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Vintage pocket watches and chains on a patterned surface.

Vintage pocket watches and chains on a patterned surface.

5 Ways to Create a Culture of Ethics

Good ethics is good business: Why have so few seen the memo? So often we hear about unethical and egregious behavior of organizations and their...
Good ethics is good business: Why have so few seen the memo?
So often we hear about unethical and egregious behavior of organizations and their leaders that seem intent on screwing their customers, lying, cheating, and perhaps laughing all the way to the bank. Yet, there are many ways organizations can create a culture that supports and nurtures ethics. In the end, good ethics is good business. Closely adhering to the following important and easy-to-remember strategies can help create a culture of ethics.
  1. Clear Expectations for What Is Okay and Not Okay
    All organizations have both spoken and unspoken rules and guidelines about how to act. This includes everything from attire, attitudes, and behavior toward colleagues, customers, and the public. The culture can differ radically—even within the same organization. Many of the cultural norms and expectations of an organization are never expressed in writing, but are implied. Setting clear expectations for behavior among all members of an organization is the first step toward a more ethical organizational culture.

  2. Modeling Desired Behavior (especially from organizational leaders)
    Research conducted by well-known Stanford psychologist Al Bandura, among others, found that people tend to model their behavior after others, especially leaders in the workforce. Organizational leaders must model the desired behaviors they wish to cultivate within their organizations. If the highest standards of ethics are desired within an organization, then high-profile leaders must demonstrate these standards. Their actions often will speak louder than their words. 

  3. Reinforce the Behavior You Want, and Don’t Reinforce the Behavior That You Don’t Want
    This is a pretty simple truth, yet it is often easier said than done. Organizations must be mindful and intentional about what behaviors they want to reinforce and what behaviors they do not want reinforced. Offering opportunities for recognition, awards, and social reinforcements for desirable ethical behaviors can go a long way. Certainly, these rewards or reinforcements must be thoughtfully considered and delivered with careful attention to both the intended and unintended consequences of using them.

  4. Focus on Skill Building and Problem Solving
    Institutions can help by offering workshops, easy-to-use reference materials, and peer or mentor consultations to develop effective ethical decision-making and behavioral skills, as well as strategies for resolving ethical dilemmas or troubles.  
  5. Provide the Tools People Need to Act Ethically
    If an organization wants to create a culture of ethics, they must be sure members have the tools they need to do so. These include adequate and appropriate training, consultation, modeling, and supervision. Having an ethics ombudsman or point person for an organization can be especially valuable. He/she or his/her staff can provide a focal point for acquiring tools and resources to better help with ethical consultation.  
These five principles provide an easy-to-remember set of suggestions that are aspirational in nature, yet offer clear ways to maximize ethical behaviors within diverse organizations. Having these important principles well understood and frequently used will allow members of these organizations to be much more attentive to how their work and learning environment can be more ethically focused.
*A version of this article was originally published by Psychology Today on July 1, 2015.
Business, Ethics
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