Speaking-up is hard to do. In a research survey conducted by Sean Martin, Associate Professor at the Carroll School of Management, and presented at Ethics By Design, respondents identified speaking up about ethical issues as the scariest form of “employee voice” in organizations (even more so than speaking up to point out problems). If you’ve ever felt that pain in your gut about giving bad news to your boss, you likely share this sentiment.
Raising ethical issues requires courage compared to other forms of workplace interactions, as shown in research by James Detert – people’s self-preservation instincts drive their decision to stay silent, even if it’s an issue the company could perceive as one that improves its processes, products or procedures. Research by Professors Milliken (NYU Stern), Morrison and Hewlin (NYU Stern) also shows that employees are likely to be silent because they fear being labeled a troublemaker by their colleagues, and thus damaging valued business relationships. Surprisingly, retaliation in the form of losing one’s job or being passed up for a promotion is at the bottom of the list of reasons to stay silent.
Given this fear, it’s no surprise that corporations struggle to change their internal culture, particularly when the issues are cultural transgressions that subtly create imbalances in the workplace.
The recent news about Lending Club is a prime example of the reputational value of business ethics. Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported the company’s twisted fate – it went from receiving a Tribeca “Disruptive Innovation Award” in April (given to then-CEO Renaud LaPlanche) to suffering tumbling stock prices in May, plummeting from approximately $8 on April 1, to a low of $3.94 on the day (May 16th) the WSJ report came out.
What does it mean to eat and shop “local”? While there is no prescribed territory that those in- and in charge of regulating- the food industry can point to, many will generally agree that it is best to avoid regulation around the appropriate use of the term.
While there is widespread disinterest in having officials involved, when businesses cannot agree on how to accurately define, and ethically use, increasingly common terms like “local” (as well as “sustainable”, “natural’, and “artisanal”) it opens the door to participation by regulatory bodies.
Many are drawn to the local food movement because of a passion for community involvement and realizing their role in local economic development. Intending to start, manage or invest in a purpose-driven business, however, is not sufficient without establishing mechanisms to guard the company’s ethics in the long-run. This theme was at the center of my recent keynote address at the Food & Enterprise Summit in Brooklyn on April 8 (audio now available via the Heritage Radio Network). Our motivation to be ethical can only take us so far- businesses need proper corporate governance, accountability mechanisms, and strong community ties to help guard their ethics as the company grows.
What does it mean to have an organizational culture of minimalism? On the surface, it results in doing only the bare minimum to avoid punishment from internal or external groups. The more insidious implications means that both shareholders and stakeholders end up disillusioned and disconnected after prolonged exposure to the ennui and modicum of expended energy in actually making positive change.
In a recent talk by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara as part of NYU Stern Business and Society Program’s Sani Lecture Series, he identified cultures of minimalism as a trending, troubling development in today’s business world. And this is, without doubt, extremely vexing for business leaders, investors, academics and advocates.
Last week, I had the pleasure to attend The Global Ethics Summit, put on by The Ethisphere Institute. The event brought together over 400 people with broad perspectives on managing ethics within organizations, including ethical culture, encouraging speak-up culture, and best practices for Board management.
At the plenary on company culture, it was instructive to hear strategies companies are using to address one specific challenge – how do you use the lever of values to change behavior and outcomes in organizations? For us at Ethical Systems, this panel was particularly important because we recognize that creating and maintaining ethical culture within an organization is key to supporting everyday ethical behavior.
Among the active debate among compliance professionals, lawyers, and commentators about the proper role of compliance within a corporate hierarchy, there is an emerging consensus that lawyers have become the “loophole finders” and that compliance must step in to protect the firm’s integrity and ethics.
Bad ethics should not be forgotten in the new year- or any other- as bankers and regulators discussed creating an ethical blacklist for individuals working at regulated financial institutions, at the NY Federal Reserve‘s recent culture conference.
This signals new enthusiasm for a provocative proposal originally suggested in 2014 by Bill Dudley, President of the NY Fed: When an employee leaves a company, the organization would have a mandate to report information relating to his/her misconduct to a central database. Concerning hiring decisions, all firms would have a reciprocal duty to check the database against their potential hire list. The goal is to stem the tide of bad apples that bounce from firm-to-firm, negatively influencing stability, profits and planning.
The Reforming Culture and Behavior in the Financial Services Industry Conference last week at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York* demonstrated that today’s financial industry understands the need for culture and behavior change in order to run a more ethical company. After spending many years focused on implementing compliance programs, there is now an complementary understanding of the role of ethics and its important function in shaping culture and reputation. The financial industry, however, must confront the bigger challenge of finding ways to actually change behavior.
Ethical systems design is rooted in a systems-approach. We at Ethical Systems generally look at these at 3 levels: 1) personal ethics; 2) organizational ethics; and 3) the national culture and legal/regulatory environment. It is the interplay between these levels that creates a self-sustaining ethical culture.
Within the context of the third level, there is an emerging trend, where ethics and culture are being used to promote regional economic development. Ethics is taking center stage in two cities- Boston and Omaha- and galvanizing people to come together to engage in discussion and identify solutions.