COMMENTARY: Don’t Let the Bad Guys Win

During a seminar on ethics in the workplace, participants spoke about a wide array of unethical conduct they’d recently witnessed. They talked about

high-level employees who lied on internal reports or blatantly took credit for the work of others and the intimidation or abuse of subordinates. These were clear-cut violations of organizational policy. Yet, in most cases the perpetrator escaped any serious sanction.

Executives, who have the responsibility to uphold organizational standards, seem to find an endless array of excuses to look the other way. And so the culture of many private and public institutions reflects a don’t-rock-the-boat, avoid-confrontation-at-any-cost philosophy that undermines institutional integrity and morale.

When managers systematically allow employees to get away with forbidden behavior, they make a mockery of organizational policies and ethical rhetoric. What’s worse, they cultivate seeds of inefficiency and corruption and demoralize employees who would willingly live up to higher standards of personal conduct. Every time we let a bad guy win, we weaken the resolve of dozens of ordinary folks who need to know that playing by the rules is not just for suckers.

How many organizations are mired in the quicksand of hypocrisy because they are led by executives who are too timid or ambitious to demand honorable behavior? Good organizations need good people, men and women of principle who can resist the seductions of short-term political expediency and overcome fears of litigation or unpopularity.

 This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

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