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Saturday, May 31, 2008
Character Counts – If You Count It
Why are so many corporations and government agencies spending time and money on ethics surveys and training? What’s the ROI – return on investment? Is it about doing the right thing because virtue is its own reward, or is it about doing the smart thing because good ethics pays and bad ethics costs?
Although I wish it were otherwise, appeals to self-interest are more compelling than appeals to conscience. The best way to get the attention of executives is to talk in terms of risk management.
It’s easy to make the case that dishonest, irresponsible, or illegal actions can be enormously costly. Thus, responsible leaders understand the value of creating and sustaining an ethical workplace culture.
Meaningful efforts, however, need to go beyond codes and classes.
Codes of conduct are important to provide a framework for compliance. And training courses can teach legal requirements, raise ethical consciousness, and encourage employees to do the right thing. But unless ethical values are advocated and enforced in everyday decision-making, the risk of reputation-damaging and resource-draining misconduct will remain high.
In an ethical culture, values and character play a prominent role in recruitment, employment, orientation, in-service training, performance reviews, and discipline.
In an ethical culture, formal and informal incentive systems promote honesty, moral courage, responsibility, and fairness. Contrary behavior is risky, not simply because it harms the organization, but because it endangers the careers of those who take moral shortcuts.
In the workplace, you get the behavior you reward. Character counts – if you count it.
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