Off the Wall Ethics - Frank J Navran

I was invited to meet with the VP HR. As I approached their suburban headquarters I was impressed. The building was a gleaming new structure in a very modern office park. I was even more impressed when I entered the lobby – a three-storey, glass-ceilinged atrium – decorated with huge banners hanging from the dome in the colors of the rainbow. Each banner proclaimed a core value – Integrity, Honesty, Respect, Fairness and Accountability.

Off The Wall Ethics
Frank J. Navran


I was invited to meet with the VP HR. As I approached their suburban headquarters I was impressed. The building was a gleaming new structure in a very modern office park. I was even more impressed when I entered the lobby – a three-storey, glass-ceilinged atrium – decorated with huge banners hanging from the dome in the colors of the rainbow. Each banner proclaimed a core value – Integrity, Honesty, Respect, Fairness and Accountability.

I checked in and waited for my escort – admiring the banners and imagining how the message behind their prominent placement affected those who saw them. The AA approached and suggested we proceed to the VP’s office. As we meandered through the rat’s maze of cubicles I commented on the banners. “What banners?” she asked. I told her how impressed I had been with the ethics banners in the atrium. Her exact words to me were, “Oh those. Don’t pay any attention to that. Those are for visitors to see. Employees park in the back lot and we use the back entrances. Those banners are just for show. Give visitors a good first impression.”

The meeting mirrored the AA’s words. In this organization ethics was all about “show”. The VP HR wanted me to review their program and affirm that they were meeting the standards set out in the US Sentencing Commission’s Federal Sentencing Guidelines for Organizations for an “effective program to prevent and detect violations”. Five minutes of conversation suggested that this, too, was just for show. They were doing, and would continue to do, the legal minimums needed to reduce their exposure. They had no interest in creating and/or sustaining an ethical culture or in any way influencing the ethical behavior of the organization. They just wanted to minimize their risk with as little disruption to “how we do things around here” as possible. They wanted to check the “independent assessment” box on the ethics “to-do” list. I was not offered the engagement. Fortunately.

This was a classic case of what I have come to refer to as the “Three Ps” of ethics:
1. Print something on fancy paper
2. Post it someplace prominent, and
3. Pray for change.

The three P’s allow you to check the box – but don’t expect anything positive to result. It is the ethical opposite of the sign I once read in a supervisor’s cubicle: The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves. The difference is that this supervisor was a caring, compassionate and effective leader and the sign was a reference to how things used to be. It was a symbol of her personal victory over an organizational culture that treated employees like interchangeable machine parts that could be abused and replaced as needed.

Consider the alternative to the Three Ps. How do you get the values you use to guide your leadership “off the wall” and into the culture – that shared understanding of how things really work around here?” And why bother?

Let’s start with the “Why Bother”

ERC/EthicsSA data goes here.

Now, let’s consider the “How-To”

How can you move an organization (or a subset of an organization) from a Print, Post and Pray approach to ethics, to one that has a truly ethical culture? How do you change the underlying attitudes, beliefs and (ultimately) behaviors of an organization?

There appear to be seven elements that are necessary to create a deliberate change in an existing organizational culture and to then sustain that culture over time. The seven elements are described below in terms that relate to how to create and sustain an ethical culture. The steps, are however, somewhat generic and can readily be adapted for other desired changes.

As you review the seven steps you might want to keep these two considerations in mind.

First, these steps, at least the first five, are somewhat intuitive. Most leaders will recognize them as commonplace. Given time, the average group of managers could come up with a very similar list in relatively short order.

Second, these steps are cumulative. As you go down the list from one to seven, they become increasingly important. Each is critical for the success of establishing a sustainable ethical culture.


1. State position, philosophy or belief
The organization, through its senior leadership and through a key participatory role of all of the employees and stakeholders of the organization, develops and announces that it has formally adopted a specific position, philosophy or set of beliefs regarding those fundamental values or principles, which it wants everyone associated with the organization to use as the basis for decision-making and behavior as it related to the organization. This statement becomes integral to the identity of the organization and is to be applied without exception, by everyone associated with the organization. The statement may take the form of a Values Statement, Credo or may be embodied in a Code of Ethics or some similar document that results from the contributions of all who are affected by this code or set of guidelines.
2. Create formal organizational systems
The organization, through the key participation of all relevant stakeholders, creates and implements the formal systems, procedures and policies which explicitly define expectations regarding employee behaviors that are needed to guide everyone associated with the organization in their day-to-day behaviors. Examples of these systems include statements of values, codes of conduct, ethics policies, ombudspersons, ethics oversight committees, ethics surveys, employee "helplines", and other ethics management mechanisms.
There are numerous examples of organizations that have succeeded in creating a highly desirable ethical culture absent most or all of these systems. In these organizations, as is often the case, the “informal” culture was the driver and the informal culture is “leadership”. The risk of not having the “systems” is significant however in at least two respects. First, informal culture is subject to being demolished by one or two serious, high level, infractions, as they may either go unnoticed for a period of time, or go unsanctioned if the person or group has enough power within the organization to ward off punishment.   Stated another way, the informal ethical culture is essentially a function of the individual leader(s) and does not survive succession or high level challenges very well. In addition to concerns in the event of leadership succession, informal ethical cultures almost always collapsed in the event of a merger, acquisition of other imposition of a conflicting/competing culture.
3. Communicate expectations through informal (leadership) systems
When decisions are not made with the input of everyone affected by the decision, then organization’s “leaders” must go out and tell everyone what the decision was, why it was made, how it will impact their lives, why they should follow the decision, and how the decision was best for the organization.  And, as we discovered earlier, those excluded from the decision making process on key decisions that will significantly impact their lives, will have some trouble listening to this leader explain the decision the leader made, because they will know that the process by which this leader made this decision (excluding them) is unethical in the first place.  Thus, one can see that by including all of those who will be significantly impacted by a decision to create an ethical code or set of behaviors, then leaders at all levels of the organization will have much greater success in explicitly and implicitly communicating the decision and in securing employee and other stakeholder buy-in to the ultimate decision that was made.  This buy-in will reinforce the explicit organizational expectations created by the new ethical code and to be enforced through the formal systems and structures. By showing all stakeholders that the process to develop the ethical code was ethical itself, this will give all stakeholders a clear example of how to include those who will be affected by their decisions in the future.  By combining the ethical decision making process with the outcome, the new ethical code, an entirely new framework for decision making in the organization can be supported.  The leadership revolution, thus supports the role of ethics as a set of standards for behavior and as a method for making decisions in organizations.  And, ethics as we define it, this double edged sword, becomes a leading component or driver of the leadership revolution in organizations.
Ethics must be developed, taught, and applied consistently on the job.  This author, who developed and taught the instructor for an ethics program at a major company, was told by one trainee that the program was great and “I only wish I could use some of what I learned back on the job.”  Unfortunately, soon after the employee returned from the five days of ethics training his supervisor (who knew the content of the ethics training) told him,
“Glad you’re back". Well, we can check that nonsense off on your training record. Just one word of advice. Don’t ever let me catch you using any of that crap around here. That’s not the kind of shop we run. None of that touchy-feely stuff for us. We kick ass and take names. Do I make myself clear?” 
As the leadership revolution takes hold, it will be those who have strong ethical values who will “kick ass and take names.”  In an organization where the leadership revolution has taken hold, those who try to stand in the way of ethics and ethical behaviors, will not stand in the organization, at all, for long.  Ethics is tough, ethical behavior is tough, and making the decision making processes more ethical by including all of the people and stakeholders whose lives are affected by the decisions to be made is tough, and therefore, it takes tough people to implement ethics in organizations.  Those who communicate ethics throughout an organization, must not only be tough themselves, they must be backed up by the very highest authorities and strongest leaders of the organization.
A colleague was one of the people selected by Admiral Rickover to change the entire culture of the Navy to end discrimination against African Americans and women.  These people given this assignment were from the lower ranks where most African Americans and women were still positioned.  They were given six weeks of boot camp type of training to toughen them up, to be able to take abuse from those who the Navy knew would resist this change in the ethics of the US Navy.  At their final meeting, they were told they were being sent directly to the top brass of every Naval base, and would be meeting with those who outranked them in every respect.  And their job was to tell their highest “superiors” exactly how things were going to be from that moment on in a manner that was stern and to be taken seriously.  Some of the people selected by Admiral Rickover and trained for six weeks were clearly awed by the idea of telling people who could ruin their careers in a heartbeat, what to do and to do it beginning now, no questions asked.  At the end of the last meeting, Admiral Rickover, gave them cards with their names on it and contact information so that the top brass would know who was giving them orders and how to contact them.  But, the card, also had one other piece of information on it.  It said, if you have any questions, call Admiral Rickover, and had his phone number on it as well.
This example shows how Admiral Rickover employed people from all stations in the implementation of the change that was important to attack racism and sexism in the Navy.  The Navy was, and still is, a hierarchical organization.  However, this example shows how important for the very top person, especially in a hierarchical, pre-leadership revolution type of organization, to stand 100% behind changes to the ethical culture of an organization. 
When organizations implement ethical decision making, it will be easier to affect change in organizations.  The leadership revolution will pave the way toward this end. 
4. Reinforce policy through measurement, rewards, and sanctions
The organization reinforces its statement of position, philosophy or belief by making adherence to the associated guidelines and policies an integral part of how the organization operates on a day in and day out basis.
This new ethical code must have a strong behavioral impact on the organization.  People must be empowered to enforce the code, to call “superiors” on the carpet for violating the code without fear of retaliation.  Violations of the code must have quick and serious consequences, and the consequences must be uniform whether a person is President or janitor.  For example, falsifying a resume, if a cause for termination of a new employee, must also be cause for firing an employee who has been with the organization for years and is President.  These codes must have an enforcement mechanism and constantly all members must be surveyed to insure that the code and the enforcement of the code is performing at an exemplary level.
Many organizations do not know how to measure, reward, and sanction decisions, decision making processes, and behaviors that meet, exceed or fail to meet ethical standards set by the organization. It is really no different from other measures and rewards. Ethical codes must be translated into action items that make expectations/requirements known in “behavioral” terms.  ,
It is also important to remember that many of the more influential “rewards” are not part of the formal pay and promotion systems. They are more likely in the form of acknowledgement, recognition and praise. The key is that the recognition and praise for ethical excellence need to be: a) deserved, and b) sincerely given.  Similarly, it is critical to quickly and effectively acknowledge when a person fails to meet an ethical standard in order to let others know that they will be similarly negatively acknowledged should they fail to meet an ethical standard. 
5. Implement communications and education strategies
Critical to changing the ethical culture of an organization is that it must embark on a strategic communications and education campaign to ensure that everyone associated with the organization understands the stated ethical position and the behavioral expectations, as well as have familiarity with the systems and structures that have been put in place to guarantee that the actions of all of those associated with the organization meets or exceeds those expectations, or deals with them openly and appropriately if they do not meet these expectations.
The formal communication systems used to get the “word out” include the obvious: Values Statements, Codes of Ethics, ethics awareness workshops, newsletter articles, posters and plaques, print matter and all the other accoutrements of a fully developed ethics program. The informal systems include the basics: consistent and regular discussion of ethical issues, questions and challenges in the agenda of regularly scheduled staff meetings, discussing the ethics of an issue as part of those routine “impromptu” meetings and discussions leaders have with employees, and doing those other things that communicate that ethics is an integral part of the organization’s agenda and that failing to address ethics in behavior, in decision making and in decision making processes, represents one’s failing to do their job in the organization.  As one can see, this entire communication process is much easier if all of the people who are affected by the decisions embodied in the new rules of ethics for the organization, are actively invited to be a significant part of the decision making process that leads up to these decisions.
6. Use responses to critical events to underscore commitment
Senior leadership must empower every one associated with the organization to use critical events in the organization’s life to underscore their individual commitment and the organization’s commitment to the stated position, philosophy or belief. They make their adherence to the position explicit and use the critical event as evidence of how the highest levels of the organization are accountable to the same standards as are imposed throughout the organization.  For example, at Washington and Lee University, the honor code requires that anyone caught lying, cheating or stealing, plus anyone who knows of another who lies, cheats or steals, but does not report that person, must be expelled from the school.  Thus, every student is part of the ethical enforcement mechanism, and those who choose not to report others who violate the honor code, are dealt with exactly with the same sanction as the person who lies, cheats or steals.
Several years ago in the Oregon Department of Transportation, the Safety Engineering group was confronted with a challenge. A child had been killed at an intersection of two state highways. The community was demanding a “stop light” at the intersection and was exerting considerable political pressure to get the light and get it now. Two safety engineers were debating alternative approaches – including not installing a light. Their professional opinion was that a light would not solve the problem. In fact it might exacerbate it, creating a false sense of security. What was needed was a reengineering of the intersection and that would take at least 18 months – with increased police presence in the interim.
The Supervising Engineer came by and heard them out. His response: “Remember our three values, Public Service is a Public Trust, Safety and Excellence. You tell me what best serves the public, what will be the safest long-term solution, and what is the best answer and I’ll back you up. I’ll take the political heat. What’s important here is that we do the right thing for the right reasons.” The engineers decided on the reengineering and volunteered to go to the community and make a series or presentations to the various constituencies to explain why that was the best answer.  This example shows how the right road, for many organizations, is often not the easy road.  The engineers got the support of their supervisor, and recognized that without dialogue by all of the stakeholders whose lives would have been affected by the intersection, the department risked taking the expedient way out, instead of fixing the problem.
7. Avoid perception and reality of hidden agendas
The leadership revolution takes dead aim on the concept and practice of “hidden agendas.”  As will be discussed in the chapter on leadership failures in the 20th century, in an organization that has adopted the leadership revolution, there are strong safeguards against a few making decisions with a hidden agenda or making decisions where it appears that the decision is made to advance the interests of the few over and above advancing the interests of the many. 
This is the final integrity test that every decision and every decision making process must pass. Why are we doing this and why are we making our decisions in this way?  This two prong test is fully explored in every organization that adopts or accepts the leadership revolution.
Ultimately, ethical leadership presumes creating an ethical culture.  The leadership revolution is a critical step towards making organizations ethical in what they do, how they do it, and how they decide what to do.  It is about being clear as to what the ethical standards are in the decision making processes, in behavioral terms once the decision is made, and in creating the systems and processes, rewards and sanctions necessary to ensure that employees and everyone associated with the organization can and will meet the new ethical standards.  The leadership revolution is about creating the culture that encourages every organization, every leader, and every person to help establish and meet these ethical standards as a part of the process of life itself. The leadership revolution will make ethics a legitimate and expected aspect of every choice we make and every process we use in organizations to make our major decisions that affect the lives of others.

Expectancy Theory as a Culture Tool

Motivation and Expectancy Theory

We have all asked ourselves at some point, “What will it take to get Employee X to do Task Y?” As leaders we look for ways to “motivate” our employees to do what we want them to do, willingly, enthusiastically and to the best of their ability. This is as true for getting employees to complete an assigned task as it is to get employees to internalize a set of ethical principles and routinely apply them to the decisions made at work.
I am reluctant to suggest that there are ways we can “motivate” employees since I am not certain that anyone can motivate another. I believe that motivation comes from within. We can coerce, force, compel or cajole - but that will not yield the “willingly and enthusiastically” part of the equation needed for long-term success.
What we can do is understand what motivates our employees and help them recognize that what we want them to do is consistent, at least in some significant measure, with what they seek. The key for me has been a conversation I was party to several years ago concerning “Expectancy Theory.” It laid out a simple formula for understanding why an individual would choose to do or not do a specific task.
Expectancy Theory has become another of those simple truths that I find so useful. In its simplest form it says that for a person to be motivated to perform a certain act four preconditions must be met. The person must:
1. Know what is required to successfully perform the act
2. Believe themselves capable of doing what is required
3. Know the probable consequences of performing the act
4. Want/desire/value the anticipated consequences

Each of these preconditions deserves a bit of discussion.
Know what is required to successfully perform the act
This is a simple enough concept. We are more likely to want to do something when we know both the desired outcome (what success looks like) and what is necessary to produce that outcome (what is required to achieve success). Generally, we shy away from the uninformed choice where we do not know the goal or how to it can be attained.
Believe themselves capable of doing what is required
Once we know what is required to accomplish the task at hand we can then assess our own level of confidence that we are capable of doing what is necessary to achieve success. We are more inclined to do what wee believe we are capable of - less inclined to do what we believe we are not capable of. We are less inclined to choose to fail.
In the organizational world \'capability\' typically extends beyond personal capacity and includes organizational capacity - do we have the time, resources, manpower, information, technology necessary to be successful?
Know the probable consequences of performing the act

There is more to a task than the probability of success. There are any number of consequences and knowing (or believing we know) those consequences figures into our process. We evaluate the probable consequences - what will happen if I do this thing - from several perspectives, such as:
• What will happen to me if I do this?
• What will happen to others?
• What problems will this solve or create?
• What are the costs and benefits?
• Is this the right, good and fair thing to do?

Want/desire/value the anticipated consequences

Knowing the probably outcomes, do we want those things to occur? Is the likely outcome something we value or something we are trying to avoid or something, about which, we do not care, either way?

Given the above discussion, a simple example.

My son, Ian, then a college student, told me one evening that he and a friend were going to do their first parachute jump the coming weekend. It was something he had talked about for a good long while, had saved for and was now going to do. He asked if I might want to join in and I promptly declined - almost without thinking about it. I spent a good deal of time, however trying to understand why he was so enthused about the idea and I found it so unappealing. Expectancy Theory gave me a vocabulary and conceptual framework for understanding. Consider the four preconditions for motivation and our respective responses to them.

Know what is required to successfully perform the act

We both knew what was required in term of the physical and psychological demands of the task:
• Attend a brief \'ground school\' where the process would be explained
• Strap into the necessary gear
• Board an airplane with the side door removed to facilitate the jump
• Attach ourselves to a \'tandem jump instructor\'
• Have the nerve to jump out of the airplane - at about 10,000 feet above the ground

Believe themselves capable of doing what is required
We both believed ourselves capable of doing the required tasks. We were both able to attend and learn the required content from the ground school:
• We had the physical ability to strap on the gear
• No problem boarding the plane
• No problem \'hooking up\' with the instructor
• No anticipated problems making the jump or riding down

Know the probable consequences of performing the act
It is in the area of “expected consequences” that Ian and I diverged.
His expectations:
• Exhilaration and euphoria:
• A sense of freedom and power
• A soft, uneventful landing
• A smile that would stay in place for days
• 
My expectations:
• I would soil my shorts and hurt my back

Want/desire/value the anticipated consequences
Ian wanted, desired and valued the outcomes that he expected. I did not want, desire or value what I expected. Hence: Expectancy Theory.
Ian was motivated because he expected desirable outcomes as a consequence of his first tandem jump. I was not motivated because the consequences I expected were things I hoped to avoid.
I used this example in a presentation at a conference some years ago and a friend, a psychiatrist by profession, sat with me at lunch afterwards and suggested that there was a deeper level of understanding than I proposed regarding Ian\'s motivations. He saw it as father-son competitiveness, I am a private pilot and Ian, by jumping out of a plane, was \'besting\' me in an area where I was doing something that he could not.
He may be right, but rarely, as managers or supervisor, do we achieve deep psychological insights into those we manage or supervise. And, while the psychological insights might expand the understanding, I suggest that Expectancy Theory is adequate to the task of understanding how we might make it more likely that our employees will do more of what we want and need them to do.
So what?
One of my favorite questions. Why should we care that Expectancy Theory helps us understand why people choose to do or not do certain things?
Simple. Understanding the four preconditions of motivation reveals that we, as the manager or supervisor, can also influence them and thus influence the degree to which an employee may be motivated to do a certain task. We cannot \'motivate\' them, per se, but we can create circumstances that they are more likely to find motivating - a significant difference - not simply an exercise in semantics. And this is just as true for engaging employees in the application of shared values to their decisions and actions as it is in having then apply those principles to other aspects of work.
Know what is required to successfully perform the act
We can help our employees know what is required for successful completion of a task in the way we frame the task and define the desired outcomes.
I am reminded of a story Ken Blanchard told when he described a \'wrong rock\' manager. We have all known these people. They tell you to perform a task - for example:
I need a rock. Go down to the field behind the parking lot and bring me a rock.
You go to the field, find a nice rock and return.
That\'s not what I had in mind.
You ask for clarification and get:
I\'m not exactly sure, but this isn\'t it. Try again. I don\'t know how to describe it, but I\'ll know it when I see it.
Wrong rock managers fail at the first precondition of Expectancy Theory because they do not help us to know what success will look like. Therefore we do not know how to successfully perform the task. No knowing what is required for success means we cannot judge what it takes to succeed or if we are capable of success. Not knowing if or how to succeed de-motivates.
If you have success criteria it is easier to know if and/or how you can succeed. Thus, as the manager or supervisor, it is to our advantage to consider what a successful outcome would be and to effectively communicate that to the person being tasked.
Similarly, when we post a values statement, when we discuss those value and how they are intended to guide decision making, when we illustrate the values with examples from our own decision making processes we are helping our employees know what is required to be “ethical” decision makers in the context of the work they do.
Believe themselves capable of doing what is required
Capability is derived from knowledge, skill and ability. We bring certain knowledge, skills and abilities to the work place and learn others after we get there. Is this task one I have the capacity to successfully perform? Am I capable?
There are both an objective and subjective element to that assessment. Do I (objectively) have the necessary skills, knowledge, abilities for success? We call that competence. Equally significant, do I (subjectively) believe that I have the necessary skills, knowledge, abilities for success? We call that confidence. We are more likely to be motivated if we feel both competent and confident.
As managers and supervisors we communicate both what we want/need an employee to do and our confidence that they have the competencies to successfully deliver. Often, the communication of our confidence is not specifically articulated. Rather it is inferred by the manner in which we communicate to the employee. It is in the subtleties of all of the things that accompany our spoken or written words
When we engage employees in discussion of the decisions they are making – and ask about the values that were implicitly or explicitly applied to the process we reinforce the self-perception of employees that they understand the values and the processes  by which they can  be applied.
Know the probable consequences of performing the act
This is an area where many of us fail. We presume that the employee either already knows or has no need to know the consequences of success, failure or any of the possibilities in between.
Reality is that they may have no idea of the importance of the task or how it fits into a larger set of tasks, why the timing is or is not critical, what other outcomes are dependent upon this one\'s success or a myriad of other possible consequences associated with what we ask then to do.
For many of us, we act as though telling them to do something irrespective of context is enough. Fortunately, many times it is. But in too may cases not knowing the significance of a task translates into not believing the task is deserving of one\'s best efforts since the consequences of less than the best are not known and therefore presumed to be insignificant. As an employee it is easy enough for me to think that since there is nothing of import at stake here there is no need for me to put forth my best effort. Save that for the stuff that matters.
Employees also need to understand the significance of doing the task in a manner that conforms to the applicable ethical standards.
Want/desire/value the anticipated consequences
I cannot make you want, desire or value the desired outcome of an assigned task. I can tell you why I think it is important, how it serves the organization or its stakeholders, how it is good for our group - even how it is good for you. I do not feel a need to bribe you to do your work, but if I do not help you see how your work contributes to meaningful and significant outcomes then I am failing you. I am failing to make the significance of the probable consequences (at least those that have some significance) explicitly evident.
Ethics – A Leadership Responsibility

Conclusion
In some cases the outcomes of our work are self-evident. In some cases employees are internally focused and derive their motivation from the satisfaction at doing their best every time. But in many cases our employees need (and deserve to know) why what we are asking them to do matters. It can be a simple as explaining:
I need a rock to prop my door open. The door is not plumb and swings shut. I need something heavy enough to keep it open but small enough to not be a trip hazard. Better if it is smooth so I won\'t get all scratched or scraped every time I pick it up to move it. I know this is an odd chore but I do appreciate the help. Maintenance said they can fix the door in a week or two but, in the meantime, I don\'t want people thinking my door is closed to them.
And, yes, Thank you
Now, as your employee I know what you want me to do, that I am capable of doing it, the consequences of doing it and that those consequences are not trivial.
You have not motivated me. Rather, you have given me the information I need to be motivated.
It\'s a simple thing. And it works