Blog: Values are like fingerprints

"Values are like fingerprints. Nobody's are the same, but you leave 'em all over everything you do.”

"This Elvis quote exemplifies why the Ethics at Work survey is so interesting for us at Centrica from a corporate perspective,” says Tim Langton Group Ethics & Compliance Officer at Centrica, IBE subscribers and silver supporters of the survey. "So it really struck a chord when Jo Morgan, who heads Ethics and Compliance at Rolls Royce, used it at the launch of IBE’s Ethics at Work survey.

"Elvis was right – everyone looks at ethics differently and ethics at work doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing to everybody. That’s why we’re looking at the results of the survey to create a dialogue about what ethics at work means for us as employees and as an organisation.”

The IBE’s Ethics at Work survey asks  employees whether their organisation offers the following building blocks of a formal ethics programme:
  • A code of ethics or similar guidance
  • A ‘Speak Up line’ to report misconduct confidentially 
  • Ethics training 
  • An ‘Advice line’ to ask for advice or information about behaving ethically at work.

On average, 19% of respondents say that their organisation offers none of the building blocks of an ethics programme listed above, whilst 21% say their organisation offers all of them. 

"The survey clearly establishes how an ethics programme can drive management focus in the right direction,” says Tim. "There is great value in having objective external data to vindicate and support what Ethics and Compliance practitioners have been saying to their organisations.”

In organisations with an ethics programme, employees say that:
  • Honesty is practised more frequently (86% vs 74%)
  • The organisation acts more responsibly with its stakeholders (86% vs 57%)
  • They are less aware of misconduct (27% vs 31%)
  • They are more willing to speak up if they become aware of misconduct (73% vs 42%) and more likely to be satisfied with the outcome (72% vs 28%)

However, Tim also takes away another message from the survey. "Perhaps more importantly, it also shows that having a programme is one thing, but visibly supporting that programme is what actually drives behaviour in a more positive direction.”

Creating a supportive environment for ethical behaviour is essential in applying business ethics in practice and closing the ‘say-do gap’ between how an organisation’s says it behaves, and the reality of day-to-day working practices.

The IBE’s Ethics at Work survey uses the following elements as indicators of a supportive environment for ethics in an organisation:
  • Tone from the top - which includes the ability of managers to set a good example for ethical business behaviour; explain the importance of honesty and ethics at work and support employees in following the organisation’s standards of behaviour.
  • Stakeholder engagement - whether an organisation discusses issues of right and wrong at staff meetings, to live up to its stated policy of social responsibility and to act responsibly in all its business dealings.
  • Addressing misconduct - the ability of an organisation to discipline employees who violate its ethical standards.

"Compliance rules grow out of yesterday’s disasters, but the rules are only there to protect you from forseeable risks,” says Tim. "Business ethics is insurance against tomorrow’s unforeseen disasters.”

The survey data bears this out. In organisations with a supportive environment, employees say that:
  • Honesty is practised more frequently (91% vs 53%)
  • They are less aware of misconduct (21% vs 60%)
  • They are more willing to speak up if they become aware of misconduct (70% vs 47%) and more likely to be satisfied with the outcome (90% vs 15%)
  • They felt less pressures to compromise their organisation’s ethical standards (87% have not felt pressured vs 59%) 

"It is always helpful to have the IBE at your elbow,” says Tim. "At Centrica, we’re looking at how we can use this data to benchmark our employees’ perspectives and experiences with national averages.  What I’d like to see is for more organisations to standardize the questions in their employee surveys along these lines. In this way, the employees’ perspective could be a real lever for change.”

Tim admits that the real value will be to be able to track perceptions over time. "Ethics is a long game,” he says. "You can’t force an organisation to embrace it; it needs to come to a realisation of its own accord. It can take time to understand its importance, and to demonstrate the sustained value doing business ethically has.”

Posted: 04/09/2018

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