The Ethics & Compliance Initiative (ECI), the oldest ethics research and best practice community in the US has conducted longitudinal, cross-sectional studies of workplace conduct from the employee’s perspective since 1994. It, recently released its latest Global Business Ethics Survey (GBES) Building Companies Where Values and Ethical Conduct Matter, the third of a four-part series for 2018. Survey participants are asked about the strength of the company culture, instances of misconduct, and what efforts if any are being taken to promote integrity within the organization.
This last month I have been writing about trust and ethics in the workplace and the GBES survey captures the reasons why both are so essential to a company’s success and outlines the steps to achieve a culture that reflects both.
In the second installment of the 2018 Global Business Ethics Survey (GBES), which I wrote about this summer, that report’s findings focused on the impact that an ethics and compliance (E&C) program has in the workplace, and the return on investment (ROI) for program development and improvement.
And some of the findings from that survey were dramatic. It found that the stronger the ethical culture of a company the more likely employees would report observed misconduct and would be satisfied with the outcome of their reporting.
The newest survey builds on that report and discusses how to a more ethical culture, and “focuses on the role communication and trust play in supporting employee commitment to company values and employee belief that their company measures and rewards ethical conduct.”
The survey results are heartening. It makes a case for the relationship between communication and trust and how both develop the ingredients that promote an ethical workplace. They found that talking about ethics combined with speaking up equaled proactive communication, and that accountability plus genuine interactions equal workplace trust.
Further “when both proactive communication and workplace trust are present employees believe there is commitment to company values and that their company measures and rewards ethical behavior. If employees see evidence of both they are 15 times more likely to think their company measures and rewards ethical conduct. In US companies 54 % of employees believe their company measures and rewards ethical conduct.
The survey found that when managers and supervisors use proactive communication and build workplace trust, employees are 16 times more likely to believe that their leaders will remain committed to the company values. But in organizations where employees do not experience positive communication and workplace trust less than 6 in 100 employees believe their managers are committed to the company’s values (and I have written about some of those companies). The good news is that overall 56 % of US employees perceived a strong commitment to company values.
The study concluded that “the benefits of proactive communication and workplace trust can be substantial. When employees know that management prioritizes proactive communication and workplace trust, they are more likely to believe in a shared commitment to company values and that their company measures and rewards ethical conduct.” If managers and supervisors talk about the importance of ethics employees are almost 12 times more likely to believe that their company wants and encourages them to speak up.
It is critical a company talk proactively about ethics and encourages employees to speak up if they see wrongdoing. Leadership needs to emphasize the importance of integrity and show that they are in accordance by their own actions. If this is honored employees are more willing and comfortable to express their opinions and concerns even though it may be a tough issue.
Leadership also needs to support accountability. Leaders must communicate very clearly that they expect ethical conduct and adherence to the company standards. They must demonstrate they care about their employees, value them and are willing to listen to their opinions and concerns. In fact, leadership needs to actively encourage employees to speak up if they observe the company’s standards are not being met.
The report also focused on how companies measure and reward ethical conduct. “What gets measured gets managed” so incentives for positive behaviors and the integration of ethics into performance evaluation are essential components for building more trust.
This means fostering an environment where bonuses, rewards and incentive programs take into account how results are achieved, in addition to performance. It is not about “make the numbers at all costs.” In addition, employees must set a good example of ethical behavior in order to be promoted.
The study made several recommendations a company can follow to change their culture to one of trust and proactive, open communication which I’ll summarize:
Leaders/ managers should:
- Talk about values- frequently and make them a regular and public part of business decision making.
- Encourage diverse opinions, candor and thoughtful dissent from employees.
- Respond in a timely manner when concerns are raised and when misconduct occurs.
- Hear and value employees as individuals.
- Integrate company values into both company-wide metrics/ scorecards and employee performance evaluations.
- Create, promote and publicly celebrate when appropriate, reward systems based on ethical conduct and company values.
- Set aside time at meetings to talk about ethical dilemmas, real or hypothetical.
- Role play speaking up about a difficult issue with a manger or colleague.
- Develop an organization-wide standard for response times.
- Seek employee feedback through surveys and performance evaluations on whether they feel heard.
- Reward and provide examples of employees who “live” the values.
- Seek personalized ways to recognize and reward employees. One size does not fit all.
Yes, this seems like a lot of work. Is it worth it? Well only if your intent is to build a more successful, profitable and respected organization. Changing a culture or strengthening the existing organization takes time, effort, and commitment from all concerned. The GBES model offers substantial guidance; hope you enjoy the process.