10 May Professional Integrity and Ethics – Part II
The first session of this year’s Afro Ant Young Achievers Programme was dedicated to exploring “Integrity & Ethics” (20 February 2016). This review continues with this critical theme, drawing on theoretical as well as applied / practical and current affairs sources.
Continuing from Part I of this review, which looked at defining and noting the benefits of ‘Ethics’ and ‘Integrity’, this portion explores how to put ethical business and leadership into practice.
Ethical behaviour and integrity are widely recognised as valuable qualities, in the realms of both the personal and the professional, inspiring respect, trust, confidence and, inter alia, success. These qualities are expected in good leaders and in managers and executives in the business world. However, these qualities are not inherent but are learned and cultivated, from childhood and throughout one’s life, and are likely to be tested, repeatedly, across a variety of settings.
Putting Ethical Business into Practice
Liebenberg[i] defines ethics as “a person’s judgement of what is inherently right or wrong in his or her interaction with others. Ethics is therefore primarily concerned with relationships between people”. Since ethics is influenced by one’s own interactions, convictions and particular environment, “it is impossible to have a universal set of rules on ethical and unethical conduct – different subcultures and communities, for example, have different social norms and values”[ii]. Given such divergence in views on ethical conduct it becomes imperative to formulate a code of conduct and, arguably, a code of ethics.
A code of conduct concerns actions in the workplace and includes a set of behavioural guidelines, typically with examples of appropriate behaviour. A code of ethics is a general guide to decisions around those actions. The code of ethics should focus on corporate values and should include social and environmental values. The code of ethics is noted as an organic instrument, changing or developing with the needs of society and the organisation [iii], which guides business and stakeholder commitment to ethical and professional behaviour and serves as a guide to moral and ethical practices.
The benefits of developing a code of ethics include setting a standard for professional conduct, ensuring compliance with laws and regulations, highlighting priority values, and clarifying accepted behaviour in achieving particular goals – the means to the end are not always justified and a code ensures that ignorance is not a defence for unethical conduct. Associating behaviours with prioritised values also informs the formulation of the code of conduct. However it is the process of developing and reviewing the code of ethics that is arguably the most important benefit, enabling the testing and internalisation of the organisation’s preferred values; Update the code at least once a year – Continued dialogue and reflection around ethical values produces ethical sensitivity and consensus. iii
In addition to the aforementioned benefit, codes should, as a matter of course, be subjected to regular review to ensure legal compliance with national laws and regulations as well as to ensure the organisation’s practices accord with its internal policies.
In exploring the “how” of managing ethics, the Afro Ant “Integrity & Ethics” workshop[iv] begins with the step to “Create a Personal Code of Conduct—and Stick to It”. This step enables the critical action of self-assessment and ensuing step of assessing alignment with the values and code of the organisation.
Your personal code of conduct should incorporate your personal code of ethics, to which you adhere at all times.
When it comes to ethics, the highest standards should be followed regardless of the venue. Put another way, “Ethical Behaviour Shouldn’t Punch Out When You Punch In”.
Key aspects of creating your own personal code, beyond actually following it, are to
- Know and truly understand your company’s values, not just the rules and regulations; and to
- Always weigh your actions against both your personal principles and the company’s, then hold yourself to the higher standard—go beyond the minimum required of you.
In closing the “how” of managing ethics, the workshop notes that “Ethical Behaviour Starts at the Top… and the Middle… and the Bottom”. While high ethical standards and integrity are expected of leadership and of management in the business world, the health and success of an organisation is dependent on these qualities being established and supported at all levels.
The ethical practice, integrity, reputation and success of an organisation relies on the ethical and professional conduct of all employees.
Unethical conduct by just a few employees can affect an entire corporation. However, unethical business practice does not result simply from having a few ‘bad apples’. “Good people can do bad things for lots of reasons: if someone in authority asks them to; if the culture promotes or condones it; if they are afraid of speaking up; or if ‘everyone else is doing it’. People are ‘followers’ when it comes to behaviour in the workplace.”[v] Ethical leadership capable of running an ethical organisation is accordingly essential.
Ethical Leadership Essential for Success
Top-down support from leadership or management is critical to enacting effective business ethics, as is the ethical conduct and integrity of managers and executives. If employees see managers cutting corners and taking excessive risks to achieve business goals, they will too. A code of ethics will have little meaning or value unless leadership acts in a manner consistent with the organisation’s ethical standards, supports others who do, and applies those standards in dealing with employees.
The recent address by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng at the Gordon Institute of Business Science’s ‘Serious Social Investing Conference’ has brought the need for ethical leadership sharply into focus. The Chief Justice reflected that ethical leadership is not an option but a national imperative “because when you are a leader you have the authority to influence those that you lead, and it is what you do that largely determines what those who follow you are likely to do. When the leader is unethical in his or her approach, check what those closer to him or her do.”[vi] Mogoeng noted that ethical leadership leaves no room for corruption and that it is important for leaders, both in the public and the private sector, to espouse the characteristics of ethical leadership.
Following on from the words of the Chief Justice, a Knowledge Resources (KR) blog post poses the challenge, “not just (to) politicians, but all South Africans who are privileged enough to be in a position of leadership… : Isn’t it time for all South Africans to recommit to ethical leadership?” [vii] The KR post draws on Cynthia Schoeman’s 2014 publication, Ethics Can, in highlighting five underlying behaviours, or steps, to become a more ethical leader, as follows:
- Understand and live your values: The crucial moral values in the workplace are honesty, integrity, fairness, respect, responsibility and accountability. Living these values entails a personal commitment to the values – not merely superficial compliance – which is evident in all the leader’s decisions and actions.
- Live the organisation’s culture: Leaders who live the organisation’s culture offer visible behavioural support for the way things should be done in the workplace. This makes no allowance for the leader who does not make the link between “what I do and what is being seen” and “what I say”.
- Comply with and support applicable legislation, rules and regulations: This takes into account that the law is only ever a minimum standard. It means that leaders should aspire to do more than the bare minimum, and it excludes a “tick-box” approach to compliance.
- Follow the golden rule to do to others as you would like them to do to you: The philosophy of reversibility is a well-recognised approach and a principle at the centre of most religions which includes considering the effect of one’s actions and decisions on others. (It does not include the variation of “doing unto others before they have a chance to do to you”!)
- Lead to empower others, not just for self: Leadership that aims to empower others and to better enable them to be leaders represents the optimal leadership purpose. This contrasts with leadership which is primarily for personal gain. This leadership style is reflected in the works of both Robert Greenleaf and Peter Block. Greenleaf uses the term “servant leadership” and Block refers to “stewardship” to describe leadership that chooses serving, supporting, empowering and developing others above self-interest (Greenleaf, 1977; Block, 1993).
“As good role models, leaders should enhance and uplift the ethics around them: in their teams, their departments, their businesses or their communities. Giving greater effect to this as a primary leadership role and responsibility is a good start towards developing more ethical leaders, both in number and quality. … (W)e need to be the ethical leader we want and wish to follow.” vii
[i] Liebenberg, P.J. (11 August 1995) “Etiese optrede noodsaaklik vir groei” in Finansies & Tegniek. Cited in Cronjé et al. (eds, 2009)
[ii] Cronjé, G.J. de J; du Toit, G.S.; & Motlatla, M.D.C. (eds, 2009) Introduction to Business Management 6th edition
[iii] McNamara, C. “Complete Guide to Ethics Management: An Ethics Toolkit for Managers” [accessed online: http://managementhelp.org/businessethics/ethics-guide.htm]
[iv] Afro Ant (20 February 2016) Young Achievers Programme “2016 Session 1: Integrity & Ethics”
[v] Bibb, S. “Developing Ethical Leaders: An Essential Requirement of Successful Business” in Human Capital Review [accessed online: http://www.humancapitalreview.org/content/default.asp?Article_ID=925]
[vi] Raborife, M. (11 April 2016) “An ethical leader leaves no room for corruption – Mogoeng” for News24 [accessed online: http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/an-ethical-leader-leaves-no-room-for-corruption-mogoeng-20160411]
[vii] Booysen, P.D.S. (12 April 2016) “Is it time to recommit to ethical leadership in SA?” for Knowledge Resources Blog [accessed online: http://www.kr.co.za/_blog/knowledge-resources/post/is-it-time-to-recommit-to-ethical-leadership-in-sa/]