14 May 2013

Zimbabwe: Steps in Tackling Ethical Challenges


VARIOUS businesses are continuously facing ethical challenges of one form or another.

Ethical challenges are inherent in the workplace because of value conflicts that pit short-term survival interests of organisations against their long-term interests and those of stakeholders.

Ethical challenges have a detrimental effect on organisational performance if they are not managed properly.

Linda Trevino, an ethics proponent and Professor of Organisational Behaviour who has written a number of books on managerial ethics identified what she called the eight steps organisations can adopt to prevent ethical challenges, and these are discussed below.

Step 1

Top-down responsibility for ethical behaviour must exist within an organisation.

The CEO of the organisation must take responsibility to manage the entity's ethical behaviour.

This responsibility should not be delegated neither should it be downplayed to a lesser role than other key leadership responsibilities in the organisation.

Top leadership must set the ethical tone.

The leaders must communicate their vision regarding ethical behaviour to employees very often and with as much emphasis and clarity as they do with other organisational processes. The ethical tone of the organisation must never be left to chance.

Step 2

Organisations must design a code of ethics to provide clear guidelines to staff on expected ethical behaviour.

This code should be developed with input from a broad section of constituencies within the organisation including the employees themselves.

The code should be distributed to every member of the organisation and referred to often in training and other forms of communication to employees so that it is not just a manual that sits in office drawers, but an important document that answers questions with regard to what is acceptable and not acceptable business practices within the organisation.

Step 3

Policies must be established and reinforced in the organisation regarding how staff should report ethical lapses. Employees must be made aware of how they can report unethical business practices and know that they can do so without fear of retribution.

Care must be taken to ensure the process does not remain a paper tiger but that examples of real reporting are given with employees being rewarded for reporting unethical business practices, and the unethical getting punished.

Step 4

Ethical responsibility must be taught to all members of the organisation, and across all levels of authority and operation.

This must be done in various settings including during the induction of new employees, business ethics workshops, business meetings, round-table discussions with leaders, newsletters, intranet, etc.

Business ethics training should include case studies where employees must examine and discuss ethical challenges that they realistically face, and possible actions they should take to remedy the situation.

Employees must clearly understand that they have a shared ethical responsibility to the organisation and each one of the organisation's stakeholders.

Step 5

The practise of questioning decisions must be encouraged to ensure ethics are embedded in all decision-making processes of the organisation.

Decisions must be challenged in order to explore whether unforeseen stakeholders may have been jeopardised as a result of the decision.

The practise of questioning decisions and openly exploring their consequences grows the ethical being of any organisation.

Step 6

Accountability for ethical behaviour must be taken seriously at all levels of the organisation.

Unethical behaviour should be punished and never rewarded.

Performance management systems should also incorporate measurement of employee ethical behaviour besides measuring the usual key aspects of job performance.

There should not be excusable unethical business practices perpetrated by executive members of the organisation.

In fact, people at the top should hold themselves to the highest standards of behaviour and must be the most virtuous persons in the organisation.

This must be so because the real culture of an organisation is set not by company-listed values or mission statements, but by how the bosses behave.

Step 7

Organisations should act swiftly to protect stakeholders when ethical lapses occur.

Contingency plans should be made for dealing with a crisis in order to act quickly to protect stakeholders in times of emergencies.

Step 8

Members of the organisation must know that their primary responsibility is to defend and maintain the good reputation of the organisation at all times.

Leaders should encourage standards of behaviour to be set higher than what the law requires and conduct below that standard must be unacceptable.

Bradwell Mhonderwa is an ethics coach and trainer with the Business Ethics Centre. Send feedback to bradwellm@businessethicscentre.co.zw, ethicszim@gmail.com, or call 0772 913 875

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