As a result of recent corporate scandals, organizations are being more closely examined than at any other point in recent history. With this intensified examination comes a responsibility that can no longer be avoided. In this extraordinary time, leaders need to be ever more clear and exacting about how their organizations should operate and how employees should behave.

A sound ethics policy is based on both words and visioning and is the foundation upon which all exemplary organizational infrastructures are built. Such a policy gives an organization a consistent and easily explainable sense of identity and purpose that reflects how the organization works at every level. A meaningfully developed and carefully executed ethics policy that is well understood by employees provides the guidance needed to make the right decisions, even when those decisions are neither popular nor easy to make.

Over time, the ethical standards used to make these decisions must be nurtured, redefined, improved upon, and enhanced to ensure that ethics-based leadership takes hold throughout the organization. The best organizations continuously seek to improve their ethical standards. This effort requires a significant amount of energy and personal investment from top leaders. Leaders keep the organization's focus on ethics by asking the following questions:

  1. What are the standards for acceptable employee behavior? What will be the process for redefining ethical standards over time?
  2. Are any of the corporate policies inconsistent? Do any of the policies create special treatment for a favored few? If so, what is the impact of these policies on the organization's workforce?
  3. Are the recruitment, retention, and development programs integrated? That is, do we recruit using one set of expectations and then expect to retain and develop talent by applying another set of expectations? If so, what level of anxiety does this disparity create for employees and customers? What outcome will this disequilibrium produce?
  4. Similarly, is the organization devoted to developing all levels of employee talent? How does the ethics policy fit in to the development process? Are any employees left out of the development process? If yes, why?
  5. Are employees at all levels of the organization committed to adhering to the ethics policy? Does the organization's reward system recognize this commitment?

To operate without this carefully crafted ethical framework leaves much to chance. Exemplary leaders welcome the opportunity to scrutinize the ethics policy in order to perfect organizational standards through ever-evolving ethics initiatives. This passion for keeping the ethics debate at the forefront is one way to drive individual