This is a best practice briefing paper on the benefits of clarifying organisation values. This article describes for senior managers a subject which, if misunderstood, can cause damage to themselves, their colleagues and the public perception of their organisation.
The subject of “Values and Ethics” sometimes creates discomfort because it can be confused with morals. Where morality differentiates right from wrong, ethics focuses on decision-making where two or more rights are involved. The Institute for Global Ethics defines ethics as “obedience to the unenforceable” emphasising the subject goes beyond issues related to codes of conduct. The increasing transparency of business and public accountability of management actions is creating more awareness of the value of values, not least because the probity of top executives is now regularly tested and publicised. At stake is the reputation of individuals and how the organisation is publicly perceived.
There are many ways to integrate ethical principles into effective decision-making where the long term impact of issues is increasingly difficult to judge. Making short term gains at the expense of the long term often has serious consequences. The increasing importance of brand management and the effect managers actions have on stakeholder values demonstrates the need to protect corporate reputation with increasing care. Central to this is the clarification and communication of values to safeguard the consistent application of ethical decision-making in teams. Consistency of values requires a regular and visible demonstration of ethical principles led by the chief executive and other senior managers.
There are a number of practical ways to help people apply ethical decision-making at work. Some involve teamwork with external facilitation by qualified advisers. Discussing challenges and achieving consensus for action motivates people around issues which arouse interest and concern at work. Profiling organisational values allows comparison between aspirations and actual behaviour. Questionnaires and interviews can be tailored for different cultures and companies and can be reported anonymously to ensure openness. Replies can be assessed to show differences between desired values and enactment in the workplace. Gaps can be analysed and a report can then set out actions to address them.
Complementary activities can also include:
- Aligning vision, mission and strategy.
- Linking the above with human resource development plans.
- Reviewing processes for developing ethical reporting standards.
- Integrating governance systems with safety, health and recruitment.
- Team-building across all levels.
- Personal skills development in risk and ethical decision making.
- Alliance partnering with other stakeholders.
Consistency of values can be sustained if there is an integrated and planned approach between those responsible for strategy and policy across the functions of an organisation, supported by relevant communications and training. The increases in trust will then allow faster and more devolved decision-making, and improved team-working will stimulate knowledge transfer and skills development.