Q: Should managers be accountable for unethical behavior of their employees?
A: While I don’t think managers can or should be held personally liable for independent unethical actions of their subordinates, I do believe managers must be held accountable to advocate and uphold ethical business cultures.
As the newly elected president of the University of St. Thomas undergraduate student government in 2000, I remember beginning my first meeting by stating that we as elected officers would be held to a higher standard of behavior and that I expected ethical behavior by all council members. I don’t recall whether people followed my directive; nonetheless, I continue to acknowledge the significant and far-reaching impact of modeling ethical behavior.
Managers can serve their employees as a positive guiding influence, or they can function as a source of disengagement and unethical behavior. Jim Clifton, chairman and CEO of Gallup and author of “The Coming Jobs War,” contends that while “tone at the top” is important, the “tone in the middle” is critical to organizational success. Research by Gallup and the Compliance and Ethics Institute found a consequential link between unethical managers and increased employee disengagement and unethical behavior.
Traditional management positions are typically obtained through continued promotion based on years of service. This employment procedure makes theoretical sense assuming employees exhibit proficient skills. Unfortunately, many managers lack interpersonal skills, social influencing skills and, for 34 percent of managers, ethics, according to the Ethics and Compliance Initiative, which researches workplace ethical standards.
Workplace experience should certainly be considered when filling a management position. However, I recommend additional factors such as communication skills, self-awareness and integrity be used to determine the best person to fill a management role. A manager should be assessed on his or her work monitoring employee ethical behaviors and serving as a positive ethical influence. Good managers are the key to good business.
Nicole Zwieg Daly is the director of the Center for Ethics in Practice at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.