Q: How can my business build a strong organizational culture of ethics?
A: There are three key pillars to building and maintaining an ethical business culture: principled leadership, equitable systems and ethical citizenship.
Principled leaders articulate their values, make decisions guided by their values and consistently model their values. Principled leaders can be identified at any level of an organization. Individuals in positions of authority within an organization should most certainly be virtuous persons with principles that drive their action. Because humans have a psychological need to identify with a role model, it is incumbent upon all business leaders to practice behavior worth emulating — integrity, honesty, fairness and trustworthiness.
Equitable systems are necessary for an organization to truly develop and maintain an ethical culture. Yes, establishing and publishing an ethical code of conduct is an excellent way to build an ethical foundation and codify an organization’s values; however, this is not enough to drive human behavior. Consider this: The Ethics and Compliance Initiative’s 2018 Global Business Ethics Survey found that employees were feeling more pressure than ever to cut corners in their workplace.
An equitable rewards and punishment system across an organization will help ensure more ethical behavior far beyond a codified document.
Finally, organizations should develop ethical citizens through ongoing learning. Ethical citizens look beyond self-interest to the needs of the greater good. They could be an organization’s most valuable asset because they will promote ethical practices and preserve ethical standards.
Developing ethical citizens requires employees to seek understanding and assistance on a variety of ethics and compliance issues freely and openly. Ethics presentations are not enough. Humans internalize information more when given the opportunity to choose how and what they would like to learn. Let all employees learn more about ethics and compliance, not just those with the words in their titles.
Visit the Business Ethics Resource Center (berc.centerforethicsinpractice.org) for more insights.
Nicole Zwieg Daly is the director of the Center for Ethics in Practice at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.