By Dr Mark Harvey, Founder and Program Director, Raise the Bar
It seems that many businesses haven’t learned their ethical lessons of past, but the good news is, there’s never been a better time to address them. Time and time again, I have seen two commonly referenced themes used by businesses as they prepared to address unethical behaviour in the workplace…Neither of two methodologies work.
The first corporate misstep you can make when beginning to re-establish an ethical gauge is by using buzz terms like ‘cultural re-alignment’ or ‘cultural audit’. Adding the word ‘culture’ into conversations for effect only devalues your efforts. Businesses forget that culture is a promise, and everyone needs to remember that their teams and stakeholders have a long memory in not forgetting those promises…And to be prepared for their people to be very vocal if they are not delivered on.
The second major issue can single-handedly derail all your ethical rebuilding plans. If you choose someone to lead your change, make sure that they are properly qualified and have a strong reputation underpinned by case study proof points.
Applied organisational ethics is a well-established field of study. Re-establishing ethics and rebuilding trust need to be done by someone who understands the research and the behaviours of people who will be responding to the changes.
Elevating an existing employee to lead the change because they have been with the business a long time or because they have senior status can be disastrous. The nature of addressing unethical behaviours and shaping conversations for change are tricky conversations that need to be driven by specialists who are well versed and equipped to deal with the depth of responsibility and accountability that comes with the change.
Outside of the internal damage that can be done in appointing the wrong person, it is crucial you also consider your external ethical benchmarks too. Journalists, your competitors, a disgruntled ex-employee…They will all be waiting for an opportunity to expose any skeletons. As part of your cultural assessments, check for any warning signs – they could include hints to things like bribery scandals, sexual harassment, misappropriation of claims; anything that makes you question their integrity could be used against you in court or revealed during a Royal Commission. Be prepared.
Choosing to appoint a third-party who is experienced in applied organisational ethics transfers a lot of liability to them and away from your business.
Please don’t misunderstand me, I have spent a lot of time working with corporates and very accomplished people in this space – someone with a known background in the business might be able to create reform but they will not be successful in the long term in maintaining the momentum and initiatives without applying a valid, proven methodology to the breadth and depth of the ethical issues they are trying to address. In fact, they can often exacerbate the problem if they focus too narrowly on the visible symptoms of a culture in need of help.
So I’ve talked about the issues, but what about the solutions? If I can liken this to a malfunctioning airliner…
An airliner has many systems that allow it to safely fly passengers from point A to point B. When a failure is detected in one of those systems and the jet is grounded it wouldn’t make sense to simply fix and review that single system in isolation. Why you might ask? When there is too much at stake and an issue has been identified, it’s likely the issue wasn’t in isolation. It’s likely there was a further impact to other systems and areas. The same analogy should apply to a business with each department or team representing a system of the wider machine – or the airliner.
It’s quite common that when an ethical incident or systemic ethical failure is detected in a sector or organisation, the response often concentrates on fixing one system or issue such as an undesirable behaviour (an example of this type of behaviour could be workplace harassment). But this is not enough even though businesses might be doing their best to address the issue before. The fundamental reason for the fix not being adequate is owing to a much more complex system of criteria that sits in the background – and this can be hard to perceive by someone who is not deeply educated in applied organisational ethics.
Research has identified 26 inter-related systems (or criteria) that contribute to a healthy cultural environment in the workplace. If Governments, Boards and Organisational Leaders who commission “cultural reviews” are genuinely interested in improving the long-term ethical viability of their organisations – and are not just making a show of building ‘culture’, then they must review, address any short comings and maximise opportunities across all 26 criteria.
In brief, these criteria or systems are defined as:
- The analysis of opportunities and risks regarding enhanced service delivery and market share.
- The examination of values, behaviours, the understanding of staff and competitive advantages, any other key organisational factors, and reducing likelihood of unethical behaviour.
- The analysis of opportunities and risks regarding improved performance through positive workplaces and organisational culture.
- Thorough examination and recommendations relating to support mechanisms, achieving goals, promoting positive workplace environments, workplace orientations, workplace pressures and customer/client practices.
- The analysis and recommendations around opportunities and risks regarding enhanced organisational leadership, active ethical leadership, leadership training, decision-making and in motivating employees, managers/supervisors, senior leaders and key executives including members of the Board.
- The analysis of opportunities and risks regarding improved corporate risk management capability, systems, compliance, internal communications, outward facing communications and internal investigations.
- To all decision-makers who are looking to establish or re-establish their organisational ethics, if you are serious, take the time to review and enhance your culture thoroughly via all 26 criteria. Once you have mapped out the above, consider who will lead the pathway to carving out your renewed values. The benefits will pay out for a long time to come.
Dr. Mark Harvey is widely regarded for his expert abilities in providing leaders with bespoke strategies and product solutions that position them for competitive market advantage.
Dr. Harvey is a serving Detective Inspector for the Queensland Police Service and has held roles across a number of Government, public sector and private industry that have required specialist services in ethics and integrity.