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An 8-step workout to build a strong ethical culture for your organisation

The 8-step ethical workout

  1. Who are you hiring? 

    When you bring someone new into your organisation, you don’t want to be starting ethical lessons from scratch. Interview for integrity. Challenge candidates with ethical scenarios during interviews. Consider exploring the tools and techniques on the market that help measure and predict ethical behaviour in individuals and teams.

  2. Make integrity an always-on job function

    Ethical behaviour at work is undermined when it is not mirrored in your personal life. There is little value in a senior executive who walks the ethical talk 9–5, but slacks off on doing the ‘right thing’ after hours. Remember we live and work in the age of radical transparency.

  3. Define ‘ethical’ for your organisation

    We have a broad understanding of ‘right and wrong’: falsifying financial data, taking bribes, lying to shareholders is illegal and clearly wrong. But there are grey areas where things may not be as cut and dried to everyone: lying to employers, padding expenses, ‘chucking a sicky’, taking credit for someone else’s work, buying personal items with the company credit card even if you pay it back, for example. Make a clear statement of what is and isn’t ethical in your company and keep it current and visible.

  4. Consider the impact of social media

    Is it unethical to upload holiday snaps to the company’s server? Is it ethical to keep copies of confidential work on your home computer? When is it okay to friend or follow clients, or colleagues? Social media muddies the waters according to the The National Business Ethics Survey in the US, who found different ethical perspectives exist between people active on social networks and people who aren’t.

  5. Sanction the bad, reward the courageous

    People must know that crossing the ethical line is not only wrong, but will incur sanctions, says Dr Simon Longstaff AO, the Executive Director of St James Ethics Centre. He adds “Experience suggests dread of punishment is a blunt instrument for regulating complex human interactions,” Longstaff suggests rewarding the behaviour you want to encourage with non-cash rewards for outstanding and courageous demonstrations of ethics.

  6. Make it safe to speak up

    Seventy-three percent of full-time American employees report witnessing ethical lapses at work, according to ethics research and consulting firm, LRN, but only one in three reported it, either because they were not directly involved or because they lacked confidence in how their employer would respond. People report unethical activity when they believe action will be taken, their report matters to the company, their own job security will not be threatened, that company values matched their own and they can count on support from management and colleagues. (Inside the Mind of the Whistleblower, 2011, Ethics Resource Center, US).

  7. Keep business ethics current

    Ethical decisions are made (or not made) in context: what else is going on in a person’s work and business life, the environment they work in and pressure to perform, for example. Businesses evolve over time. Review the your company’s ethical context regularly to make sure it continues to promote the right behaviour.

  8. Keep it simple: respect

    Until there is an ‘ethical app’ to keep us all on the right path, experts we interviewed for Insight Edge all agree that the touchstone of ethical behaviour is respect. Decisions that respect the dignity and wellbeing of colleagues, customers, the business and the broader community are heading in the right direction.

Listen to the AIM leadership podcast, Insight Edge for more on leadership skills for an ethical workplace.