There is a myth that all employees should have integrity and that ethics training and awareness is a nice-to-have (it is not really going to change anything, we will just catch those that do wrong at some point). Employees should simply be good and comply with the principles, policies, rules, and values of the organisation. That ethics, morality, and/or integrity is something intrinsic some people have, and others do not. Overall, however, employees should manage their own integrity.
In some way, these myths have perpetuated other myths such as that nothing can be done about ethics in organisations. That at best, the organisation should have selective integrity and deal with ethical fallout as and when it happens. That business and ethics do not mix, or that ethics are for those that can afford them.
Perhaps we believe these myths because we are focusing on the wrong thing when it comes to organisational ethics.
Maybe we should rather ask: can ethics be managed? The answer to this question is undoubtedly yes. Ethics management is based on tried and tested management processes, it simply involves ethics as its primary focus.
Ethics cannot manage itself and requires care and attention in any organisation. Ethics management is therefore simply put the process of ensuring that an organisation’s actions align with its values and principles. Ethics management involves numerous practical and implementable management interventions including:
- Creating a code of conduct and implementing policies and procedures that promote ethical behaviour.
- Training employees on ethical principles and providing resources for reporting violations.
- Establishing a system for reporting and addressing violations and ensuring that issues are handled in a timely and appropriate manner.
- Applying ethics to decision-making processes to business operations, strategic objectives, and dilemmas.
- Engaging in ethics risk assessment processes to diagnose the level of ethical culture maturity or understand ethically risky behaviours in the organization, including their severity and frequency.
- Helping to build practical mitigation interventions to address ethics risks as they occur and developing proactive methods of mitigating ethics risks, that may not yet have occurred.
- Ensuring that the organisation communicates transparently and is accountable for its actions. That it effectively communicates its ethical commitments to its internal and external stakeholders and understands its stakeholders’ legitimate ethical expectations and how to meet them.
- Taking steps to mitigate negative impacts the organisation may have on society and the environment, such as through sustainable business practice initiatives.
- Helping employees manage conflicts of interest and ensuring that they declare and mitigate any such conflicts on an ongoing basis.
- Coordinating senior leadership and management at different levels towards an ethical culture and ensuring that they take ethics seriously and allow ethics to underscore business decisions
- Rendering of ethics advice as well as role modeling ethical behaviour and values to develop ethical legitimacy.
- Ensuring fair, transparent, and consistent sanctions for unethical behaviour and incentivizing ethical conduct.
Overall, ethics management is essential for maintaining trust and credibility with customers, employees, and the public. Perhaps it is impossible to change the ethics of an individual. Perhaps we cannot turn a bad employee into a good one.
We can however manage ethics and make it easier for good employees to do the right thing. We can also make it more difficult for bad people to do bad things, and good people to do stupid things. This is the essence of ethics management. It is also about who you hire, who you fire, what you talk about, and who you promote. Basic ethical principles are thus strongly rooted in the same principles of standard business management.
Although the Ethics Officer is often perceived as the person responsible for ethics management, this is yet another myth. A single person cannot manage the ethics of the entire organisation alone. Ethics needs to be managed across job levels and encompass an entire organisation, including all its employees and external stakeholders. Consequently, every manager and leader in the organisation should manage ethics.
Against this background, The Ethics Institute (TEI) has started work on an ethics management training programme that will empower managers and leaders in the organisation to effectively augment their management practices with an ethics management component. This programme will look at what ethics management is, how ethics can be managed in organisations, busting myths about ethics and ethics management, convincing the skeptics, building ethical decision-making skills, building ethical culture and climate, and nurturing and developing key ethics management skills, knowledge, and attributes; as well as introducing practical ethics management guidelines for implementation.
Watch this space for more on the ethics management programme which will complement our flagship offering, the Ethics Officer Certification Programme (EOCP). Ethics can indeed be managed.