Not a day goes by that we aren’t faced with ethical dilemmas. Even if the elephant isn’t sitting in the middle of our living room, we are inundated every waking moment with stories that go to the heart of what we believe is right or wrong. Our ethics are the principles that govern our behavior or align with how an activity is conducted. Just as every individual has ethical principles, so do businesses.
What is the “ethics personality” of your business? Do your employees treat their “home away from home” and its inhabitants with the same respect and consideration as they do their families and real homes? Do they have a shared sense of ownership? Ultimately, do the “do unto others” principals apply when decisions are made? Business requires that hard choices must be made but, can they be done with respect, honesty and kindness?
As a society, we adopt guidelines, standards, and best practices we believe are in the best interests of humanity. These norms shift with the times and viewpoints, but they provide boundaries of acceptable behavior and we are expected to abide by the most recent version.
Most people fundamentally know what is right and want to act accordingly. However, many feel pressured by a competitive environment, by their colleagues and managers, and quite frankly by the corporate culture within which they operate. Sometimes, good people make terrible choices. They may feel excessively worried about reaching unrealistic performance goals, so they cut corners or, behave in other unacceptable ways believing they are at risk of losing their jobs.
Do you foster a culture of integrity? Our duty as managers and leaders, is to offer our constituents new avenues and options, to do our best to provide them a new reality. We know that middle management is the most significant group of leaders in terms of showing the way to those coming up the path behind them. Leadership training for all employees should be a standard, not exclusive to upper management. Sadly, employees often view unethical behaviors from peers and leaders as an implicit endorsement that these behaviors are acceptable so, it’s incumbent on role models to show otherwise.
Attitudes are contagious, and change starts with you! If you need a reminder, listen to the lyrics of Michael Jackson’s tune, Man in the Mirror. “If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make the change.” Ask yourself if you are you modeling the very behavior you would like to see at your company, whether your communications are open and thoughtful, your critiques taught in the spirit of education or belittlement.
Fostering a culture of integrity is an “All-Hands-on-Deck” proposition. Employees need to be reminded that everyone is a thought leader and contributor, that they are responsible for extending the hand of leadership integrity to those behind them. Do your quarterly reviews and succession plans have a metric that evaluates the extent of an employee’s involvement in mentoring or other forms of role modeling? When incentive and promotion systems are based solely on individual performance, employees are more likely to focus on their own gains at the expense of others and the organization.
Your ethics culture can take on a variety of meanings when filtered through generational, international or socioeconomic lens. Purpose driven and transparent cultures are important to Next Gens but, they may express their values differently than prior generations. In certain countries, respect for authority is the key driver, in others, bribery appears to be the only avenue to move projects along. In a global economy, it can take time and patience when our first and foremost concern is risk management, but individuals need assistance to empathize and see different paths forward.
Having a culture of ethics, pride and ownership overlays your organizational culture like a warm coat insulating your business from the harsh realities of a competitive business world that may push up against the company values you have identified and the ethical boundaries that you operate within. Ultimately, do you inspire your team to take initiative and act in the company’s best interest or have you become the hall monitor, micromanaging them with rules and regulations that they can’t relate to?
Systemic change does not happen overnight if we are truly interested in changing the integrity culture of the company, not just instituting policies and procedures. It’s inclusive, not exclusive, a “we” not an “I”. Your company must show that you are in it for the long haul and that it will take every single team member – one intentional step at a time.
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All rights reserved – Linda Lattimore