Dear Workforce What Can HR Do To Boost Acceptance Of Our Ethics Program?

Our company's ethics program is viewed as unimportant by management and employees. What can HR do to boost interest in our ethics program and its importance?

September 21, 2011

HR plays a vital role in any organization's ethics program. In an organization where management and employees view the ethics program as unimportant, the role of HR becomes even more critical.

The question I would first ask: why is the program viewed as unimportant? Since events of the past 10 years have shown that ethics is an area of strategic importance to every organization, the lack of regard for the program is a function of the program and its support, not the issue of ethics itself.

In many organizations, ethics is a buzzword with as much impact as a mission statement that serves only to cover a hole in the lobby wall. Organizations that have successfully demonstrated the importance of ethics have linked ethics to real business issues and actual processes. Ethics helps frame the behaviors that are needed not only for the organization to be in compliance, but also to be high-performing. Cultures based on fear and frustration generate both business and ethics risks.

Ethics relates to how small or large a gap exists between actual corporate culture and the behaviors a company must demonstrate to meet compliance requirements and preserve its reputation in the marketplace. Success in closing this behavior-standards gap depends on actions, not empty words. In this regard, HR plays an important role by responding to the behaviors that underlie the strategic goals of integrity.

HR professionals see the inefficiencies when employees are conflicted about the company's culture and the values that are actually demonstrated, versus those that are preached. HR professionals see the cost of turnover based on basic lack of respect for individuals, as well as the cost of dealing with complaints and charges ranging from retribution to harassment and discrimination. HR can see whether people are promoted and rewarded for behavior that is contrary to the company's values, and whether people who seek to do the right thing are protected or victimized.

The successes in these areas should be presented to the workforce and to management as critical factors in whether the company reaches its corporate responsibility objectives.

By addressing these kinds of issues in the context of their relation to ethics, the human resources department can demonstrate the practical benefits of a company's ethics program. It is how HR handles these issues that often will determine whether a company's ethics program is taken seriously or not.

HR can take an active role in boosting an ethics program by linking its own programs and initiatives to issues raised in the ethics program or the code of conduct. For example, HR campaigns that encourage diversity of opinion or enable decisions to be challenged should be directly linked to compliance topics and corporate values--as well as corporate governance and the possible risk to a company's reputation. In this way, the annual calendar of HR programs can be used to implement strategic initiatives such as corporate governance and responsibility.

SOURCE: David Gebler, President, Skout Group LLC, Sharon, Massachusetts

LEARN MORE: Read Nine Steps to Make Values Matter.

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.