The dictionary definition of ethics is “moral principles that govern a person's or group's behaviour”. In other words, knowing the difference between what’s right and what’s wrong - and behaving accordingly. So, how can you apply good ethics to your organisation?
Firstly, it is important to clearly define what behaviour you believe is ethical. By doing this you set standards for the people who work for you and make it crystal clear to every single person what you define as ethical – and non-ethical – behaviour.
This tone can be set from the very top level and from the day-to-day actions of managers. Both of these combine to make a tangible manifestation of the organisation’s culture. In helping yourself to define your organisation’s ethical principles, ask yourself the following: - What do people say about the culture in your organisation?- Is it a culture of ethical behaviour?- Does day-to-day behaviour reflect your ethical code? Deciding whether behaviour or an action is ethical or not is not always as black and white as you might think. What one individual deems to be the right action in certain circumstances may to another seem inappropriate. For leaders however there may be no second chances. Leaders who breach ethical standards – either absolute or perceived - often find themselves in very difficult situations.
What would you do?
Consider the following situations and think about what you would do in each situation. Think about what you personally would do and what your organisational code of ethics would deem as the right decision. - You are approached by a potential supplier who offers you an exclusive holiday, all expenses paid if you help them to be appointed as a preferred supplier.- You have applied for a promotion board. The first round includes online diagnostic tests which you have to complete in a two-week period. A senior colleague offers to help you with the tests.- A former employee asks for an employment reference. The employee was a friend of your family; they did not work for you directly, but you are aware that there were issues over their conduct in the last year they were with your organisation. Having considered each of these scenarios, reflect on the following questions: - How easy was your decision?- How clear was your organisation’s code of ethics?- What was your personal view?- What action do you need to take, if any, to enhance your organisations ethical code?
Key questions and resources
Having considered the above, think carefully about the following: - Do you have an organisational code of ethics?- Does it reflect your own current ethical standpoint?- How accessible is your ethical code to all stakeholders, not just staff?- What are your leadership responsibilities for living that code?
For more thought-provoking content on ethics, I can recommend the following: Institute of Business Ethics: www.ibe.org.uk for research, publications and training. Business Ethics - The Magazine of Corporate Responsibilities: www.business-ethics.com an online magazine with the intention of promoting ethical business practice The final word of today: “personal leadership is the process of keeping your vision and values before you and aligning your life to be congruent with them.” Stephen Covey.