Implementing Organizational Ethics as a Change Process

Considering Ethics as an organizational behavior, it comprises of principles and values of individuals in the organizational context with a focus on individual and group processes and actions.

Implementing Organizational Ethics as a Change Process

Amao Semiu

Specialist, Transmission Design. Network Engineering, Vodacom Business Nigeria


Ethics can be considered as the organization’s culture. Edgar Schein, an influential thinker in the area of organizational culture defined culture as “a pattern of basic assumptions that a given group has invented, discovered or developed in learning to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, and that have worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as correct way to perceive, think and feel in relation to these problems.” (Schien, 2004, cited by Jackson & Parry, 2010)

Considering Ethics as an organizational behavior, it comprises of principles and values of individuals in the organizational context with a focus on individual and group processes and actions. A business organization consists of individuals from different geographical region with different cultural background. Every individual has personality as a specific characteristic which may be open or hidden and which may determine either commonality or differences in behavior in an organization (Ewen, 1988 cited by Brook 2011, pg. 42). An Individual’s behavior can be seen as an open entity of his/her personality.

Brooks (2011) analyzed human behavior in organizations as a complex entity which is affected by factors which include managerial action, changing competitive circumstances and new technologies. This can be deduced that an individual’s personality affects other people in an organization through interaction but also it affects how individuals see themselves and the extent to which each is a positive or a negative force in the organization.

Organizational Ethics (OE) as Derived From the Traditional Organization Development (OD) Assumptions

The traditional Organization Development (OD) is based on the assumptions about organizing and making changes in the organization (Werkman, 2010).

The assumptions of traditional OD include the following:

-         Human being are psychologically assumed to be inherently good and full of potentials and as such, they are perceived as a source of knowledge and experience.

-         The ‘aspects’ such as organization structure, system, group processes, culture, or management tend to hinder people from developing the potentials and therefore need to be changed (Boonstra 2004. Cited by Werkman 2010, P. 422).

-         Third assumption of the traditional OD assumes change in an organization is an event that can be orchestrated and managed while tools and method for managing such changes were provided. The tools and methods include team-building, reengineering, total quality management, goal-setting and strategic change.

-         Employees participation is crucial to the creation of shared perspectives and the success of organization change.

            “Involvement leads to commitment (Bradford & Burke, 2005)”

Organizational Ethics comprises of the guidelines on how an organization responds to the external environment. The remedies for the assumptions in traditional OD can be summarized as the Organizational Ethics.

Ethics Champions

The team of ethics champions in an organization comprises of the selected few among the employees. Comparing the duty of these team members with the duty of change project team, the following factors (DICE) are expected to be frequently remembered by the team members:

Duration of implementing this change – Mostly important is the time interval between the reviews of the change project. This in relation to ethics requires periodic evaluation of the employees’ conformance to the ethics by the ethics champions.

Integrity - or capability of the champions’ team to exhibit and mentor others on the best practice.

Commitment-  of both the team members and the executives of the organization to the success of the change.

Effort - Extra effort that each member of the champion’s team must take to cope with this additional task which is out of their primary job functions. (Sirkin, Keenan & Jackson, 2005).

Challenges of Implementing Organizational Ethical Change

Major challenge faced by the ethics champions in carrying out their assigned duty is the resistance to changes on the side of employees. Ravi (2009) analyzed the employees’ attitude to change and came up with the conclusion that supposing people have been used to looking at things in a certain manner, then if they are required to change then it takes a longer time as they have been successfully doing it in the old ways before now. This is regarded as a resistance to that change as it commonly exhibited by the people who have been long enough in the organization. This is not only applicable to ethics but it is common to all manner of changes in the organizations.

Sensemaking Approach, New Organization Development Assumptions as Solution for Implementing Ethical Change

Resistance is an important input to a change process. Resistance to change indicates that an important issue is being treated and it is a sign that the people concerned are alive and got energy (Pat McLagan, 2011). The employees may exhibit resistance to a change based on valid reasons which could be beneficial to the organization and this reasons becomes a sensegiving to the leaders or champions. This gives champions something to deal with. Leaders are leaners and they should be given a bit of space to make sense out the any incident. Therefore, the team championing ethics could adopt a sensemaking approach in exercising their duty.

Werkman(2010) summarizes the characteristics of all factors responsible for sensemaking approach to organization development and change management as thus: the approach assumes organizations are characterized by multiple realities and that changes in an organization are continuous and ongoing.  The new assumption of organization development has a focus on the processes of sensemaking, casual patterns of interaction, fears, interests, positions, values and identities. This also caters for how all of these assumptions could affect the change project. Both the Ethics champions and employees are regarded as actors in a sensemaking process and the power (of decision or conviction) is constructed in mutual interactions. Ethics champions can reinvent or formulate new rules or strategy based on the interaction and reactions from the employees. Also, employees could be quick in adopting the ethical change by conviction in sharing the values or vision of the leader/champion standing in his front. Although this is dependent on the expectations from the power bearer based on the position and his/her corresponding role (Weick, 1995, cited by Werkman, 2010 p. 436).



While it is beyond the scope of this article to be analyzing the factors responsible for the successful change implementation, it is also worth mentioning one of them i.e. communication which according the change management practitioners plays important roles in implementing change. Research showed that frequent communication of the effect of change to the affected employees




Brooks, Ian. (2011) Organisational Behaviour: Individuals, Groups and Organisation, 4/e for Laureate Education, 4th Edition. Pearson Learning Solutions. VitalBook file.

Jackson, B. & Parry, K. (2008) A very short, fairly interesting and reasonably cheap book about studying leadership. London: Sage.

 Kant, Ravi. ( © 2009). Creating a culture of change. [Video File]. Available from books24x7  (Accessed: 6th March, 2015)

McLagan, Pat. ( © 2011). Managing change. [Video File]. Available from Books24x7 (Accessed: 23 August, 2014)

Sirkin, H.L, Keenan, P. & Jackson, A. (2005) 'The hard side of change management', Harvard Business Review, 83 (10), pp.108-118.

Werkman, R. (2010) ‘Reinventing organization development: how a sensemaking perspective can enrich OD theories and interventions’, Journal of Change Management, 10 (4), pp.421-438, [Online].