Darnell Lattal, CEO and president of Aubrey Daniels International, behavioral science expert, and author of Ethics at Work, discusses workplace ethics.
Q. Why is ethics in the workplace such a hot topic currently?
A. First, the downturn in the market can certainly be, in the eyes of the American worker, laid at the feet of greed and deceit. Additional reasons for a growing discussion around workplace ethics include:
Executive behavior in regard to pay. Across multiple companies, inequities in pay exist from those at the top when compared to those throughout the ranks. The discrepancy is often not linked to performance, but rather entitlement and “custom.”
Awareness of the potential to fall off of the slippery slope. It’s not uncommon to see leaders—or people we know personally—fall, even those who were recently described as “living models of integrity in businesses.”
Behavior of academic and sports heroes. The recent scandals at Penn State and Syracuse universities go beyond the football field to the leadership at multiple levels in each institution.
An unpinning of how we treat each other. The rhetoric of blame in the current political game makes us assume that, as a society, we care only about winning at all costs, and that civility does not win.
Q. Do you believe ethics can be successfully taught to adults?
A. Rate of mastery is not affected by age as much as the opportunities to practice new behaviors. Building ethical habits requires complete and systematic effort and a daily and visible organization commitment from top to bottom. It requires an environment free from a fear of telling the truth. While this is difficult to achieve, it is certainly possible.
Q. How can leaders build a culture of ethics within their organizations?
A. Provide example-based descriptions of real situations that occurred, or could have occurred, in your organization. Encourage employees to share decision strategies and keep one another accountable. Through review and by example and consequence, help people to determine when to say “no” to the big sale without being a martyr for ethics.
Learn how to separate the truly ethical from a different preference or practice for doing business. Provide tools to prioritize decision making, and identify what elements are critical to your organization’s responsibilities. Finally, find ways to build for the long-term good. For example, ask employees to consider: If my son were watching me now, what would he think?
Q. What best practices exist within highly ethical companies?
A. Ethical companies use distinct practices to create an environment in which their employees choose to act ethically, including open dialogue, celebrations, and visible recognition of and rewards for appropriate behavior. These companies establish fair and understandable individual targets for performance reviews, provide support and guidance for those who slip, and incorporate ethics into ongoing work discussions.