Using the Six Pillars of Character to Get More From Your Organization

Michael Josephson explains how the Six Pillars of Character relate to everyday business operations and how they can be used to get more out of your organization.  Almost all companies are in what we call a compliance mode after the creation of rules and statutes like Sarbanes-Oxley. Compliance is the concept of rules and industry regulations creating the “laws” of what is proper business practice within your industry.  Adding a values-based approach to your ethics program you are able to get more out of your organization and reduce the likelihood of encountering problems.  Being ethical is not only virtuous; it is also smart business and is a strategy for risk management.

Having a compliance program is the absolute bare minimum.  Every good organization has to have an effective compliance program and to have an effective compliance program two dimensions are needed. The first is you have to be sure employees know what rules they are expected to follow.  The fact of the matter is not all rules are intuitively obvious (e.g. it is not intuitively obvious if you can accept moonlighting offers or accept or give gifts in certain situations or settings).  If you have a training program that strictly focuses on rules, employees will get bored and may not remember everything.  Therefore, it is important to identify what the employee needs to know and find practical ways to reinforce those points rather than focusing on training employees strictly on the nuances of every rule.  When teaching the law of ethics try to make it practical and functionally specific.  Secondly it is necessary to be mindful of discipline.  More problems occur in organizations not because employees are ignorant of the rules, but because people have chosen not to follow them because it was not practical or did not help.  In this discussion it makes sense to talk about people’s willpower and desire to do the right thing even when it doesn’t seem beneficial.  One of the most crucial definitions of character (and even compliance) is “Doing the right thing even when it costs more than you want to pay.”

If an organization focuses only on compliance it will find people constantly pushing the line since they don’t understand the difference between what they have the right to do and what is right to do.  Individuals get seduced by the notion of legalisms with, “Can I do this?” (Little e ethics) instead of asking the question “Should I do this?” (Big E Ethics).  What we call “Big E Ethics” are the principals of honesty and honor that if followed you don’t need to worry about “little e ethics” because they’re covered.

It is important to have a compliance program and be able to show that you’ve taking the steps to ensure your employees know the rules and how to apply to them but your company will have far more success if every employee is infused with the sense that they are expected to do the right thing from a big E Ethical point of view.  A program that focuses on creating the desire in people to do the right thing will have the most success.