Why Ethical People Make Unethical Choices

March 9, 2017 Marsha Ershaghi Hames

On March 6th, I had the opportunity to join C-Suite Leaders at Consero’s Corporate Compliance & Ethics Forum in Newport Beach, Calif. I represented LRN moderating a plenary session entitled “Why Ethical People Make Unethical Choices: A Spotlight on The Role of Leaders.” Now more than ever, Chief Compliance and Ethics Officers (CECOs) are tasked with setting the tone of a speak-out culture, and the research points to the prominent role senior management plays in cultivating this tone. Visible leadership is emerging as a critical success factor in promoting ethical cultures, as the research shows that employees report misdeeds 71% of the time when they believe top management is committed to ethics.

This session explored why otherwise ethical employees may potentially compromise standards. Our seasoned panel of five CECOs comprised: Todd Carver, Teradata Corporation; Al Cave, The Northern Trust Company; Craig Donaldson, DST Systems, Inc.; Antonio Fernandez, PSEG; and Amyn Thawer, LinkedIn Corporation. The discussion explored various creative initiatives that their organizations are leading to bolster a culture of workplace integrity, centering around their values and principles.

One highlight was the reminder to promote ongoing dialogue, that the time for building relationships is NOT in the middle of a crisis. As several audience members pointed out, when you investigate companies that have failed, you will often find that many employees knew about the issues long before those issues revealed themselves in a toxic, sometimes fatal fashion.

Another highlight was to enlist cross-functional stakeholder engagement early in the strategic planning for communications and education engagement. A third focus was around accountability and measurement. Recent corporate scandals have focused attention on the wrong behaviors that incentive-based compensation contributes towards. Several panelists shared their strategies to embed new criteria around hiring and recruiting for cultural fit, realigning goals and performance management systems to promote ethical behavior and accountability.

All panelists shared examples of how they are investing in developing leaders around their role in cultivating organizational culture, from the top down and bottom up.

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