Perspective of women and men

Can ethics awareness improve organisational culture and conduct?

Is ethics awareness impactful as an intervention to improve conduct and culture in an organisation?

Answer: TEI has done a deep analysis of over 80 organisations across the globe in the private, state-owned, and public sectors. This research has allowed us to test some interesting hypotheses about ethics in organisations.

Most organisations and ethics officers/managers tend to make ethics awareness a big part of their ethical culture change initiatives. It is often the first port of call for most organisations that are trying to manage their ethics.  However, how impactful are these initiatives in improving overall conduct (i.e., reducing unethical behaviour) in the organisation?

Our results indicated that ethics awareness does relate to unethical conduct frequency, but its predictive value is extremely weak. It appears then that ethics awareness initiatives, when used in isolation, do not work well to alter conduct or culture. This is worrying, as many organisations make ethics awareness a mainstay of their ethics management initiatives and spend a substantial amount of time, money, and resources on these initiatives.

There is good news, however. Ethics awareness does work effectively to reduce unethical behaviour when it is paired with good leadership commitment to ethics in the organisation (i.e., leadership are viewed as trusted and take ethics seriously). It is interesting then that ethics awareness initiatives become substantially more impactful in predicting unethical conduct if paired with leadership commitment to ethics (i.e., ethics awareness demonstrates incremental validity beyond the use of only leadership commitment to ethics). Unfortunately, if leadership commitment to ethics is not present, ethics awareness has little to no impact on employee behaviour.

The bottom line of this finding is that it may a bad idea to force employees to engage with ethics awareness initiatives when they perceive leadership to care very little about ethics in the organisation. It also reiterates the symbolic importance of ensuring good leadership commitment to ethics before rolling out other ethics initiatives in the organisation. It may be that leadership commitment is at most a pre-requisite or at the very least a qualifier for other ethics initiatives in the organisation.