Building a Business of Integrity

By Susan Adams Loyd, CEO, Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota


Every person, whether they consciously acknowledge it or not, lives by their own code of ethics – moral principles that govern their behavior and choices.

But how often do we as business owners, CEOs, and community leaders truly ruminate on our codes of ethics and what those unspoken rules mean for our business dealings?

At Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota, we think about business ethics and integrity every day, and I’d like to encourage you to do the same. After all, most business owners start their companies hoping to help people, not hurt them with less-than-stellar customer service principles.

So what does it mean to operate a business with integrity?

It means your customers will feel safe and secure in their dealings with you. It means they’ll recommend you to others and likely be return customers. It means you can actually build relationships with your customers instead of just viewing them as a means to an end.

On the flip side, operating a business with integrity can be uncomfortable at times. You have to be willing to own your mistakes and accept responsibility if you fall short of a customer’s expectations.

If you have employees, talking about your code of ethics is even more vital to your operation. If you act with integrity, but your employees don’t, your customers will notice. And if you treat your customers well but not your employees, they’ll notice that, too.

The Harvard Business Review recommends a few structural features if your business is about to undertake an integrity initiative:

  • Draft a code of conduct
  • Train employees in relevant areas of law, if applicable
  • Design a mechanism for reporting or investigating potential misconduct
  • Put in place audits and controls to make sure company standards are being met

The point of all this, according to the Harvard Business Review, is to instill a sense of shared accountability among your employees. Defining your company’s guiding values also gives customers a basis for their own expectations of you.

The implementation of an integrity initiative or code of ethics is important for any business, but especially for small businesses. Consumers will always shop at big-box retail stores and do business with national service franchises just because of name recognition, but if you’re a three-person operation on Main Street in your hometown, consumers may need more to go on than name recognition. If you build a reputation as an honest, trustworthy, transparent business – they will come.

Perhaps, at the end of the day, it all comes down to The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.


  1. Customers value businesses that act with integrity.
  2. As a business owner, you need to ensure that both your customers and employees are treated with integrity.
  3. You should develop a code of conduct and train your employees to follow it.