Companies must build the skill sets required to help people recognise what they are doing
To ensure enduring change, firms need to build awareness of ethical behaviour says Ed Cohen
Having worked with various companies across 40 different countries over the past 30 years of my life, I have witnessed organisations with highly ethical environments and those that appear to be ethical encourage unethical behaviours. Don’t get excited because the purpose of this article is not to blow the whistle on anyone. Instead, I would like to share with you the steps that organisations can take to build ethics into their DNA.
Of culture and ways to build the right one
Each organisation has both a conscious and an accidental culture. While the conscious culture unfolds from the written and spoken goals, values, behaviours and practices that are taught, measured, and reinforced in the organisation, the accidental culture emerges from the unwritten and unspoken values, behaviours and practices to which everyone knows they should adhere. And this accidental culture is revealed with seeming randomness over the course of an organisation’s history.
With such prevalence of accidental culture, how can leaders assess and enable a more consciously defined culture of ethics? This indeed may be one of the most difficult tasks for any leader.
• Identify existing culture & its influences: Identify the negative influences including short-term focus, pressure to bring in revenues, fear, anger etc and consciously replace with positive behaviours and systems that motivate people and enhance performance.
• Facilitate what to keep, eliminate or add: Once the organisation’s existing culture has been documented, bring leaders together and decide what to keep, what to eliminate and what to add to the culture. The key filter for making these decisions should be the company’s core purpose and values, compliance requirements and operating procedures that might encourage unethical behaviour.
Revisit core purpose and values: We surveyed more than 200 leaders, asking them for advice on how to make the cultural shift during turbulent times. This is what they said, “Revisit the core purpose, including core values, vision and retrospect. Look back at exactly what went wrong, comparing circumstances with the initial vision and values. Identify which actions diverted from them and build, reinforce and reestablish values.”
Sustaining the right culture
Most change initiatives fail because either the organisation gives up midstream (leaders convey inconsistent messages through their behaviours and there is a lack of follow through) or the organisation attempts to measure results too soon. To ensure enduring cultural change, organisations need to build awareness by communicating key messages about the importance and examples of ethical behaviour. Awareness leads to choice – to align or not to align, to follow or not follow. Secondly, companies must build the skills required to help people recognise what they are doing and how they are doing it. Many times people step outside the boundaries of ethical behaviour without even realising it. The third is to ensure penetration of the culture in all aspects of the business and that comes with continued practice and rewarding right behaviour and punishing for digressions. All these steps culminate to total compliance and the resultant is sustainable impact.
Ed Cohen is Director of Global Oganisational Development at Cymer. An expert in leadership and change management, Ed was with Mahindra Satyam (erstwhile Satyam Computers) as Senior Vice President, Talent Management and Learning when the scam broke out. Ed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.