Many a business has failed because of ethical lapses and moral failings. In some cases, the collapses have been spectacular: WorldCom, Enron, Arthur Andersen, and Adelphia Communications are all excellent case studies in ethics collapses that destroyed the entire company. Some other examples where organizations managed to survive an ethical scandal—albeit narrowly—include Tyco International, Global Crossing, and Salomon Brothers. In each of these high-profile cases, careers and fortunes were destroyed, and some people even went to prison. In other cases, ethical lapses even cost lives.
It’s one thing to know a code of ethics. Almost every professional organization or trade association has one—and property management is no different. The National Association of Residential Property Managers has a very thorough one, which you can see here.
But creating an ethical climate, where every employee not only understands the code of ethics, but knows how to apply it—and expects ethical behavior not only of themselves, but everyone around them—it is quite another thing!
Anyone can hand a middle manager or new employee a binder containing the NARPM code of ethics, for example, and have them sign saying they’ve received it, and then let it gather dust on the shelf. But that’s merely compliance.
Fostering a true code of ethics within your business requires much more than that. It requires strong, ethical leaders at the top; a willingness to endure pain for the sake of doing the right thing; and a constant renewal of effort in transmitting the ethical standards of the organization from the leadership through to every other employee. Anything less puts the entire organization at risk.
Here are some tips, insights, and secrets from within the property management and landlord context to help you foster an environment to be proud of.
7 Tips for Creating an Ethical Environment in Your Property Management Company
Don’t Wait for Your Boss to Do It
While ideally, your company’s owner or founder will personally lead the workplace battle, any middle manager can start the process at his or her own workplace. Do it using your own resources; do it forcefully and energetically; and do it now.
Lead by Personal Example—Even in Small Ways
You can’t tell workers to be ethical when they know you’re stealing office supplies. When you’re the boss, you live in a fishbowl. Show up late? People will notice. Slack off on the office dress code? They will emulate you.
Don’t Accept Unethical Behavior—Even in Small Ways
People who are not in the habit of thinking ethically when it comes to small matters will not be reliable in large ones.
Study Leaders You Admire
Hopefully, you have terrific role models in your own organization already; but if you don’t, you can find some of your own—it doesn’t matter what field they’re in. Think of great teachers, coaches, business leaders, politicians, and military leaders, and study what they did well. Read their biographies and autobiographies. Autobiographies can be especially valuable, because notable figures often write about their own ethical dilemmas and how they resolved them.
Read up on the IREM Code of Ethics, of course. But look up others, as well. The Berkshire Hathaway Code of Ethics is also excellent, and despite a few glitches here and there (people are imperfect, after all), it has served the company well for many years.
If you and your team find yourselves with some downtime, that’s the perfect chance to gather around a whiteboard and go through the IREM Code of Ethics, or your company’s internal code. Lead the discussion, but don’t let it turn into a lecture. Let people talk about ethical issues that have come up in their own experiences, and then bounce around some ideas about how to solve them. You aren’t trying to find a ‘right answer’ so much as build the habit of thinking ethically, and transmit it throughout the organization. These discussions may just help employees build the tools they need to do the right thing when nobody’s looking.
Keep Studying Ethics—Not Just in Theory, But in Practice
Volumes have been written about ethics, business ethics, and even about the ethics of property management. Here are some resources to get you started:
- Business ethics: Wiley has an excellent catalogue that will keep you busy for a long time. For self-development, try Al Gini and Ronald M. Green’s 10 Virtues of Outstanding Leaders. For some practical ideas you can put to work in your organization right away, check out Stephen Henn’s Business Ethics: A Case Study Approach, Denis Collins’ Essentials of Business Ethics: Creating an Organization of High Integrity and Superior Performance, as well as Linda K. Trevino and Katherine A. Nelson’s textbook, Managing Business Ethics – Straight Talk About How to Do it Right.
- Real Estate Ethics: Within the property management and housing industries, the place to start is with the main industry associations. The Institute of Real Estate Management offers a series of online courses, including Ethics for the Real Estate Manager (ETH800) and Real Estate Management Ethics Online (ETH001).
- The National Association of Residential Property Managers sponsors an online 3-hour course on ethics that’s required for all members every three years. There’s also the online ethics training from the National Association of Realtors. In many cases, you can get continuing education credit for taking this course, which means the costs to the individual are tax-deductible if you’re already working in the industry.
The resources above aren’t always free, but fostering an ethical environment and hiring ethical people will pay dividends for the company many times over. If you have budgetary authority, funding regular in-services on ethics is one of the very best investments you can make. If you don’t have budgetary authority, ask your boss to help you resource your ethical education efforts within your own corner of the company.
Remember: You are the ethical standard-bearer for your own career. Ethics is Job #1 for leaders at all levels. Grab the bull by the horns, educate yourself, and execute.Read more on Team
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