Ethical Systems contributors Max Bazerman and Francesca Gino have published a new paper on the differences between “values-oriented” and “structure-oriented” programs to deliver ethical messages and improve behavior. Their conclusion? Ethics and compliance programs are not working as well as we’d like. The paper contains many useful insights, one of which is that people “are more likely to make ethical decisions when thinking in long time frames,” comporting with our frequent warnings (e.g., from Marc Hodak) against the deleterious effects of short-termism. The full article is well worth a read.
The author questions the “sufficiency of a “rules-based” approach in which ethics is generally regarded as a set policies of do’s and don’ts. In contrast to its “rules-based” counterpart, a “values-based” approach aims at the development of the person as an integrated professional — someone who continuously discovers and learns his great capacity to love and serve.” This is a theme we have hit on frequently (in this post as well as others), and it provides a useful way to think about business ethics. We are glad to see that people are increasingly turning away from the old check-the-box view of ethical conduct.
New research from the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) shows that the bigger the business, the less likely it is for business owners to trust their employees to act ethically. The study found that only 37 per cent of small and medium enterprises trust their staff to do the right thing compared to 66 per cent of microbusinesses. This is an interesting corollary to Gallup’s confidence survey, which has found much lower degrees of public trust in big business compared to small business. Large, complex organizations with impersonal structures have a lot of work to do to maintain a well-aligned ethical culture that delivers the kind of responsible behavior people want from their institutions.
The Ethics Coach at Entrepreneur regularly responds to the ethical dilemmas of readers. In last week’s edition, she set out three actions with a high ethical return on investment: (1) “Offer ongoing communication about the company’s values, what you expect of your employees and your idea of a respectful workplace;” (2) “Encourage employees to spot and address problems early on, and make it safe for them to admit and fix mistakes;” and (3) “Give employees feedback on their strengths and contributions to advancing company values, and coach them in meeting their own professional goals. To mend gaps in their experience, train employees and help them develop plans and timetables that will benefit them and the company.” These are all great suggestions: business ethics is as much about developing employees’ professional judgment in the long term (cf. Barry Schwartz on wisdom) as it is about preventing immediate errors.