Creating an Ethical Workplace Culture

Setting up an ethical workplace culture is more involved than drafting a values statement, setting policy or training programs ensure employees and vendors are knowledgeable about the rules.  Ethical workplace cultures are ones that make it far easier to do the right thing and much harder to do the wrong thing.  Unfortunately, the problem is many business cultures make it easier to make the wrong decisions and harder to take the ethical approach.

For a company to establish an ethical culture they need to know what this would look like in their workplace, and then as Stephen Covey says, “Start with the end in mind.”  Next establish an atmosphere, reinforced by both formal and informal incentives processes in the company, which promotes the values (trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship) that result in conduct deemed to be ethical.

How does a business instill these values in their company culture?  First a business needs to be conscious about who is being recruited and how employees and vendors are being incentivized.  It is more difficult to bring in new people with less than ideal values and change them to be in-line with the company’s values then hire for character and train for skills.  When looking at candidates what you need to understand is most people have the capacity, willingness and desire to be ethical but sadly many people also have the great desire to succeed that is so strong that they ware willing to sacrifice their ethics to accomplish success. So, when recruiting and interviewing it is important to convey that in order to succeed in this company we expect these values.  To say this and not back it up is just hypocrisy and what you allow you encourage.  If a business is going to make a point to state that it important for their employees and vendors to display certain ethical values then something negative needs to happen when people do not display these values.  Reversely it doesn’t necessarily mean that if someone does a great job displaying these values they will get promoted, because employees also need to be competent and do their jobs well.  It’s a minimal requirement but not a guarantee to success in the company.

The company has to say their values, believe in them and back them up.  To reinforce this concept we use a simple structure we call T.E.A.M. which stands for four things you have to do in creating an ethical culture:

  • Teach – Be certain that in training, performance reviews, mentoring and discipline processes that you’re reinforcing the kind of behavior that you want. Identify what that value looks like in the company culture you’re trying to establish and be sure that employees or vendors know what it looks like.
  • Enforce – Have appropriate consequences and praise that are proportional to behavior. Remember, what you allow you encourage.
  • Advocate – The values you hope to establish should be displayed on the walls, part of performance reviews, recruiting literature and annual reports as this is what our company stand for.
  • Model – Be certain that as a manager your conduct models what you expect from your employees and vendors.