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Ethics and the Middle Manager: Creating "Tone in The Middle"
By Kirk O. Hanson
Creating a culture of ethics is often frustrated by a lack of attention and commitment by middle managers.
Creating a culture of ethics requires all levels of employees
believe that the organization wants to act ethically in all
it does. Emphasis since 2001 on "tone at the top,"
one of the legacies of the misbehavior by top management in
the Enron, WorldCom, Tyco and other scandals, has helped many
top executives realize they must create this tone by their own
An organization's "tone at the top" must be translated into a "tone at the middle" before it can reach the rest of the organization.
What is needed in every organization is an understanding by
the top management and by the ethics/compliance professionals
that they are seeking to influence specific behaviors of middle
managers, just as they have focused in recent years on specific
behaviors by top executives.
There are specific behaviors which middle managers must demonstrate in order for lower level employees to understand that the organization is serious about ethics.
It is possible to specify the middle management behaviors that
will help the creation of an ethical culture. These are similar
to that of the top management but include some unique actions.
The key behaviors are:
There are specific techniques which help the top to communicate the organization's real ethical commitment to the middle managers in ways that convince them the organization is serious.
Motivating middle managers to reinforce the ethical culture
of the organization by their own actions requires several specific
actions by top executives. Among them are:
Kirk Hanson is executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics and University Professor of Organizations and Society. He prepared this briefing for the Business and Organizational Ethics Partnership.
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