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Implementing an Ethics Program in the Workplace

  
  
  
  
  

Every organization needs a set of ethics policies and procedures to describe how the ethical values are to be implemented. These policies and procedures are the means by which the organization communicates expectations and requirements to its employees. Once ethics policies and procedures are in place, the organization should develop measurements for determining if its ethical standards are being maintained and if those standards are yielding the desired results.

Identify and Renew Company Values

Companies without a clear set of values may find themselves at a disadvantage when developing ethics programs. Ethics programs are most effective when perceived by employees to be "values-driven" rather than simply compliance-driven, and values-based programs are most effective in reducing unethical behavior, strengthening employee commitment, and making employees more willing to deliver bad news to managers. Many companies conduct regular company-wide initiatives that involve employees at all levels of responsibility in renewing company values and updating them when appropriate.

Secure Visible Commitment from Senior Managers

Most ethics professionals agree that it is crucial to enlist senior management support if an ethics program is to be successful. Senior managers should participate in training sessions, make ethics a regular element in speeches and presentations, and align their own behavior with company standards. If employees view an ethics program as merely an effort to protect the reputation of top management, the program may prove more harmful than no program at all.

Engage the Board of Directors

Engage directors in the ethics process by instituting a board ethics committee or by placing ethics on the board agenda as a regular item for discussion. Consider special training to enable directors to carry out their ethical responsibilities confidently. Many U.S. companies have instituted board ethics committees and training in recent years, a move motivated in part by the 1996 Caremark decision, which established the precedent that directors may be held liable for corporate ethical transgressions.

Develop an Ethics Code or Code of Business Conduct

Comprehensive codes are aligned with company values and all applicable laws, address the full range of ethical dilemmas employees are likely to face, and are updated regularly as new challenges emerge. It is important to be clear and specific about what is required of employees, where leeway is allowed in decision making, and which ethical issues are non-negotiable. Unclear rules and unclear expectations of employees are the single most prominent obstacle to ethical behavior.

Build Ethics Into Mission and Vision Statements

Many companies build ethical values and goals into their mission and/or vision statements. This helps senior managers and employees understand that values and ethical standards are integral to all company operations and planning, and not simply an "add-on" to be considered after important decisions have been made.

Integrate Ethics into All Aspects of Company Communications

Leverage existing company infrastructure to demonstrate to employees that ethics is an integral part of all operations and decision making. Integrate ethics and compliance training materials into multiple delivery sources including new employee orientations, management courses, sales training, business meetings, business plans, and other aspects of day-to-day activities.

Secure Adequate Funding and Staff

Effective programs require an adequate and sustained level of financial and human resources. Some ethics officers have found it useful to make a list of other companies’ ethical lapses, and the costs incurred as a result, when making the internal business case for adequate resources for an ethics program.

Encourage "Ethical Autonomy" Among Employees

No matter how lengthy or detailed, no ethics code can cover every ethical challenge a company and its employees will face. This is especially true as business operations expand globally and as technology enlarges the scope for potential lapses. Employees with a solid understanding not only of their company’s ethics code but of the values that support that code are better able to make appropriate decisions, even when confronting a new and complex challenge.

For more ways to encourage ethical behavior in the workplace:

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