Continuing Conversations on Ethical Culture

Lora Bentley

Continuing on last week's "ethical culture" theme, I found this Management Today reprint of a Knowledge@Wharton piece particularly interesting. Built around an anecdote Lee Hecht Harrison chairman Stephen Harrison related to Wharton Leadership Conference attendees, the story emphasizes the importance of decency in the corprate environment.


For instance, making nice with the receptionist as you come through the door may be one of the most important things you do all day, the story says. The "two-minute schmooze" is important for no other reason than this:

A receptionist is a corporate concierge. They will talk to more important people in a day -- suppliers, customers, even CEOs -- than you will talk to all year.

And such decency goes a long way to building relationships and creating a culture of ethical behavior in your organization. Though it won't avoid an Enron or WorldCom debacle all on its own, it is certainly more of a step in the right direction than "heavy-handed legislation."


Going a step further, Axentis VP Brett Curran told us in a recent IT Business Edge interview, Communication and Consistency Keys to Ethical Culture, that an ethics officer's responsibility in the area of communication is important in helping all other areas in which compliance is an issue:

[T]here are a lot of situations that arise in the privacy or anti-money laundering programs or those other [compliance] areas where everything that an individual's going to run into on a day-to-day basis is not spelled out. Well, if the overarching message is, "Here's how to communicate; here's who to go to for answers; here are our beliefs and our actions," and they've set that tone, and they've opened up the doors for communication, then I think they can be very instrumental in helping the other compliance areas.

Moreover, the "content and construction" of your ethics policies is also important. For an ethics program to be effective in driving "the tone at the top," as Curran calls it,

The information should be consistently organized, in one place where employees have access to it, where it's kept current, and where it uses the same language. ...With your policies and procedures, make it as easy as possible for your workforce to do the right thing. Give them every advantage and opportunity, and put security measures and training measures in place to help them, and to prevent them from doing the wrong thing.

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