Ruthless intolerance of anything less

By Ron Carucci via hbr.org   Article

Why Ethical People Make Unethical Choices

“Most companies have ethics and compliance policies that get reviewed and signed annually by all employees. ‘Employees are charged with conducting their business affairs in accordance with the highest ethical standards,’ reads one such example. ‘Moral as well as legal obligations will be fulfilled in a manner which will reflect pride on the Company’s name.’ Of course, that policy comes directly from Enron.  Clearly it takes more than a compliance policy or Values Statement to sustain a truly ethical workplace.

… In the last decade, billions of dollars have been paid in fines by companies charged with ethical breaches. … 41% of workers reported seeing ethical misconduct in the previous 12 months, and 10% felt organizational pressure to compromise ethical standards. Wells Fargo’s recent debacle cost them $185 million in fines because 5300 employees opened up more than a million fraudulent accounts.  When all is said and done, we’ll likely learn that the choices of those employees resulted from deeply systemic issues.

… Former Federal Prosecutor Serina Vash says, ‘When I first began prosecuting corruption, I expected to walk into rooms and find the vilest people.  I was shocked to find ordinarily good people I could well have had coffee with that morning. And they were still good people who’d made terrible choices.’

Here are five ways organizations needlessly provoke good people to make unethical choices.

It is psychologically unsafe to speak up. … Creating a culture in which people freely speak up is vital to ensuring people don’t collude with, or incite, misconduct. …

There is excessive pressure to reach unrealistic performance targets.  unfettered goal setting can encourage people to make compromising choices in order to reach targets, especially if those targets seem unrealistic. …

Conflicting goals provoke a sense of unfairness. And once a sense of injustice is provoked, the stage is set for compromise.  …

Ethical behavior is not part of routine conversation.  Too many leaders assume that talking about ethics is something you do when there’s been a scandal, or as part of an organization’s compliance program. …

A positive example isn’t being set.  Leaders must accept they are held to higher standards than others.  They must be extra vigilant about not just their intentions, but how it is others might interpret their behavior.  …

… In an age of corporate mistrust, creating ethical workplaces takes more than compliance programs.  It requires ongoing intensified effort to make the highest ethical standards the norm, and ruthless intolerance of anything less.”

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