Steel Products

Ethics and Your Business: Olympic’s Values Worth Emulating

Written by Tim Triplett

Olympic Steel’s commitment to ethical behavior is as much about how employees should treat each other as it is about how the company should conduct business with the outside world, says company Chairman and CEO Michael Siegal.

Employees communicate periodically with customers and vendors, but they interact with each other every day, so what happens inside the four walls of the company is most important, Siegal says. “From a management perspective, it [Olympic’s ethics policy] is really about how we expect everyone to act. It’s not only what you do but how you do it that matters.”

Most companies have a brief ethics statement buried in their employee handbook that few ever read. Olympic’s lengthy Business Ethics Policy, more than 1,700 words, details employees’ responsibilities in a wide range of situations, from gifts they may accept to political contributions they may make, to conflicts of interest they must avoid in fair dealings with suppliers and customers. “As a manager in a large organization, you can’t know what is going on all the time. So, you want to encourage the best kind of behavior and ethics among your people,” Siegal says.

Olympic’s ethics policy is more than a philosophy statement, it’s an actionable document. “Within the construct of legalities, we have dismissed people who were moneymakers because culturally they just did not fit into what we are trying to accomplish,” Siegal says. But he emphasizes that the statement of ethics is much more about maintaining morale than discipline. “We want employees to know that the company cares about them. There is no happy customer if you don’t have happy employees.”

Working in tandem with the ethics policy is Olympic’s statement of Core Values. While the ethics policy states what the company strives to do, its Core Values state what the company strives to be. “Every organization has core values, whether they state them or not. The problem is, if you don’t state them, others will define the company for you,” Siegal notes.

Years ago, when conceptualizing the company’s core values, Olympic assembled 20 employees in a room for a brainstorming session. Pen in hand, they listed the company’s desirable attributes on the whiteboard, a whopping 70 to start. Then they debated and pared the list down to just 10. “Most consultants recommend no more than four core values. We got ours down to 10,” Siegal recalls. “We figured, if it’s good enough for God, it’s good enough for us.” The Core Values are posted far and wide, from service center walls to the back of business cards—never far from the mind of any employee.

On Olympic’s website, its Core Values are displayed on a clever clickable wheel in no particular order, symbolizing they are all equally important. As the homepage states: “We commit to these core values to guide our decisions and behavior and set a standard of excellence that rewards our customers, our employees and our shareholders:”

  • Financial StabilityWe are committed to maintaining economic strength and long-term viability for the benefit of our employees and shareholders.
  • RespectWe treat each other with honor and dignity, while valuing individual and cultural differences. We communicate frequently and effectively while listening to each other regardless of position.
  • TeamworkWe value and reward both individual and team achievements. We encourage employees to cross organizational boundaries in order to advance the interest of customers and shareholders.
  • QualityWe are committed to identifying and eliminating the sources of error and waste in our processes. We believe that quality excellence is pivotal to our success.
  • Employee DevelopmentWe support personal growth and continuous learning whether in the classroom or through on-the-job training. We encourage employees to accept new challenges and to demonstrate individual initiative. We are committed to providing performance feedback and coaching in order to bring out the best in our employees.
  • Customer SatisfactionWe take great pride in exceeding our customers’ expectations. We build enduring relationships by anticipating, understanding and fulfilling our customers’ needs.
  • SafetyWe are committed to providing a safe work environment and promoting employee health and well-being through continuous education.
  • AccountabilityWe accept responsibility for achieving targeted goals and objectives.
  • Corporate CitizenshipWe value the communities where our employees live and work. We recognize the importance of “family” and strive to balance our work and personal priorities.
  • IntegrityWe are honest and ethical in all our business dealings, starting with how we treat each other. Our personal conduct ensures that Olympic Steel’s name is always worthy of trust.

Olympic is the 13th ranked service center organization in North America with more than $1 billion in annual sales. Companies of all sizes and types would do well to emulate its values and ethical standards.

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