ETHICS & What You Can Do to Improve Ethics at Your Company

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: As this research points out, ethical failures often occur when organizations are:

(1) attempting change too quickly (see also Dyke and Starke, "The Formation of Breakaway Organizations"),

(2) pushing change too much from the top (see Northouse, Leadership) or

(3) pushing it too frequently (see Whitesel, "Missteps with Staff Influence" in Growth by Accident, Death by Planning).

Read this article regarding ways to prevent unethical behavior when undertaking change.


Christopher McLaverty and Annie McKee, Harvard Business Review, 12/29/16.

… according to a study by one of us (Christopher) of C-suite executives from India, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, the U.S., and the U.K., many of us face an endless stream of ethical dilemmas at work.

…there are a number of obstacles and contradictions we see most often impact the ability to act ethically:

Business transformation programs and change management initiatives. Companies can warp their own ethical climate by pushing too much change from the top, too quickly and too frequently.

…Cross-cultural differences. Most leaders in the study reflected on how rapidly their businesses had globalized over the last 10 years and how ethical issues can be profoundly difficult when operating across different cultures. They talked about how challenging it was to decide whose cultural “rules” were paramount when making business decisions.

(The RX)

Know where you stand
The senior leaders in the study told us that, in contrast to what corporate compliance officers would like us to believe, their organizations’ codes of conduct and ethics training wasn’t particularly helpful when it came to managing ethical dilemmas…

Instead, you need to understand what matters to you. Companies become ethical one person at a time, one decision at a time. If you don’t know where you stand, or if you can’t accurately read your organization’s underlying culture, you’ll find yourself blowing in the wind (at best). Emotional intelligence can help you here…

Learn what really matters in your organization
… You can, for example, pay more attention to:

  • How people are paid. Does your compensation scheme reward the right things? Is the focus on short-term results or long-term sustainable success?..
  • Who gets promoted and why. Is there a true meritocracy in your company, or are certain people treated better than others? Are people who reflect on ethical issues, who speak up and challenge accepted ways of doing things, truly valued? Perhaps people are promoted according to unwritten rules that will ensure compliance with the status quo. In an ethical organization, talent management is a transparent and objective process — everyone gets a fair shake.
  • How employees feel about the company. We want to work for businesses we can be proud of. If your engagement surveys show that people don’t trust managers, or that employees are disengaged and ashamed of the company, you might have a widespread ethical problem on your hands.

Read more at …