COMMENTARY 760.2: Can Corporate Ethics Programs Do Any Good?

Lots of companies are focusing serious attention on the issues of ethics and values – and lots of people think that’s a waste of time.  The skeptics argue that you can’t teach ethics to adults. By the time they’re in the workplace, they’re either ethical or not. It’s a plausible argument, but it misses the point.

The purpose of a corporate ethics program is not to make people ethical but to increase the likelihood that they’ll act ethically. This is definitely achievable. In today’s environment, failing to protect a company from employee misconduct is irresponsible.

The objective of such programs is to establish a business culture in which it’s easier to do the right thing than the wrong thing, and where concerned coworkers and vigilant supervisors repress illegal or improper conduct that can potentially endanger or embarrass the company.

An organization can further improve its ethical track record by assuring that it has clear and credible statements of values and standards of conduct. When supplemented with quality training, those values and standards can clarify expectations and reduce misconduct resulting from ignorance or misinterpretations of laws or company policies.

A firm that wants to strengthen its ethical culture hires for character and trains for skills. It takes background checks seriously, screens out employees who lack the moral compass or strength to resist temptations, and weeds out those who lack moral commitment or judgment during probation.

During performance reviews and promotions, it assesses ethical attributes like trustworthiness, responsibility, and respect. Only people who are comfortable living up to high ethical standards are retained or promoted.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

COMMENTARY: Good Ethics is More Than Good Business 759.2