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A letter to Santa

12 December 2022

A letter to Santa

Recently public discussions and references to ethics, morality and integrity have become increasingly common. I’m sure we can all think of examples of public figures and well-known businesses that have behaved in a way that left us questioning the ethicality of their actions. These examples of dishonesty, disrespect, coercion, and abuses of power are happening across the business spectrum, not just in the high-profile cases that make the news. I’m confident you would agree that unethical and immoral actions of senior managers and employees are an enormous risk to the good standing and reputation of all organisations. I doubt whether many customers and employees seek an unethical business to trade with or work for.

Nowadays, organisations commonly display their values on their website and publicity materials. However, I wonder how many of these organisations advertise the values lived in the everyday activities carried out by their senior managers, supervisors and teams. A concept known as shadow values describes the hidden values and true ethical culture of an organisation. Do these shadow values exist because business and organisations are ambivalent about ethics? I doubt that. Perhaps I’m naive, but generally speaking, I believe most organisations genuinely desire honest, respectful and caring approaches to work. But as we know, saying or writing something does not make it so.

Business ethics covers all aspects of workplace acts and omissions. It guides our relationships and how we approach the safety, quality and environmental impact of what we do. Ideally, our organisation’s purpose should be delivered according to commonly agreed shared values. Values are the core beliefs held by an organisation and provide a framework that guides the ethical judgements and actions of all members of an organisation in everything they do. But all too often, they are created by a select group or single person and consist of a list of values that they desire or represent the organisation in a good light. However, in my experience, many employees are unaware of what the values are and rarely are they used to guide the thinking and planning of what we do and how our decisions may impact our stakeholders.  I’ve even read value list’s that confuse the concepts of values and valuable.

Stated organisational values are like a letter to Santa, and often resemble a list of wishes. But it does not matter how neatly we write them or how desperately they are desired. We will not wake up on Christmas morning and find a selection of expertly wrapped ethical motivations and behaviours under our company’s Christmas tree. There will be no brightly coloured boxes of integrity and honesty, which, when opened, will suddenly stop everyone from fudging statistics, exaggerating their capabilities or hiding their mistakes.

Let us imagine Santa had read our website and decided to grant our wishes. If that were the case, what kind of things would have needed to happen for a list of values to become a reality?

  • We would have realised that we cannot make someone hold the same values as we have.
  • We would recognise that only values created by the team can become team values.
  • Our leaders must walk the walk, not just talk the talk. They must lead by example and ensure that they make decisions that are in line with their organisation’s values.
  • The values must be authentic and consistent. Keeping swapping and changing values undermines their credibility.
  • The values must be understood by all members of the organisation
  • There must be a consistent method of considering situations when one value clashes with another. i.e. honesty and loyalty.
  • We must check to see if we are living our values and recognise situations when our values are likely to be put under pressure.
  • We must ensure that all new employees and sub-contractors know our organisation’s values and explicitly agree to work according to them.
  • Those with responsibility for ethical standards in their workplace must have at least a basic understanding of ethics and also an awareness of the best way to introduce organisational values. FYI, It’s not good enough to copy and paste codes of conduct and ethical frameworks from the internet and expect them to work for you.
  • You must have a method of spotting ethical issues and a consistent process of approaching those issues.

Over the last three years, we have seen an increasing number of our clients recognise the importance of authentic and consistent organisational values. More and more organisations are basing their approaches to customer service, quality, environmental impact, H&S, and employee engagement on consistent and trustworthy ethical standards. The benefits of organisational integrity cannot be overstated. It enables our customers, suppliers and employees to know where they stand and helps to build trusting relationships. Imagine what could be achieved if all members of your organisation were working together to pursue a common purpose in a manner that demonstrated a consistent approach to mutually agreed and lived organisational values.

Simon Cassin BA (Hons), FRSPH, CMIOSH, MIIRSM,

(MD at Ouch Learning and development)

If you would like to know more about how Ouch can help you develop an ethical framework in your organisation or you would like details of our business and applied ethics training courses, please get in touch.