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Wrongdoing is a teachable moment

How people see their behaviour and what they understand about it needs guidance. Such guidance is teachable.

Does, for example, everyone in your organisation understand and agree on what is included in the term wrongdoing?

Further, and alongside this, what types of wrongdoing do you want to have reported – and when?

Should a casual glance at a media site on a work computer warrant discussion or should it wait until it meets a certain threshold before you will respond to a report?

Is wrongdoing within your organisation role-related or does it apply to everyone at all times?

Ensuring not only that employees understand, but willingly agree on, what constitutes wrongdoing, relative to their role, is fundamental to overseeing an effective risk management strategy and embedding an ethical culture.

This level of guidance, the myriad of teachable moments that are often attributed to induction training, is rarely undertaken with the level of concern and exactness that is needed.

Explaining ‘wrongdoing’ is not a once-over-lightly sort of thing.

When 56 PWC partners (give or take a few, dozen) overlooked the fact that leaking confidential, inside information would not stand up to scrutiny in a court of law and therefore constituted wrongdoing, or when a handful of Department of Correction prison guards overlooked the fact that staring at holiday destinations on screen might not screech wilful blindness then you know that assumptions, shortcuts and lethargy in leadership have taken hold.

It’s the difference between expectation and practical reality.

We don’t know what we don’t know. And, at times we will pick and choose what we want to know in order to get ahead – or have a bit of fun.

This simple reality literally screams out that we all need reminders. We all need reinforcement around our behaviour and strong, well-respected leadership is a good thing.

Reminding us to behave is why, in the face of temptation, we all experience constant and unrelenting reminders telling us not to speed. No one is spared. Drivers of high-status, high-worth cars are as targeted as much as those at the opposite extreme.

In exactly the same measure, I would argue, we need reminders about other forms of wrongdoing, particularly business and occupational wrongdoing – and why it matters.

Reporting wrongdoing is part of this.

Both understanding and agreeing on wrongdoing, as well as how and when to report it, is featured in the most recent Ethisphere publication ‘The Eight Pillars of an Ethical Culture’.

Ethisphere gathered and analysed data across 192 organisations and 1.5 million responses.

Highlighted among the findings is the need to check that employees trust the reporting process enough to engage in it.

When it comes to using external reporting agencies such as New Zealand-based (but global) Report it Now®, it is arguably insufficient to just say that the EthicsPro® reporting software exists and we use it. A practical demonstration of how an ethics committee operates, how to actually use it, and the details of the range of behaviours, including wrongdoing, that are encouraged to be reported is essential.

Pillar One of the Ethisphere publication is also explicit in identifying the benefit to employers of deep diving into the data to better understand what employees might be searching for ie the landing pages they are reviewing or whether they access the information at all.

This, they argue, highlights where more investment of effort and explanation is required.

To expand on this is to acknowledge that at various stages in a career, whether this constitutes paid or unpaid work, individuals will consider aspects of behaviour differently.

Once again there are far-reaching implications.

Teachable moments

The Institute of Business Ethics research into ethical reasoning and judgement has consistently shown that any appreciation of ethics is influenced by both age and gender – with women having a greater sense of what constitutes ethical behaviour.

This suggests that as people age and take on more responsibility there is a corresponding tightening of expectations around ethical business behaviour.

It might have been a bit of innocent oversight to take a few company pens home… but when tasked with managing budgets, a few thousand pens here and there add up.

Personal use of computers was thrown into the spotlight recently as grim insights from the Department of Corrections revealed that this behaviour was central to the escape of a violent offender from Rimutaka Prison.

Prison guards charged with monitoring a security gate were, instead, preferring to use their time and computer access to research holiday resorts and beaches.

On top of this, a security gate that was apparently too heavy and difficult to manage in high winds had been left open.

For many, it is reasonable to suggest that drifting into non-work related computer time is an innocuous activity, so too is a heavy gate that gets left open.

But different sectors and different roles hold vastly different interpretations of wrongdoing and how extremely serious different behaviours can be.

Teachable moments abound and if your company isn’t clear on what it should be teaching it may not be long before you find out… the hard way.

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