Shine The Light on Poor Ethical Practices

“Thank You and Goodbye.” So signed off the British tabloid, News of the World, with it’s last cover this weekend. Brought down by a phone-hacking scandal, Rupert Murdoch’s infamous newspaper faces scrutiny and legal battles over accusations of illegal practices.

News of the World “journalists” apparently eavesdropped on the phone messages of murder and terrorist victims, politicians and celebrities. Claims have been made that newspaper staff bribed police officers. The organization’s staff have faced similar charges in the past (one was jailed over phone hacking in 2007), so we really should not be surprised.

Prime minister David Cameron has called for an investigation into the ethics and standards of British journalists. I certainly support this investigation but feel that this “horse left the barn” a long time ago for tabloid journalism around the globe.

Just because this tabloid shut its doors does not mean such practices will end. Just like the poor attempt to solve a road “pot hole” by shoving used tires into it, closing down this tabloid does not address the root issue: a lack of accountability for ethical behavior.

Defining Ethical Behavior

I believe every organization faces ethical temptation on a regular basis. To ensure that your organization is proactive about what behaviors and practices are desired, you must be specific about ethical requirements for day-to-day business operations.

I’ve been a consultant for the Ken Blanchard Companies since 1995. Blanchard’s values are formally defined. Our number one value is “Ethical Behavior,” defined as follows:

  • Be truthful and fair when dealing with others, legal in our practices, and proud if our actions were publicized
  • Be committed to the conservation of natural resources
  • Practice what we preach: Our behavior models our products and services

This definition sets clear parameters and boundaries for “what a good job looks like” when demonstrating ethical behavior. Note that I indicated that ethical behavior is Blanchard’s number one value. The family and leadership of the Ken Blanchard Companies decided years ago to rank order their values so that employees would know which value to act upon FIRST. For them, that primary value is ethical behavior.

Holding Staff Accountable for Ethical Behavior

Defining ethical behavior is a vital foundational step. The most important process is that of holding all staff – at all levels of the organization – accountable for “modeling your ethical standards.”

To reliably monitor ethical behavior, your organization must create feedback systems that provide insights on the degree to which all staff model your desired ethical behavior. Just as you have metrics and dashboards to monitor performance progress & accomplishment, you need metrics and dashboards to monitor ethical behavior alignment.

My clients have found the following approaches highly useful to “stay connected” regarding ethical behavior in their organizations:

  • Regular all-employee values surveys, completed twice a year. Results are tallied and given to all staff (all-company summary plus detailed information for intact teams).
  • Exit interviews with staff who leave the company, featuring questions specifically about ethical behavior.
  • Small, informal group meetings with senior leaders to inform & inquire about values alignment.
  • Genuine “managing by wandering around” by senior leaders, making themselves available for open, honest one-on-one discussions.

Shine The Light On Poor Ethical Practices

The only way your organization and it’s members can consistently demonstrate ethical behavior is to 1) clearly define what you mean and 2) relentlessly hold all staff accountable for those behaviors.

What is your experience with accountability for ethical behavior? Let me know what you think in the comments section below.

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  • Well said, Chris. If we want people to avoid the place where behavior leaves “ethical” and becomes “unethical” we need to talk about it continually, make ethical behavior a priority and an expectation, and then back that with direct accountability. Thank you so much for this meaningful post.

    • You’re so right, Linda – continually monitoring expected behavior is the best path to high performance AND values alignment! Thanks for your insights!



  • Chris,

    I am really new to the blogging world, and I really enjoyed reading your article. I love that your company puts the ethical expectations out in the open for all to see, and the lunches with upper management and employees just helps ensure that everyone is on and remains on the same page. I also like the employee surveys twice a year instead of once a year.

    I think that regular updates and meeting over ethical behavior is so important, not only to keep everyone informed but also to help guide those who might be starting to stray (knowingly and unknowingly). Don’t wait until something happens that can’t be undone, isn’t that what Managers should do? Coach, mentor and catch things earlier rather than later? Address and correct behavior in a way that is a win/win for everyone involved. Just my 2 cents and again, great article!


    • Great insight. Rhonda – I totally agree that it is the leaders of organizations who must hold everyone to a high ethical standard.



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