Bringing your ethics training to life

19 March 2019

Tags: Training

One element of advisory work IBE is often asked for support with is the development of engaging training materials to help embed messages about values and encourage conversations about ethical issues for specific subjects and audiences.

It has long been established that the best way to communicate and explore messages about values and behaviour is with the use of stories. Stories define who we are, what we do, and why and how we do it and that’s what makes up our culture – whether that’s in our work place, our family, or our group of friends.

Using scenarios to develop ethical sensitivity gives employees an opportunity to practice understanding other perspectives, analysing a situation and seeing a way forward in line with ethical values in the safety of a hypothetical situation.

So what makes a good scenario?

Scenarios are more powerful if employees can recognise the situations from their day-to-day working life in your organisation. You can find rich source material from Speak up cases, news stories about a similar industry, your ethics ambassadors and HR.

For obvious reasons, these need to be anonymised. You can do that by stripping back the details and simplifying the story. Slimming down your ‘cast list’ (to 2 main protagonists, plus supporting characters) and changing genders and functions should make the original story unrecognisable, whilst retaining the essential dilemma. Simplicity is the key for a dilemma to hit its mark, so choose one point of view – and stick to it.

The key to make a scenario come alive is to explore the pressures which employees can identify with as to why they might make a ‘wrong’ decision.

IBE’s Ethics at Work survey identifies some of these pressures as under-resource, time pressures, following the boss’s orders. The survey also identifies why people don’t speak up – fear of losing their job, thinking it was none of their business or that nothing would be done. You can weave these pressures into the dilemma to help employees identify where the real-life challenges might lie.

When looking at these pressures, it’s also important to have an understanding of the behavioural ethics which might inform decisions. Cognitive biases like ethical fading can mean we ignore issues, alter our view or view something as normal when it is not.

And finally, make sure it is a dilemma. We often see scenarios which are quite obvious choices between right and wrong. In reality, life is more complex, there is often conflict between our different levels of loyalty - to our organisation, our colleagues, our leaders, our family, our friends.

Dilemmas arise where there is a conflict between these loyalties. Scenarios help employees make the connection between the corporate values and their individual responsibility. They help them ‘rehearse’ so they can do the right thing when the time comes.

Please get in touch if you’d like IBE support with drafting and delivering training material.

We also have a Good Practice Guide which features sample scenarios and case studies of how organisations use and develop theirs. 


Katherine Bradshaw
Katherine Bradshaw

formerly Head of Communications