Are you Scratching Beneath the Surface of Ethical Governance?

Our experience of working with a variety of global organisations from public to private sectors, government, to voluntary organisations in developed and developing countries exposes us to many standards in the application of ethical governance.

Most organisations recognise that business ethics, values and standards play an important role in supporting sustainable business partnerships and customer interactions. Many publicise a corporate code of conduct to provide guidance to staff on how to respond to ethical dilemmas however, very few provide training to develop staff on the meaning and application of codes of conduct. 

 Scandals, corruption & high profile cases are Just the tip of the iceberg

The increase in negative publicity related to high-profile cases may lead us to believe that ethical governance issues have little relevance to-day to-day issues.  It only impacts individuals in privileged positions whose work accountabilities and morals have become blurred, and, whose exposure to public scrutiny is expected and quite normal.

Quite often unethical behaviours can arise as a result of our belief and determination to drive an agenda through that we lose sight of the impact of our behaviour on others. At a time of reorganization, increased competition, uncertainty, budget and service cuts, it is essential that ethical values and standards support front line service delivery.

Does the code of conduct guide me when making an ethical decision?

Publishing a code of business ethics is a significant achievement in itself; getting staff buy in to the potential change of behaviour and how that really impacts service delivery is quite another matter. In today’s multicultural business environment we work alongside individuals with different attitudes and beliefs about what is ethical business practice. Being confronted with a moral choice brings the cultural context of interpretation and the ethical consideration together.  Establishing what constitutes “an ethical dilemma” in different cultures can be difficult without dialogue aimed at understanding what would present an ethical conflict in one culture but not necessarily in another. A code of conduct that is on paper alone and is not explored, interpreted, embedded may be worthless or in danger of being misinterpreted.

While ethical systems, such as those of the West and the Middle East, usually have much in common, there also can be significant areas of conflict when it comes to business practices.

As a result, we may find that business practices acceptable in one place may be unacceptable in another. Examples of areas that are rife with potential ethical conflicts include hiring practices, workers rights, women’s role in the workplace, internet access and child labour.

 The role of “wasta”

There are other important Middle East customs that are based, the cultural traditions of the region. One such way of doing business that is ingrained in the social life and economy of the Middle East is called ‘wasta’, the Arabic word for clout, connections, influence, pull or favouritism. In many Middle Eastern companies, family and social networks can take priority in business decisions, including who gets hired and promoted. While our connections can  also play a role in Western business most Western employers hire, and promote employees based on the individual’s skills and performance. As a result, wasta is likely to be seen by Westerners as, favouritism, or nepotism.

 It’s never too late to consider development of a strategic approach to ethical governance

 Ethical Governance Starts Here – Read on…….

Before your rush into your legal department to seek guidance on policy development consider the purpose of your code of conduct – is it  simply a communication to generate compliance, what words and information should it contain, and will the words and information in your code of conduct generate the behavioural change required?  There is a HUGE GAP between information and understanding information paralysis can overwhelm employees. Your code of conduct is just one element of your strategy it should support and enable ethical decision-making.

Approach the development of your ethical governance strategy in a coordinated manner.  Joined up thinking is essential. Often we allocate responsibility by subject matter, so, our IT department would take responsibility for email abuse, contracts and legal departments may take responsibility for conflicts of interest, our HR departments manage dismissals or disciplinary actions.

This often creates an internal communications overload for employees who receive fragmented information from many directions. To ensure clarity set up a focus group of representatives from those departments and keep communications simple. Employees need to know:

  1.  What is it?
  2.  Why is it important?
  3. How does it apply to me?
  4. If I were demonstrating this behaviour what form would it take?

Provide training that is realistic, consistent with culture, policy, and procedure and develops the competencies to respond to the ethical behaviours required in the work that we do every day. Ensure training uses a blended approach and encourages individuals to try out new ideas and take managed risks without fear of blame. Provide constructive feedback if things go wrong .

Training presented in the form of a monologue is passive and will not generate the confidence required to transfer skills.

Following the rules and behaving ethically at work is not a choice but a responsibility. Our HR Auditor Workshop will provide you with the skills, tools and templates to approach and explore this sensitive area

Also Our Ethical Governance Toolkit is available for download here: http://www.spectrain.co.uk/resources/index.php

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