According to an Ethics Resource Center survey done in 2000, when managers, peers and co-workers demonstrate ethical behavior on the job, individual employees are less likely to compromise ethical standards themselves. Modeling ethical behavior is only one of several ways organizations can communicate ethical standards to managers and employees.
Organizations can strengthen their ethical culture by creating the role of an ethics ombudsman, who communicates ethical standards throughout the organization, monitors conformity and teaches managers and employees how to respond appropriately to ethical challenges. This position requires a funding commitment from higher management for training and oversight functions.
Organizations can use various methods to reinforce their ethical standards, including an ethics website and monthly discussions and videos. Another method is management by walking around (MBWA), a technique Tom Peters introduced in the 1980s that many organizations still practice. Supervisors get out of their office every day and initiate friendly interactions with employees, which helps communicate ethical, as well as task, expectations.
Annual Ethics Awareness Training
Annual ethics awareness training sessions don’t have to be stodgy affairs that repeat the same content year after year. Focusing on one issue, such as the ethics of accepting favors and gifts, can give managers and employees useful insights into identifying problem situations. Hire a skilled and engaging outside facilitator to get all levels of management and employees interacting with each other about the issues. You can single out and recognize employees or managers who have set an example in ethical awareness or behavior.
Code of Ethics
In large companies, the human resources department often requires employees to sign a code of ethics or ethics agreement and is responsible for making sure all employees understand the standards and know what is expected of them. The HR department can counsel employees who encounter ambiguous situations or who violate them. In small companies, the hiring manager can perform these responsibilities.
Employees and managers will be more likely to report questionable ethical behavior if it is safe to do so. Methods such as suggestion boxes and anonymous ethics hotlines are effective if employees are encouraged to use them and are provided assurances that their input will not result in endangering their job or their standing with business associates and peers.
Walk the Talk
Managers send both positive and negative messages to employees and peers through their actions. However, making a show of ethical behavior one day and falling down on your principles the next can be very damaging. You must be consistent. Moreover, a commitment to ethical conduct is best demonstrated by executives who show a willingness to openly repudiate misconduct among their peers.
Performance Reviews with an Ethics Component
You must measure job performance not only by the results accomplished, but how those results were accomplished. Employees must understand how their support of the organization's ethical standards will be incorporated into their performance reviews. They must also understand how they the organization will hold them accountable if they don't behave ethically.
Employee ethics violations are serious threats to every organization. Don’t hesitate to seek advice from your corporate attorney concerning doubtful situations that may arise, or that employees may report. In addition, attorneys can review the ethics information and standards you release to employees for accuracy and identify what information may be missing.