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Strengthening Corporate Ethics in the Age of Social Sharing


image via Flickr user Student Hubs    

Long gone are the days when a statement of ethics was merely a pithy saying written on a placard in the lobby of the corporate headquarters, part of the pre-amble in the employee handbook, and something that was discussed only during the on boarding process for new employees.

Organizations are now exploring ways to ensure ethical behavior is a core business competency and pursuing ways to ensure understanding and adherence amongst all stakeholders.

A recent article in the Baton Rouge Business Report listed 7 tips for creating an ethical workplace; Linda Fisher Thorton, author of 7 Lenses: Learning the Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership described that doing so can improve business and organizational culture. And while leaders may feel they have enough to do, spending time and effort building an ethical workplace culture is neither a feel-good exercise in futility nor merely a nice-to-do activity.

A foundation of strong ethical practices is also the foundation for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR); many of us have heard of this type of corporate self-regulation that is integrated and embedded within an organization’s business model. Corporate CSR programs have been shown to impact recruitment and retention of highly talented employees, provide brand differentiation and unique consumer value propositions, and, according to some, increased long term profits at organization. According to research from the Cone Millennial Cause group as highlighted in the book The 2020 Workplace, more than 50% of workers aged 18 – 25 said they would refuse to work for an irresponsible corporation.

So where, exactly, can organizational ethics, internal communication, and effective social collaboration interest? There are many ways in which you can make ethics, and by extension any CSR programs, part of your ongoing conversations:

  • Clearly define what ethical behavior means and communicate it continuously; a definition I frequently use is “doing the right thing even when no one is looking.”
  • Share you organization’s successes and stories on internal social channels and encourage employees to discuss them with each other. An example might be an occasion when a business relationship was ended due to the questionable ethical practices of a partner or client organization.
  • Ensure your HR Department clearly articulates and broadcasts that employee reward and incentive programs do not have the unintended consequences of rewarding unethical behavior. This is particularly true of sales incentive programs which may be unintentionally designed to reward the wrong behavior ‘just to hit sales quotas.’
  • Create a video series to share iacross internal social channels which clearly shows employees what ethical and socially responsible behavior looks like; film common and challenging scenarios that your employees may encounter and show them how to handle them.
  • Provide internal online resources so employees can learn how to deal with unethical behavior by 3rd parties; this can take the format of an FAQ series with questions such as “what do you do when a customer ask you to circumvent a company policy or procedure?” Allow your employees, manager and leaders to answer and discuss in order to enhance your social learning environment.
  • Consider gamifying the experience around ethics or CSR activities by using social technology and make sure, in particular, that your managers and leaders are recognizing the desired behavior. You can create an online space where employees receive kudos, earn badges, or aim to make it to the top of the leader board for “Doing the Right Thing.”
  • Creating a strong and culturally relevant ethics program that is clearly communicated and shared will ensure your stakeholders understand what it means to “do the right thing even when no one is looking.” 

Robin Schooling, SPHR, with 20+ years of HR leadership experience, is Managing Partner of Silver Zebras, LLC and blogs at HR Schoolhouse. She works with organizations to develop HR strategies that align with their business objectives and strengthen talent capabilities while focusing on the entire employee life cycle.

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