Ethix Forum – Issue 40

What one recommendation would you make to company managers who want to help build a more ethical company?

Besides setting policy, a manager has two key areas of influence on ethical behavior of his/her company or people. First, make sure their own behavior is consistent with the ethical principles they want to establish and grow. Managers are constantly watched and evaluated by others in the company. This is especially true for persons of faith who make that fact known within the workplace. That which takes a lifetime to build can be destroyed in a second.

Second, hire right. There are few areas of managerial duties that can influence outcomes in a greater way than during the hiring process. Check references, and ask many questions that can lead to a deeper understanding of how the candidate will respond in given situations.
Mike Langhout
Redmond, WA

Company managers and executives need to develop metrics, measures, and rewards that effectively promote ethical behavior.

Classic examples of questionable ethical and self-serving corporate behaviors are the “not invented here syndrome,” empire building, and power-and-control politics. These are behaviors that ultimately marginalize innovation, company growth, and employee morale and do not support the long term best interest of any of the stakeholders. However, all too often in today’s corporate environment people have learned to accept these behaviors and in many cases support them with the claim that “this is our corporate culture” or “this is how we do things around here.”

The reason for this acceptance is that it allows a company to maintain a certain sense of stability in the short term. However, in the long run the company’s competitiveness is diminished. Its desperate pressure to achieve profits will tempt more egregious ethical behavior. Its leadership provides a poor example to aspiring next generation leaders (i.e. young leaders learn that unethical behavior can advance their careers as long as they don’t get caught!).

In the past, we recognized this behavior and called it the “good old boys” network. Today, the network has matured beyond this. It is neither “good,” nor of the “old,” nor of only boys.” It now has a constituency that includes and marginalizes all of us.
A group of managers
Detroit, MI

When it comes down to it, we all want ethical leadership with bottom-line results. Leading is about creating win/win relationships and unfortunately the erosion of ethics happens when someone gets their eye on the ego and off the purpose. Every leader has the potential to get more OUT of their team, company, business, — LIFE than they put IN. The 3 IN principles that I use with clients of all types are: INvest in people, INtegrate your purpose, and INspire by process. When applied with integrity and passion you can create not only an ethical company, but take what you have to the next level effortlessly.
Shandel Slaten
Seattle, WA

Get naked. Transparency is a new form of power, which pays off when harnessed. Rather than to be feared, transparency is becoming central to business success. Rather than to be unwillingly stripped, smart firms are choosing to be open. Over time, “open enterprises”—firms that operate with candor, integrity, and engagement—are most likely to survive and thrive.
Don Tapscott
Toronto, ON, Canada

My wife says to me, “Don’t tell me you love me, act like you do.”

Translation for managers that want to build a more ethical company: let your actions speak for how you care for your employees. As a manager you are being held accountable for making commitments either in writing or verbally. Always deliver on your promises. If things change where you can’t deliver on your commitment communicate that immediately. The rule is no surprises. The old saying of under commit and over deliver is truer for employees than it is for customers. Integrity begins with action.
Tom Coccione
Bellevue, WA

Learn to give one or two other people in your life permission to speak to you about your personal limitations and weaknesses. Most don’t solicit feedback in personal areas. The resulting loss of integrity, humility, and ethics is enormous.

Giving permission is perhaps the single most potent exercise a manager can practice for developing humility, the quality Jim Collins identifies as the first of two essential qualities in every “Good To Great” leader. When springing from a trusting heart, this exercise is transformational. It can take a leader from isolation to authenticity — a difference that is powerful enough to nurture a High-Trust Culture™ of integrity.
Dr. Bruce McNicol
Phoenix, AZ

Hire, promote, award bonuses, assign, and evaluate based on moral courage and integrity in conduct and relationships.
Gus Lee
Colorado Springs, CO

The first and most important thing is for company managers themselves to act ethically in their dealings with co-workers, customers, and everyone they come in contact with. Second, is to make sure that all members of the company are acting ethically, and to distance the company from those who are not acting ethically, since this reflects poorly on the company.
Marc Fine
Camano Island, WA

My one recommendation would be to apply your personal ethical standards to your management functions. For example, a common situation is where a manager cannot tell a questioning employee what they want to know, such as company negotiations or the salary of a third employee. The personal ethic would be to always tell the truth. Applied to this management case the manager would tell the employee that you cannot give out that information rather than giving a misleading answer.

There are at least three different spheres that a manager must handle depending upon the level of the manager. One sphere is dealing with ethical situations within the corporation. The second sphere is dealing with ethical situations with stakeholders in the company. Here I am thinking of connected outsiders like stock holders, the board of directors, or other companies collaborating with your company. The third sphere is unconnected or loosely connected people and entities such as the local community, the environment, competitors, etc.

In most cases, doing the right thing in one sphere is also the right thing in all spheres. However, every once in a while a decision has to be made that seems to be the ethical decision in one sphere but not the ethical decision in another sphere. One too obvious example might be that you could increase the bottom line of the company by polluting the environment. I believe the right ethical choice can be made by going to a higher level or a longer time view and make the decision based on your personal ethical standards. In this case the good of the total community, including the company and its employees, is not to pollute.
Jon Clemens
Camas, WA