Maintaining ethical standards in an organization is one of those concepts that are typically agreed upon by a variety of people, at least in theory. However, this “agreement” may only be verbal as it is usually the expected response. In addition, “ethical standards” may be broad enough, or vague enough, that people have a hard time identifying exact application. This can be frustrating for some, and terribly convenient for others. Therefore, here are a few thoughts on how to manage ethical standards in an organization.
Policy and culture
Since “ethics” may be subjective depending on the person or the situation, managing principles often comes down to policy and culture. The organization cannot create a policy for each and every situation that may arise during the working day, but they can put together a broad enough collection of ethical standards that the organization has some structure as to how people should act. Ethical standards are also about hiring practices, training, and overall organizational culture. While these are also negotiable quantities, the organization can create a particular standard if they are intentional with their employees.
There is also room in the management of ethical standards for discussion amongst employees. Management does have the task of implementing policy and supervising procedures, but a discussion of ethical boundaries may provide an opportunity to identify “red flags” and get an overall sense of workforce attitudes. Sometimes organizations get into trouble because they make assumptions about the behavior of their employees, rather than verifying that everyone is “one the same page.”
Situations and case studies
Discussion can sometimes be aided by providing people with real-life scenarios that mirror what they might encounter on a daily basis. Granted, a simulation is not the real thing, but with enough preparation the organization may be able to provide case studies that are realistic enough for discussion. The key is to write or acquire situations that involve industry specific scenarios that are close enough for employees to relate to the ethical dilemmas.
Finally, the organization must be willing to change their policies and procedures over time in order to adjust to changes in the company and in the marketplace. The reality of ethics is that some organizational goals are in stark opposition to “moral” standards. In other words, companies usually exist to make money, and it is not hard for certain people to blur the lines in terms of how that money should be made. When that occurs, the organization may be stuck going in a direction that seems “right” from a fiscal standpoint but does not meet any ethical standards when judged from the outside. The bottom line with ethical standards is that people must remember that they exist sometimes to protect the organization from itself.