Whenever groups of people come together, they form a culture. Culture is the collection of values, beliefs and behaviors by which we operate within a group—whether that be a team, a business, a family, a religion, or a country. Culture develops from the stories we tell each other. Stories define who we are, what we do, and why and how we do it.
Culture is “the way we do things around here.” Unfortunately, “the way things are done around here,” can subtly work against a company’s stated ethical values. No matter what communications come from head office, employees will share their own stories. So, for example, the organization may say that retaliation against those who speak up will not be tolerated; but the reality may be that employees believe the opposite to be the case, because of the stories that are told of what happened to Ian from accounts when he blew the whistle that time.
By the coffee machine, in the staff room, at the away day, you will often hear people talking about ethical issues without even realizing it: issues of fairness, trust, conflicts, dilemmas. Employees communicate about ethics, regardless of any formal communication program, and they do so through stories.
Make an emotional connection
Using the term “ethics” may be the very thing which turns some people off the topic—whether it appears too high-minded, philosophical, moralising, or just plain dull. Similarly the term “integrity”—beloved of the corporate values statement—may be too ambiguous, hard to define and harder to translate. Talking in language that is easily understood does not mean “dumbing down”—it is giving messages about ethics the best chance of being read, understood and applied.
The very reason why values are the key to ethical behavior—the fact that everyone has values and values inform everyone’s behaviour—is another reason why ethics can be difficult to pin down....
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