Building the Cultural Foundation: Business Ethics Training is Just One Component
I ran across this article and immediately knew I needed to share it with you. In “Coffee, naps and ethical work behavior,” Rex Huppke shares some surprising research about the often-overlooked cultural side of business ethics. I highly recommend that you read his whole piece, but the overarching theme of the research is that employees are more likely to engage in ethical behavior when they feel their organization cares about them. This has a huge impact on your business ethics training – training matters, but you must consider the context of your organizational culture.
You can see how this could turn into a chicken or the egg argument – which comes first, building the ethical culture or building the business ethics training system that supports and shapes it? It seems unlikely that you’re going to scrap all of your training programs and throw yourself head first into a cultural restructuring (what would that even look like?) so I’m going to suggest that the two go hand in hand.
My guess is that you’re working for an organization that’s been around for a while. Any mature organization has an established culture. What’s so powerful about culture is that it’s often more influential than your written policies. Sure, the workday technically ends at 5:30 every day, but everyone at your company leaves at 5 on Fridays… Or maybe stays till 7 every night, regardless. The company policy says employees can take an hour lunch, but everybody knows that if you took the full hour it’d be mayhem… Or maybe your boss doesn’t care if you’re gone for an hour and a half, so long as the work gets done.
These habits, these unwritten policies that everyone “knows,” these are the things that shape employee behavior, and therefore need to be actively managed to ensure a healthy working environment that encourages ethical behavior. It’s no surprise that companies everywhere are hiring Chief Culture Officers to make sure they get this right. Google is known for their culture, which they’ve worked very hard to cultivate because it goes hand-in-hand with their reputation of caring about their employees, which in turn helps them retain top talent.
It’s a little bit different when you’re in an organization that might not have been built with this company culture focus. After all, this is a trend that really didn’t take off till 3 or 4 years ago. Before that, culture was just a thing that happened. So imagine that culture has just been happening for the past 20 years, and now it’s not in tip-top shape. How do you reshape, rebuild, and redirect the culture that’s become ingrained in your organization, specifically in a way that supports ethical behavior?
Start with an Ethics Audit
You’ve probably heard some variation of the sentiment that you need to know where you’re at before you can look at where you want to go. This is true in fitness, planning a road trip, creating a marketing plan, and also in building your company’s ethical culture. Keep in mind that all of the more concrete pieces of your business ethics training system – the deliverables, if you will – will rest on top of the foundation of the culture that you build, so you really want to invest the time and make sure you get it right.
- Incident Report Data – Which types of incidents are most common?
- Code of Conduct or Code of Ethics – What’s included, what’s missing, and when was it last updated?
- Meta-Policy – Do you have a policy on policies?
- Current Training System – Just like with the Code of Ethics, what’s included, what’s missing, and when was it last updated?
- Culture Snapshot – Does the groundwork of your organization support ethical behavior?
Incident Report Data
First, we’re going to look at the types of incidents that occur the most. This may reveal some gaps in your Code or training system that you weren’t aware of, or highlight a cultural practice that’s at odds with your official policies.
Code of Ethics
Once you’ve created a list of the most common incidents, pull out your company’s Code of Conduct or Code of Ethics. Did you have to search for it? Are all of your policies housed in a place that’s easily accessible to you and employees? Note that I said A place, not a variety of places. Just because you know that HR policies are housed in a binder in somebody’s office on the third floor, and the Code of Ethics lives in your desk drawer, and the IT security policy lives in the walls of your CIO’s brain… Well, you can see how that might be difficult for an employee to follow.
Before you dive into the actual content, take a look at the layout of the document. Is it easy to consume? During last week’s policy management webinar, Michael Rasmussen made a point that writers often forget: layout has the potential to exponentially increase (or decrease!) comprehension of the content. It’s also an opportunity to brand the document – does it look like other documents that your company produces? Is the format easily identifiable as a policy?
After you’ve reviewed the visuals, dive into the content. Is the language comprehensible? Are you confident that every employee could understand the language on the first read-through? Are all the policies included that you need? For example, do you have an up-to-date social media policy? An up-to-date BYOD policy? Compile a list of what’s missing, and what needs to be updated.
If your policies are visually inconsistent, written in legalese, and missing critical updates, it’s possible that you’re missing a meta-policy – a policy on policies. Chances are you have multiple departments that require policies of some sort. A meta-policy creates a standard for the look and feel, the voice and tone, the frequency of updates, and a definition of responsibilities for policy owners. For your audit, note whether you have one, and if so, if it’s stored in the same place as your policies. Are policy owners aware that it exists and of what it contains? Do they abide by it?
Business Ethics Training System
Let’s take a moment to review your current training system. Did the incident report data suggest that your training system has a gap? Has your training been updated to be compliant with all relevant regulations, such as AB 1825 in California? Has it been updated to include social media and BYOD policy compliance?
Just like with your Code of Ethics, consider how the information is presented. You can refer to our previous post on sexual harassment training to learn more about training best practices. In short, is your business ethics training interactive, engaging, and contemporary?
The most critical piece comes last. Does the foundation for ethical behavior exist, or is your culture sending mixed messages? Every piece of your ethics system will exist within the context of your culture, so make sure you’re not building your system on quicksand.
For a culture to support ethical behavior, your employees must know two things: that you care and what you expect. You’ve probably read about our standard of a “see something, say something” culture. The internal messaging needs to support that standard in order to be effective. That means executive transparency, an internal emphasis on ethics and reporting, and an excellent employee experience when an incident is reported. For your audit, how do you think you score on these elements? How clearly are you communicating that you care about your employees?
The Stop-Light Method
Overhauling culture, policies, and training can seem quite overwhelming, but quickly becomes manageable with the right priorities in place. So how’d you score? Identify where you have the most gaps, risks, potential costs – these are the “red” zones. These are the areas that you’ll tackle first. Next, identify your “yellow” zones – areas that need updating, improvement, or new content, but aren’t putting your business at immediate risk. Finally, your “green” zones – these are areas that require a maintenance plan more so than any changes.
Great job! You’ve completed an ethics audit and a culture snapshot. To get started on any changes, you’re going to need executive buy in. In Part Two of this series, we’re going to talk about the key relationship to build before implementing any changes – the relationship with your Chief Cultural Officer, or CEO. In Part 3, we’re going to build on your ethics audit with the support of your CEO and walk through the deliverables of a successful business ethics training program, best practices for how to create each of them, and how to implement each piece.