Annabel Beerel

Creating the Ethical Organization

by Annabel Beerel, Ph.D.

You never hurt what you truly love.

An ethical organization is a good institution. It is an institution that reflects active and concerned citizenship by acting in myriad ways to advance society. The activities of the organization are reflected by the activities and the decisions of its employees and especially those of its management team. The way to create an ethical organization is to encourage and mentor employees to put their best professional values to work.

One of the responsibilities of the management team and each manager is to contribute towards creating an ethical organization. That is an organization that promotes the moral development of its employees. How does it do this? Firstly, there needs to be organizational commitment to make ethics apart and parcel of all decision making. Ethics needs to be understood as the fabric of organizational life as opposed to it being a watch dog or compliance function. Management needs to be clear that ethical behavior is a priority.

Since ethical considerations are part of decision making and taking effective action, managers and employees should be encouraged to practice ethics. They need to operate in an environment that seeks to promote trust and honesty, where questioning is encouraged and where the slavish following of rules or behaviors that demonstrate lack of personal responsibility or accountability are discouraged. Everyone in the organization should be impressed with the reality that they are the organization, and that every one of their actions or decisions has an organizational impact. They need to understand that silence is not golden and that their ability to take personal ownership of their actions is vital to advancing the ethical culture of the organization.

In this environment managers should be expected to demonstrate ethical competency. They need to demonstrate moral imagination and the ability to discern, deliberate and exercise good judgment. Good judgment comes with collaborative and open discussions and practice. Good judgment is enhanced by reflection on previous decisions and review of what might be learned with the benefit of hindsight. Good judgment develops as one reviews one’s decisions and actions and reflects on their efficacy by asking the question: Is there anything I might have done differently?

The ethical manager should be rewarded and affirmed. He or she should help eliminate fear from the organization and should be ready to tackle the resistances and “stuckness” that sometimes occurs with the group mind. The ethical manager should understand the importance of creating an environment of moral freedom so that employees feel empowered and free to act with self-determination and personal accountability. Subservience to the institution or the go with the flow mentality should be discouraged.

Most of all, the ethical manager will need to have courage and be encouraged to take risks; to ask difficult questions; to pursue creative and different options and to combine his or her heart’s instincts with intellectual rigor and critical thinking.

How does one achieve this culture and tutor these managers? By having the ethical intention to live the ethical quest and by affording the opportunity to practice, practice, practice! Practice what? Open reflection; rigorous deliberation; and thoughtful and discerning choice followed by the courage and ability to follow through on one’s moral choices.