Have you had one of those re-energizing moments where you want to take something you heard and act upon it right away? That was my experience at the recent Health Care Compliance Association (HCCA) Annual Institute in late April. Participating in a discussion with a room full of compliance and ethics professionals on the topic of business ethics, I found myself wanting to bring ethics more to the forefront of my daily interactions at work.
I read last year’s Wall Street Journal article, “Why We Lie,” to learn an important point: People are less apt to cheat or lie when given reminders of the right things to do at the time they are making a decision. Although we think our ethics training is fabulous, it appears to have less impact on the decisions that good people make every day to do the right thing (or not). The author, a professor of Behavior Economics at Duke University, goes on to describe the contagious nature of cheating, where others may follow the lead of the cheater.
So the takeaway is this: the tone at the top of an organization is important. Another educator in his blog about business ethics reviewed the notion that the “top” may not always be the C-Suite, but rather those leaders in middle management in which the majority of employees interact. In most organizations, the middle manager shoulders the responsibility to be the example of the company’s Code of Conduct in action. To do what’s right because it’s the right thing to do and to show others how to live the company values. After all, it’s the choices made by individuals that help to shape the culture of an organization.
I then reviewed my company’s guidance on ethical decision-making, which provides a message to maintain uncompromising honesty, respect, and fairness in our conduct. Hopefully most readers are as fortunate as I am to work for a company that places an importance on ethics.
So with this in mind, how might we impact ethical decision making?
- Keep immersed in the topic of business ethics – follow a blog or read the latest book.
- Focus on the middle management when you provide education on ethics.
- Look for those who might be cutting corners and work with them to make better decisions.
- Keep good people good by giving reminders before, not after, decisions are made.
I plan to copy a suggestion from the same Wall Street Journal article, which advised we could have less fudging if we signed our tax returns prior to completing them. The subtle reminder at the top of the form could help to keep us honest. Applying that principle to compliance would mean moving the attestation statement to the top of the quiz for compliance training. Instead of waiting until someone completes the quiz and then attests to taking the training, we’ll be moving that statement up front.
Finding little lies or cheating to be acceptable appears to be a slippery slope and can lead to a full loss of one’s ethical behavior. Sending reminders of the right behaviors by putting our Codes of Conduct into action will be noticed and keep the good people on track to being good.
Camille Cohen is the Compliance Officer with 3M Health Information Systems.