Change Yourself First!

By Dr. Larry Pfaff

Examples of ethical problems in organizations are all around us. When we read about the ethical problems organizations are experiencing, our reaction is often, "Am I ever glad that didn't happen here!"

But, are we really prepared to handle ethical problems in our own organization? Do we openly talk about ethical issues with employees? Do managers and employees feel comfortable talking about ethical issues?

Employees are faced with tough issues in the workplace. Typically, employees are eager to talk about the ethical dilemmas they face on a daily basis. They want help in how to handle them. Typically, management is less willing to openly discuss ethical issues. So, what should companies do about this?

There are many things that companies can and should do in the ethical arena. To start, values should be clear to employees. These can be articulated in an organizational values statement which can be part of the mission statement. They can be supported by employee codes of conduct, which define how employees are to act in accord with the values statement. They are also supported by having a unified disciplinary process in line with the values. Ethical practice and organizational values should even be used during the hiring process. For example, I recently met with a local CEO who told me about how his organization likes to hire employees. In addition to the technical skills they expect, they also try to assess each candidate's level of trust, commitment and communication. Why? Because those are the values of the organization.

In addition to policy statements, organizations must begin to train on ethics. Whenever possible, the training should be relevant and specific to the organization. It should be serious, focused, interactive training. Ethics training is exciting and demanding for the participants. It challenges them. It's noisy and engaging. It makes people think.

Good ethics training allows employees to resolve real ethical dilemmas that occur in the organization. It helps them learn how to recognize an ethical issue when it arises. Employees learn how to apply decision making skills in a moral and ethical way. They can take these skills and apply them on the job. It is a valuable, transferable skill.

By talking openly about ethics and training in ethics an organization can have other positive results:

  • The organization recognizes that ethical dilemmas do occur in the workplace.
  • Employees learn that it is okay to discuss ethical dilemmas with coworkers and management.
  • Employees learn the language and process of ethical decision making.
  • Employees learn how to apply the values of the organization on a daily basis.
  • Customers gain from the active, daily practice of organizational values.

When we go beyond values statements and begin to talk openly and train about business ethics, everyone gains -- employees, customers, management, and investors.

Please send any comments, questions or suggestions to Dr. Pfaff at

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