- a: moral principles that govern a person’s or group’s behavior.
- b: the moral correctness of specified conduct.
- c: the branch of knowledge that deals with moral principles
In a perfect world the “should do” of ethics would come before compliance, and it could be argued ethical intent is what creates a compliant culture. However, creating an ethical culture should be the aim of all organizations and that often starts at the very tactical level of compliance. Compliance gives us a very clear set of reachable goals developed around understood regulations and standards. Ethical behavior is harder to attain because it isn’t about a singular event (attesting to a policy/processing a form/taking a training), but more about a belief system that informs all decisions and events.
I don’t believe that most people get up in the morning and start by planning out nefarious schemes over their morning coffee and blueberry danish. I generally don’t have enough clarity in the morning to match my belt to my shoes, let alone create a uniquely subversive plan for my workday (maybe after the 2nd cup of coffee). I believe most people inherently work from a fairly moral center. That is to say that on the very subjective morality scale, they fall more on the moral side than they do immoral. While I don’t have any numbers to prove this theory, I feel it to be true and, more importantly, I’m hopeful this is true.
Employee comfort and safety is a key concern when moving forward from merely checking the compliance box off your to-do list, to investing in a workforce that makes the right decisions not out of fear, but out of respect. What avenues have been provided for employees to report concerns, and do they feel if they come forward they will be treated with care and not retaliated against? This is a key aspect of having ethics at the heart of all operations. When employees know their concerns will be cared for, and more importantly that the tone from the top is more than just mere lip service, they will be much more likely to come forward if a situation arises that warrants their involvement.
Another thing to consider is making your entire organization responsible for creating an ethical culture. Compliance is often times a single-point solution in the sense that one or two people are responsible for orchestrating all activities. When creating an ethical culture it’s important to get everyone involved as if there is a personal mandate for every single employee to exude ethical behavior, and while the message can begin at the top, if it doesn’t proliferate throughout the organization, there’s a serious problem.
Here are some additional ideas to ruminate on that might help ease the transition from a compliant culture to an ethical culture (easy right?):
- Clear statement of mission and goals
- Illuminate expected behaviors
- Well written Code of Conduct
- Fair enforcement of policies and procedures
- Compliance/Ethics Committee
- Rotating committee members from every department in the company
- Set up an anonymous hotline
- Work compliance and ethics goals into performance evaluations
- Constantly communicate expectations
It isn’t enough to say that you are an ethical company. Words without deeds mean little to employees, clients and the community and even less to regulators. As for the latter, a healthy compliance program will always be welcome but a “should do” ethical culture will impress even more.
Next stop, Part 3: Making it fun.
In case you missed Part 1: Compliance, click here.