The Herald (Harare)

22 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Growing Ethical Cultures in Firms

THERE are a number of things that managers can do to inculcate ethical cultures in their organisations. These include systematically scanning the existing organisational culture, scheduling business ethics training for staff, embedding ethics in reward or compensation systems, and effectively communicating ethical standards and expectations to staff.

When managers engage in this exercise, the overarching goal should be to create a compelling ethical culture that transforms employee behaviour and reawaken organisational performance.

It is the responsibility of managers to shape and transmit ethical values in organisations more than it is for employees or company owners.

Research shows that the most powerful means through which managers can achieve a quick turnaround in promoting staff ethical behaviour is when they are exemplary.

Managers must be committed to ethics and they should model ethical behaviour in the eyes of employees and all stakeholders. Because they deal with critical staff issues such as reward management, recruitment and selection, promotions, managers' conduct in the eyes of employees must never be questionable.

Commitment to growing ethical cultures should see managers making an effort to understand the current ethics state of the organisation as the first step.

This means examining the existing organisational culture in its totality, and through this effort they are able to unravel critical organisational issues that should inform the decisions on growing the required ethical culture.

Managers thus should be ready to find answers to the following questions:

Do employees feel safe to report unethical practices in the organisation?

Do employees think that management always treats them fairly?

Do employees feel valued as members of staff?

Do employees feel pressured to compromise company values?

Do employees believe ethical behaviour is rewarded or unethical behaviour punished in the organisation?

Does the organisation have interests of workers at heart?

The good thing about these questions is that they touch on the heart of the key issues that form the visible aspects of a sound ethical culture.

It is when they ask such questions and secure answers to them that management can then correctly gauge the ethical mood in the organisation.

Given the pull effect that the US dollar has in the country today, organisations could transform their corporate reward systems on the basis of this tenet in order to make sure that high performers are rewarded.

The reward should not only be confined to their good performance, but also for exhibiting exemplifying ethical behaviour.

This means that managers must incorporate employee ethical performance in the company performance management system in the process making ethics an explicit part of compensation and promotion decisions in the organisation.

The message this approach will send to staff is that both the performance targets and ethical performance count, and unless individuals have both, they should not expect advancement and good rewards in the organisation.

Appreciating the workings of ethics in the workplace is a complex matter that demands proper training in business ethics.

Managers have the responsibility to ensure staff gets business ethics training as a means of growing and cementing an ethical culture. Simply telling staff to do the right thing is not enough. Managers should also understand that impactful ethical reasoning and dialoguing in business operations goes beyond having individuals of good character.

Specialised ethics training must be mandatory in today's organisation as it capacitates employees to deal decisively with ethical dilemmas and help them engage in ethical decision-making. Complex ethical issues prevalent in the workplace require the development of certain ethical skills, and because of this, managers must as a matter of principle schedule yearly ethics training for their staff.

As much as organisational culture scanning, business ethics training and inserting ethics in reward systems is of vital importance to growing an ethical culture, managers must understand that employees need clear and consistent messages that ethical practices in the workplace are essential to the success of the organisation.

This means the manner in which management communicates the value of ethics must be inspiring, and that the choices they make, the things they say, and what they do or fail to do, must as well help to create a strong appreciation of the ethics messages by staff.

Last but not least, managers must provide ethical leadership to staff, and providing ethical leadership means making ethical values visible in the organisation by implementing formal ethics management processes.

A lip service approach to ethics simply leads employees to reaching the conclusion that managers do not care about ethics as much as they do about other things.

Bradwell Mhonderwa is an Ethics Coach and Trainer with the Business Ethics Centre. Send feedback to info@businessethicscentre.co.zw,or visit www.businessethicscentre.co.zw, or call 0772 913 875

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