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Tone “Near” the Top?

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Tone “Near” the Top?

While everyone agrees that CEOs who embody integrity – in word and deed – help to create an ethical corporate culture, the need for middle managers to tow the ethical line is just as critical. We’re increasingly being asked for tools and resources to help mid-level managers understand their responsibility to set an ethical tone, widen their “open door,” and respond swiftly (and without retaliation) to employee concerns about misconduct.

An investment in managerial ethics is probably a sound one. The Ethics Resource Center (ERC), in its recently released Inside the Mind of a Whistleblower, reports that 56% of employees who report misconduct take their reports to someone they know and trust, like their supervisor. Companies approaching us about the creation of managers’ tools are smart. They’re recognizing the value of, first, making the other 44% of their employee population comfortable in coming forward and, second, ensuring that once reported, the person their employees “know and trust” does the right thing with the information they receive.

The ERC study found that the leading reasons employees come forward to report misconduct are that they believed that corrective action would take place (79%) and they had the support of management (75%) and co-workers (72%). A boss who works with integrity and honesty and expects his or her employees to do the same is a powerful ally in fostering an ethical company.

So, what kinds of resources are companies putting into a manager’s toolbox? Online and desk-side manager guides with features like ethical leadership checklists, decision-tree graphics and hints for enhancing communication skills. Code of conduct companion pieces that highlight the specific responsibilities managers have to promote ethical behavior. And online training and vignettes that reflect the kinds of ethical workplace situations managers face on a day-to-day basis. They’re also putting out more messaging about their hotline and addressing manager-specific questions like: what happens to hotline reports, will complaints from my employees reflect badly on me, and what does retaliation look like?

Targeted messaging for managers is an interesting trend and one we expect to see more of as companies seek new and better ways to mitigate the financial and reputational risks associated with ethical misconduct.

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