own an SME, to read through it.

I’d also recommend getting to know some like-minded people who are also interested in the topic of business ethics, and who might be going through the same process. NIBE have a rolling series of events to challenge businesses, assumptions and make us think. It’s also possible to support NIBE financially, and far from this being a shameless plug, I’ve found that I tend to engage more with things that I am financially invested in! So why not support NIBE, come along to some events and start improving your SME’s ethical culture?

Richard Talbot-Jones is a Chartered Insurance Broker, MD of Talbot Jones Ltd and FD of NIBE.