Careless and unethical behavior can not only cost companies their reputations, but can also have a huge impact on the bottom line, making ethics a critical business issue. But how do you make ethics an integral part of how everyone in the company behaves, rather than just a policy on a piece of paper?
According to Jane Mitchell in a 2014 interview with IABC, a director of the U.K.-based communications agency Karian & Box, embedding an ethical culture requires an approach that encourages people to be accountable for their actions, rather than foisting a dense set of rules on them. It’s about making people see the consequences of their actions. And it’s about creating a culture in which it’s OK to speak up.
And what about those organizations who don’t make ethics programs a priority? Mitchell underscores the reputational and bottom-line consequences of not doing so: “The comment we often hear is, ‘Well, we can’t afford to do that.’ My question would be: ‘Could you afford not to?’”
She points to recent crises like the News International phone hacking scandal, which is estimated to have cost around British £1 billion in damages.
“Why would you argue against doing a really robust program of [ethics] embedding, when the potential cost of actually not doing it is so vast?” Mitchell asks. “I think people think of the bottom line without thinking of the potential consequences.”
There is wisdom, knowledge and enthusiasm at every level of an organisation and when dots are connected effectively the insights everyone gains can be harnessed to drive real and positive change. JM
Contributing to the cause
Drawing from her work with companies like Rolls-Royce Holdings, BAE Systems, BP, SERCO, Meggitt, BT and Co-operative Bank, Mitchell explains her approach. “At the heart of my work is the principle that people willingly take responsibility for their own behaviour and actions at work when they understand what the ‘corporate’ ambition is and how they can contribute to it, and are recognised for that effort.”
Mitchell shared her insights on ethics when she talked about her session “Humanity as a Key to Embedding an Ethical Culture,” which she presented for the Compliance & Ethics Institute.
This piece originally appeared on 9 June 2014.