How to harness ethics to increase productivity

An ethical culture driven by core values of integrity, respect, accountability, fairness and compassion not only empowers a company to attract and retain quality employees, it can also be a potent driver of productivity. Good ethics increases credibility, employee engagement and commitment. It can boost output and reduce misconduct, fraud, and absenteeism. Here are specific strategies to create the kind of ethical culture that will enhance business results:

  • Put the mission first and above personal considerations. You’ll make fairer and more productive decisions, based on the company’s welfare rather than your own.
  • Use a common language of values to increase mutual understanding. One well-known language is the Six Pillars of Character: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship.
  • Make sure your organization lives up to your employees’ values. They’ll identify more with it, feel greater pride and dedication, and do better work.
  • Develop a code of ethics and code of conduct, and stand behind them. Enron had an extensive, and meaningless, code of ethics. But taken seriously, codes alert employees to moral issues, improve choices, and reduce unethical behavior. (And if a firm has an ethics program, a judge can dramatically cut fines and executive prison sentences.)
  • Support the ethics program and set the example. If you don’t, employees will notice and take the cue. Moreover, employee fraud drops when managers are good role models. Employee fraud is nearly twice as common as consumer fraud.
  • Make ethics decisions in groups. You’ll benefit from varied viewpoints, make better decisions, and increase buy-in. People hew more to policies they helped craft.
  • Foster transparency and trust. Keep employees informed about the organization – the good and the bad. Ask how things are going and reward honest responses, even if you don’t like them. When more information flows up and down, everyone understands the organization better and makes smarter decisions.
  • Strengthen your business ethics skills.
  • Understand that no one’s perfect. Make it clear to employees that it’s better to try operating ethically and making a few mistakes than not trying at all. Be forgiving.
  • Pay attention to the little things. Avoid poisonous condescension, public criticism, and micromanagement.