Ethics: The forgotten superpower

By Howard Feldman

 The real superheroes of the working world are those who uphold ethics and honesty

Over the past few months, the real impact of fake news has been felt around the world. From Facebook to internet to some mainstream media, false stories, lies and made-up facts have been used to ignite hatred, inspire fear and create waves. It is the post-honest world. A world where corrupt and confusing messages from people who have hidden agendas are used to gain influence and change the course of history.

In South Africa, where we already have unique challenges and where our bastions of credibility have already been torn down by corruption, honesty has fast become a rare commodity.

Corruption is has a real cost. There’s an old saying ‘The fish rots from the head’ and it has never been more relevant than it is today. The corruption seeping down into institutions, organisations and individuals is empowered by unethical leadership. There are significant dangers posed by unethical behaviour in the corporate world. The past year has seen major commercial institutions crumble thanks to this behaviour. One thing remains true – no one company is immune to temptation. The move towards the unethical is present in every company, department and day.

To dodge the risk of an unethical company and the corruption that follows, it’s important to define a clear company culture from the outset. Employees need understanding of the company value system along with practical guidelines to help them make the right decisions regardless of the situation they may confront. The business has to find a way of defining ethics and morality and embedding these principles into the bedrock of the organisation.

The question is, of course, how?

Organisations need tools and strategies that will allow them to formulate clear and concise strategies when it comes to ethics. They need to encourage dialogue, challenge perceptions, create awareness and find common ground. The development of any culture around a specific ethical structure takes time and commitment – nothing is achieved overnight and nothing is achieved without a strong foundation.

In addition to clearly outlining the nature of ethics and how these are defined within the context of the organisation, it’s important to equally understand how the organisation defines unethical behaviour. It’s often said that there is no black and white, only shades of grey, so the business has to be prepared to provide employees with guidelines that give them the black and the white and no murky mix of grey. Find out what motives drive unethical behaviour and establish practical methodologies that allow for the fair treatment of ethical dilemmas.

Throughout all this, as the business works towards defining ethics and its code, there’s significant value in recognising ethical behaviour and rewarding it. Employees that naturally uphold honesty and ethics are worth their weight in cultural growth, and they deserve recognition.

Ultimately, this is a topic few organisations can risk ignoring. If corporate culture is vague and blasé, unethical behaviour usually follows in its shady footsteps. A robust and vibrant culture that rewards ethics, praises integrity and values honesty is more likely to thrive and grow and avoid the pitfalls of a toxic workplace.

From pop culture to behavioural studies to personal stories, there are various ways in which a company can translate its ethical vision into its culture and support its employees. The most important step is the first one – the one that helps employees move towards an honest and ethical company culture.

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