It is common for business leaders to think of organizational ethics as a compliance issue, or as “the right thing to do”, or both. Jacob Blass, President of Ethical Advocate, believes there is also a “financial and reputational case for a deeply embedded ethical culture” (Blass 2013). So do the Ethics Resource Center (ERC) Fellows, as outlined in an earlier discussion guide for executives (ERC 2011).
As Blass notes, “being in compliance and having proper internal controls are critically important, yet many companies who are in compliance do not devote the time, energy and intellectual commitment to a deeply embedded ethical culture.” Failure to do so can lead to behaviors and incidents that can prove harmful to an organization’s reputation, which in turn affects market value and the bottom line.
The ERC discussion guide reminds us “a good reputation adds value to the organization, helping it secure investment capital, attract talented employees, win customers, and provide a reservoir of good will to draw on when troubles arise,” and that it takes constant attention “to guard against reputational loss from ethical lapses, bad business decisions, or simple neglect.”
An organization’s overall approach to ethics, its legal and compliance polices, and the ethics responsibilities it places on leaders, are all essential to building and maintaining an ethical culture and a good reputation. So too is its communications strategy – “how its ethics and integrity initiatives are articulated and promoted” (Blass, 2013).
Ethics officers and communications specialists can, and should, work together to develop the communications strategy. In its discussion guide for executives, the ERC asks five critical questions of ethics officers and their communications counterparts.
1. What level of importance do stakeholders assign integrity when they describe our company’s reputation?
2. What schemas do we need to break so customers and employees give our company high scores for integrity and ethics?
3. In what ways can ethics officers help the communications team tell the corporate story to key audiences?
4. How can ethics/compliance draw from communications’ expertise to help employees understand the importance of [ethics and] compliance?
5. Does the company have a senior executive to champion ethical performance [and to] provide a powerful voice for integrity from the top of an organization?
Leaders, through their behavior and communications, play an essential role in building and sustaining an organization’s deeply embedded ethical culture and reputation. Thoughtful answers to the preceding questions, or to other similar questions, will help leaders reflect on their organization’s reputation as an ethical entity and develop an appropriate internal and external communications strategy.
Ethical Advocate provides comprehensive ethics and compliance solutions to over a million users across all sectors.
Blass, Jacob. “The Financial and Reputational Case for a Deeply Embedded Ethical Culture.” Service Contractor Magazine, p. 22-23, October 2013. http://www.pscouncil.org/i/p/Service_Contractor_Magazine/c/p/ServiceContractorMagazine/Service_Contractor_.aspx?hkey=be4f47ad-c23b-4c9c-b75b-b21f0c00108d
ERC. Building a Corporate Reputation of Integrity: A Discussion Guide for Executives about Communications and Ethics, 2011. www.ethics.org/files/u5/integrity.pdf