Which matters more for creating an ethical organization: tone at the top, or tone in the middle? The answer is that it depends on when, exactly, you are talking about.
A recent study (Gächter, Renner, 2014) corroborates these findings by analyzing to what extent role modeling influences one’s own pro-social behavior. It turns out that a “leader’s initial behavior has long-lasting effects” on the organizational culture while over time “the impact of leaders on followers’ beliefs is diminished” (pp. 16).
Taking this research to heart, it seems that disruptive transitions like a reputational crisis, new leadership or re-organization might in fact be a huge opportunity for a cultural shift in ethics – when approached systemically.
An effective start for leaders in that process can be facilitated by role-modeling of pro-social behavior, consistently prioritizing ethics, and holding everyone in an organization accountable to high ethical standards.
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