In times of crisis, Organizational Ethics becomes even more important because the problems organisations face become more complex and difficult to solve, and the decisions they must take become more urgent and riskier. COVID-19 has taken many organisations into unchartered waters and has demanded courage, flexibility, and ethical leadership from management in steadying the ship. Leaders have been forced to navigate the murky waters of the COVID-19 crisis by making massive changes in order to bring their organisations to recovery, assess the needs and interest of their stakeholders, and find creative and innovative ways of thinking.
GMA Ethics Office
Gautrain Management Agency (GMA) is a Provincial Public Entity established in terms of the GMA Act (Act 5 of 2006) and is listed under Schedule 3 (c) of the PFMA. The overall goal of the GMA is to manage, coordinate, and oversee the Concession Agreement for the Gautrain Rapid Rail Link Project, as well as assisting the Gauteng Province and other organs of State in realising their integrated public transport, and rail-related and smart mobility objectives.
The Board identified the need to establish an Ethics Office in the GMA in 2019 in order to assist the Board and the Social and Ethics Committee in monitoring and overseeing the ethics performance in the GMA, and to coordinate ethics management activities at an operational level. The GMA Ethics Office started by conducting an Ethics Risk and Opportunity Assessment during 2019 to determine the status of ethics in the GMA, and to evaluate its ethics management systems. The results of the assessment were used in the development of the ethics management strategy, review of ethics codes and related policies, and the design of targeted training on ethics management.
Challenges Imposed by COVID-19
When COVID-19 emerged in South Africa during March 2020 and the National Lockdown was imposed, the review of Ethics Related Codes and Policies had already been completed, and the Policies were approved by Board. Some of the challenges imposed by COVID-19 included:
- Closure of businesses and remote working – Levels of uncertainty and lack of access to ethics awareness campaigns by employees.
- Training and Awareness Sessions could no longer be conducted face to face.
- Delays in the implementation of Ethics Management Interventions.
Ethics Interventions Implemented by GMA Ethics Office to Address COVID-19 Challenges
GMA prides itself on being a high-performing and innovative organisation whose core values are caring, excellence, learning, and leadership. These values are not only espoused but are also discussed and implemented by all members in the GMA. In living up to the value of excellence, the GMA Ethics Office adopted technology as an important tool in the implementation of the Ethics Management Programme. Digitisation assisted in improving employee access to ethics information, documents, and training material. Digitisation also assisted with the development of Application Systems by replacing traditional manual processes. A SharePoint Site was developed to house all the web applications developed, Ethics Management training materials, Policies, and the like.
All Ethics Interventions implemented by the GMA Ethics Office to address COVID-19 challenges are depicted in the diagram below:
The use of technology greatly enhanced the implementation of the Ethics Management Programme and increased employees’ participation in the ethics management interventions.
The lessons learnt during the Pandemic and what the Ethics Office will take forward in enhancing governance and ethics management practices include:
- Importance of keeping ethics talk alive – During a crisis, organisations must rely on their ethical culture to survive. Ethics talk assists employees in navigating ethical dilemmas and empowers them with tools to detect, prevent, and report unethical conduct.
- Focus on the opportunities – COVID-19 Pandemic created many challenges; however, many opportunities were also created, i.e., remote work has changed the workplace and introduced a better work-life blending.
- Innovation and creativity – Use of technology was part of the solutions to enhance the Ethics Management Processes and fast-track the achievement of the GMA’s ethics objectives.
- Promotion of ethics in the organisation – Impact on ethical maturity, especially in a time of crisis, to guide and facilitate effective decision making.
In summary, while the Covid-19 Pandemic imposed new challenges to a young organisation and an equally young Ethics Office, it also provided opportunities to innovate and excel by providing new tools and methods of applying and maintaining the highest possible ethical standards at the GMA.