Aligning different perspectives of Ethics

Tiisa Group - Risk Management
Denise Nel

One of the key challenges for businesses operating in several jurisdictions is that individuals and cultures have different perspectives on what is right and wrong. It is easy to have the view that ‘right is right’ and ‘wrong is wrong’, but what if one person truly believes a different ‘right’ to someone else?
Organisations that operate across the continent have a responsibility to understand this reality, and at the same time need to act on aligning individuals to the ethics and values adopted by the relevant organisation. The organisational values and expectation of ethics should become the standard that everyone that chooses to work for an organisation signs up to. The important thing then is to make sure everyone knows this and practically understands what it means.

This is not achieved by sending a once-off instruction to comply or by sending out an email with the Code of Ethics and getting everyone to click ‘I agree’. Even though this does tick the compliance box, it doesn’t change behaviour.
A well thought through and designed ethics management programme is required. A programme that is underpinned by an understanding of the ethical risk realities, one that focuses on changing behaviour and uses different avenues to get employees to align to the organisations definition of what is acceptable ethical behaviour and what is not.

An important baseline (but easy part) of such a programme is having clearly defined ethical standards and policies. The more difficult part is getting everyone to buy into and live these.

Some principles to follow in aligning different perspectives:

  • Tone at the top’ – A term so easily used but one that cannot be underestimated. Management need to be aligned on what the organisation stands for and this should filter through everything they do.
  • Conversation is key! – Creating opportunity for conversation is critical. Discuss examples of everyday choices relevant to the business and make all levels of staff understand that choices are not always easy. Try and understand why individuals act unethically and create messaging regarding root causes.
  • Don’t ignore the realities of the environments in which people need to operate. Discuss and be open about what is acceptable and what is not and align business processes.
  • Make sure everyone understands the consequences of unethical behaviour – to the individual, their family, the organisation and its stakeholders.
  • The organisation needs to be consistent in the consequences within their control when unethical behaviour is identified – and should share war stories that make an example.
  • Employees need to understand that they always have a choice in how to act or not act. That it is a decision they need to take responsibility for.
  • Speaking up should be encouraged with anonymous channels provided for whistleblower reporting.

By aligning behaviour to a standard defined by the organisation, consistently communicating and acting accordingly you are not trying to judge or change cultures, you are defining the boundaries within which employees need to operate if they want to be an employee of the specific organisation.