Ethical Culture at work

Marcella Bremer Culture, Leadership Leave a Comment

Ehtical cultureEthical is the most important face of the future. Ethics is at the heart of being human; to have purpose, ideals, direction, vision, and spirituality. Ethics is also about corporate behavior, expected conduct, compliance, regulations, and the boundaries of what is acceptable.

Here’s part 2, based on futurist Patrick Dixon’s “six faces of the future,” as discussed in his book “The future of almost everything.” What lessons can you learn? What triggers or inspires you?

“Recent banking and political scandals have been a sharp reminder of why ethics matter. Corruption costs at least 5% (2,6 trillion USD) of global GDP – fat bribes for government contracts, tax revenues diverted into secret bank accounts, dishonest judges or policemen, and so on. Without shared ethics, our future will descend into a lawless hell with unrestrained greed, extremes of wealth, and widespread social unrest.”

Human nature is still the same as 2000 years ago. People look for meaning in their lives and want to feel they make a difference. The search for purpose has become more intense, though, as people have more time and money to think.

The first Ethical test

Dixon concluded early in his career that life is too short to do things you don’t believe in. That’s the first ethical test for yourself.

“Why sell things you would never recommend to a friend or family member? Why bother to sell things that aren’t right for the customer? Why work for a company that you’re ashamed of?”

How do you pass this test?

The second Ethical test

The second test is the feeling of ease or unease. You may be asked to do something while there’s no law against it. Nor is there any absolute reason why you shouldn’t do it. Many others are doing it.
Yet… you feel uneasy.

“Ease of mind is the whisper of conscience, and a powerful guide to future ethics,” states Dixon. Often, actions that caused a flicker of unease at the time were condemned as unethical within a year or two and soon became illegal.

How do you follow that feeling?

The third Ethical test

Here’s a simple rule: follow the spirit rather than the letter of a contract or agreement. What’s the intention? What’s the right thing to do? That’s your best compass, as opposed to what you can get away with.

For some, this may be easier said than done. Organizational culture can provide real pressure to do as others do and to maintain the right priorities and values. Dixon mentions how often business leaders automatically protect company profits and their shares at the expense of customers, suppliers, or even staff. Dixons warns against this dangerous and unfulfilling path.
The harder people try to justify themselves, the guiltier they are. Forget explanations like: But everyone else is doing it. But it’s legal in that country – even if it’s illegal here.

How do you pass this test?

If you’d like to change your response – how can you muster courage and support? Can you find like-minded colleagues that you can trust? Can you open up a dialogue? Or do you want to look for another workplace?

The ultimate Ethical test

Here’s the golden rule, the basis. Treat others as you’d like to be treated if you were in their shoes. If you are honest, could you explain your actions to a good friend without feeling a twinge?

The golden rule is the basis of every positive, productive organizational culture. I agree with Dixon when he says:

“Love your neighbor as yourself.

Treat others as you’d like to be treated. That means staff, customers, business partners, road drivers, toilet cleaners, suppliers, associates, neighbors, family, friends.

If every manager and leader in every company followed this teaching of Jesus and Moses, our world would be a better place, and we would have far stronger corporate ethics.”

I want to add: we’d have far happier professionals, more productivity, and a more meaningful contribution to society for every organization.

This is not naive. The instinct to take care of others, to do the right thing, is hard-wired into people. We’re social creatures, and as we make life better for ourselves, we want to share that with our tribes, our nations, our world. We’re not just competitive creatures fighting over scarce resources.

Business can be a force for good. It has generated amazing wealth over the last thirty years and will continue to do so. Wealth is a strong basis for wellbeing.
Organizations can contribute to solving the world’s issues and offer their members a tribe that helps them thrive. The four elements of a positive culture: shared meaningful purpose, the learning and autonomy, the collaboration, and the positive awareness make it a joy to get to work every day.

The new definition of success might be demonstrating how your organization makes a difference for customers, employees, suppliers, the community, and humanity as a whole. Companies like Unilever do well by doing good – reducing their ecological footprint, increasing their positive impact, and helping people improve their wellbeing.

Ethical change needs You

Many people feel powerless to change their future, let alone anyone else’s. But most of us can change way more than we think – says Dixon. If you’ve been a long-time reader of my work, you know how I agree :)

Dixon asks CEOs how many people it would take to change their strategy. The answer is always: less than 2% of the shareholders, employees, customers. If they are Radical in thinking, Ethically driven, and Tribally organized. One person in 50 could be enough.

How many shareholders do you need to keep the CEO awake at night? One person with one share, asking the right ethical question about a radical issue in front of the annual meeting, unleashing the tribal social media forces.
If one activist can do this in a meeting, imagine what a group of corporate activists can change from the inside out?

You might influence more others than you think. Consider your potential impact to influence people for the better over the next year.

© Marcella Bremer, 2020. All rights reserved.


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