Recently, the results of the South African Business Ethics Survey for 2019 were released by The Ethics Institute (TEI) at an event at the Stellenbosch University Business School, and it certainly didn’t pull any punches
Revelations indicated a sentiment that many cynics would agree with – that the slick marketing of the business world often hides organisational cultures lacking in ethics, honesty, and integrity. With the report finding that unethical behaviour (often witnessed directly by non-managerial employees) has increased to 31% from 18% in 2009, the report doesn’t portray a rosy picture of the SA business sector.
In this survey, in which 2,253 respondents took part from 19 private-sector organisations (including banking, finance, medical services, tourism, hospitality, mining, retail, and information/communication organisations) included non-managerial, middle management and executives. Here are some of the most notable findings:
- The industries with the highest ethical scores include banking, tourism and hospitality sectors.
- The most unethical scores were earned by mining, wholesale and retail organisations.
- The biggest reason for not reporting unethical behaviour were fears of victimisation and that no action would be taken against those acting unethically.
- Senior managers tended to rate ethics in their own office very highly, while non-managerial employees felt the opposite.
- The good news is that the reporting of unethical behaviour is up from 48% in 2016 to 55%.
A Culture of Ethics Starts at the Top
While many organisations have a focus on ethical conduct and standards, these findings show that these commitments are not yet a strong part of the fibre of SA companies. In fact, according to the findings of the 2018 Anti-Intimidation and Ethical Practices Forum (AEPF) survey, not only are managers often out of touch with the level of ethics in their organisation, 1 in 4 believe that achieving financial success is actually more important than ensuring that their actions are ethical.
So, how can our organisations – and our leaders – do better?
Ethics awareness – This is about educating employees at every level not only about the organisation’s ethics policy itself but why the policy matters. Knowing the difference between ethical and non-ethical behaviour increases every employee’s ability to spot the warning signs, empowers them to speak up and act to prevent unethical actions.
Protection for whistle-blowers – An organisation where unethical behaviour is punished without repercussions for the whistle-blower and ethical actions are rewarded is the ultimate goal. Fear of negative repercussions reduces the likelihood of reporting misconduct, making it almost impossible to hold people accountable for their unethical actions. This makes access to safe reporting facilities essential.
Commitment by senior and middle management – An essential driver for change is the commitment of senior and middle management, as ethics are developed and strengthened from the top down. As leaders, these role models are critical to setting the tone and putting policies into meaningful action. Unethical managerial behaviour is clearly a major factor negatively affecting productivity, engagement, and performance – after all, if you can see your direct senior acting in his or her own self-interest, what’s going to motivate you not to do exactly the same thing?
Accountability – Unethical actions need to have consequences, just like ethical actions should be rewarded. This reinforces desirable behaviours and makes ethical, responsible behaviour a more integrated part of organisational culture. This has significant relevance in SA, where high-level persons in the government and private sector who are intimately connected with intensely unethical and criminal activities aren’t facing the consequences of their actions.
Better Leaders and Managers for the Future are Developed Today – It’s Time to Speak Up
One of the most critical roles for any senior or middle manager is the ability to speak effectively in a way that engages, motivates and informs your team – and these skills are essential to inspiring a commitment to ethics in your business. Like any sales specialist, you have to know how to sell your audience on your idea for a better, more ethical organisation. You have to show them why it’s essential to the organisation, listen to their concerns, develop a strategy to tailor workplace policies and become a driving force for change. By honing these speaking and presentation skills, you can take charge of a room, engage and motivate your audience, and deliver a compelling message that sets the tone for your company culture.
Invest in Critical Communication Skills Development
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