September 13, 2012 | Barb Carr

Career Development: Design & Build Ethics Into The Culture by Captain George Burk

Ethics: Study of the nature of morals and moral choices made by an individual in relationship with others; rules, standards that govern the conduct of members of a profession.

It’s one thing for the leader(s) to believe strongly about operating and living in an ethical manner. However, it’s not always easy or possible to spread that ethical concept within the organization. Here are a few ways you can educate and motivate your “troops” so they can make doing the right thing a priority for them, too.

Aim high. Many successful organizations commitment to place ethics first begins and ends with the top leaders and the organization’s board of directors, as appropriate. The leaders (and board of directors) set the tone and push ethical behavior down through the organization to better prepare and encourage the other staff to commit and enroll in the process. “It needs to flow all the way through the organization,” says Jay Stephens, chief counsel at Raytheon.

“Be vigilant, for nothing one achieves lasts forever.”
Tahar Ben Jelloum, writer

Keep learning. Raytheon regularly educates thousands of its employees about ethics. It’s not a once-a-year program said Patti Ellis, Raytheon’s vice president for business ethics and compliance. Part of the training includes employees gather to watch vignettes such as an employee struggling with a conflict –of-interest issue regarding placing business with a former coworker. Then they discuss the best ways to handle it. Similar examples of real-life vignettes and case studies, taken from the U. S. Navy’s Fleet and the U. S. Marine Corps, are an integral part of the Capstone Character Excellence Program at the United States Naval Academy. After a few minutes to discuss each vignette among other senior Midshipmen, a spokesperson is selected to share their groups’ solution to the specific vignette and case study with their peers.

“It’s good to do uncomfortable things. It’s weight training for life.”
Anne Lambert, novelist

Do the basics. Organizations should always install a hot line or help line. That way, the staff can report ethical lapses and wrong-doing without any fear of reprisal or repercussions. A code of ethics is also critical. It’s vital the people know what it is and how it directly relates to their job and the treatment of others. “Training programs used to be strictly compliance-related. Now some of the best emphasize corporate culture,” said Paul Fiorelli, co-director of Xavier University’s Cintas Institute for Business Ethics.

“All men make mistakes, but only wise men learn from them.”
Winston Churchill

Think repetitive. It’s not sexy, seems boring or may not seem important but keep talking to your staff and drive the point home about the value and importance of integrity; not only professional integrity but the importance of personal integrity, as well. They two are not mutually exclusive; they are intertwined. One’s not possible without the other. They are seamless. Fiorelli calls it “developing an ethical muscle memory.” When you do, you’re saying, ‘This is the way we do things here. There may be cheaper ways, faster ways, but we’re going to do it the right way,’ he said.

Dialogue. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. Communications plays a critical role in sharing leadership’s message, understanding and importance of ethical behavior throughout the length and breadth of the organization. With trust and mutual respect established, people feel comfortable to talk with each other. When people talk to each other, the trust factors’ enhanced and they can feel more comfortable when receiving advice from their leaders. The strategy is to develop a culture of integrity and respect so people will elevate issues—not suppress them—and then set about to resolve those issues.

Keep it real. Raytheon sends out four ethics-based videos a year by mail to each employee. Each video has a short episode that features an ethical dilemma that might surface. The goal’s to encourage dialogue and thoughts among the employees. “The employees see that if the company is willing to tee this up, it’s OK to talk about this,” Ellis said. As mentioned earlier, The Capstone Character Excellence Program at the Naval Academy uses several interactive videos and real-life case studies that illustrate the leadership, character and ethical questions Naval and Marine Corps Officers can face on active duty.

Examine your risk. Focus ethics training in the areas where the issues are most likely to surface. Train employees on the ethics and values of the local city and country cultures where the employees are located. Regardless of the circumstances or the type of business or organization, personally and professionally, always do the right thing to do even if you don’t legally have to do it.

Don’t shoot the messenger. Be open to and welcome bad news. Don’t lock your door or ‘hide under your desk’ or suddenly become unavailable. If you do, problems will manifest out-of-sight and then explode; perhaps too large to solve. Create a climate and culture that encourages everyone to report good news and bad news. Better to hear it from the inside than a TV crew appears at your front door.

“It’s easier to fix the damage than it is to create it.”
Brian Lamb, executive

Relax. It should be okay for people to relax and pause if they need to consider what to do when faced with an ethical dilemma. Organizations shouldn’t want people to rush to a decision that may turn-out badly, or if additional time had been take to think about the details in more detail. Obviously, there may be occasions when it may not be possible to pause…each situation must be approached separately. The perception of what may appear to be unethical or improper behavior may not match reality. If not sure, stop and think about it or talk to someone you know and can trust.

Be honest and dependable. Take responsibility. Own it!

Learn more about the author, Captain George Burk, on his website:

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