I just finished presenting a webcast on Business Ethics for the 200,000-member Human Capital Institute. You’ll have to excuse me – I’ve been consumed with the topic of ethics in business for the past few weeks. This is part 2 in a series.
Despite what HR and Legal may tell you, ethics is not about avoiding lawsuits or code violations. It’s not about covering your organizational butt. It’s about conducting your business in a way that, say, your mom or your most admired role model would be proud of. Really, it’s about living a life worth living – 8 hours a day. No, 24.
In this space two weeks ago, I mentioned that an organization’s ethical tone begins at the very top, with its mission or purpose statement. Your organization’s purpose, or mission, can be powerful or it can be banal. Choose the former. It might actually inspire your workforce and your prospective workforce. It could be an exquisite recruitment tool.
A mission statement of course is not enough. Next you need to declare your values. Organizational values say: “This is what we consider most important – this is the context for all our actions, as we pursue our mission.” Does your organization have a values statement? If so, how useful is it? Is it collecting dust on a shelf somewhere, or is it in the minds and hearts of every employee?
Tell us what you think. We’d like our blog posts to begin a dialogue. We eagerly welcome your comments and questions.
And of course a values statement is still too high-level to be of much practical use. Flowing out from it is a set of ethics codes, or codes of conduct. These:
And then finally, even more specifically, policies and procedures:
Speaking of which … all the above might just be useless — unless ongoing, thought-provoking, relevant, empowering conversations happen, regularly, at all levels, from staff meetings to seminars, about how to live an ethical life at work. More on that in this space two weeks from today. For now, though:
YOUR PATH FORWARD:
1. What shape are your organizational ethics documents in? (i.e. mission statement, values statement, ethics codes, policies and procedures)? To what extent are they alive in the workplace, as opposed to sitting ignored in a binder somewhere? What might you be able to do to help these important documents become guides for behavior throughout your workplace?
2. Conduct an anonymous survey of a random sampling of your employees, your customers, and your suppliers, and ask how well you’re doing in living up to your organizational values. Repeat this process every year or two.