Ethical leadership looks like this

So, for those who wish to follow NSW RFS Shane Fitzsimmons example  http://bit.ly/3287QNQ, and be a leader for their people, how can you design workplace contexts where employees feel heard and can flourish?

Now that, thankfully, the dust has settled on the worst bush fire season in history it is fitting to reflect on the leadership displayed by Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons and the Commissioners from other states.  How does someone command an organisation of as many as 70,000 volunteers in a territory the size of Europe with only a relatively small number of paid staff?

The simple answer is a little part charisma (the sort of quiet charisma that exudes confidence and assurance rather than the loud variety), an unswerving on building robust organisational systems and genuine commitment to a shared purpose and goals.  These do not happen by accident. Some 10 years ago, Shane and his team revisited their culture and values.  This is a normal process for an organisation that had grown organically out of several organisations controlled by local councils to one state-based, state-funded entity. The process of cultural renewal was an hugely collaborative one, taking almost 2 years and involving rounds of focus groups and consultation with brigades and captains meetings from the Queensland border down to the Victorian border, and from the far west to the South Australian border. Hundreds of people were involved, all discussing one simple question, “What sort of organisation should RFS look like into the future?”

At the core of this work was the creation of a set of 7 Values: mutual r-Respect, adaptability and resourcefulness, one team, many players, one purpose, integrity and trust, support, friendship, Camaraderie, community and environment, and knowledge and learning. These Values were then presented back to those same groups and meetings with a further opportunity to discuss and flesh out the behaviours that would exemplify the Values. For example under the Value of One Organisation is “consultation, acceptance and engagement of all stakeholders, both internal and external, are essential to the success of RFS”. The RFS is part of the community and society not separate from it. Under Integrity and Trust is “We take personal responsibility for actions and commitments that we make”. This vital statement is critical to success in times of crisis. As any leader will attest, when faced with the unknown or life-threatening situations, you need your people to know what the right thing to do is and know that they will be supported in decisions they make on their own, on the run. There is a saying that “ethics is the depth dimension of any organisation, only truly tested in times of crisis.”

RFS is a truly collaborative organisation which is unusual for a military-style organisation. Although it has a command structure that on the surface appears hierarchical and top-down, its decision making is devolved.  As often as we see Shane as the spokesperson, we see other leaders with equal authority on our television screens and on the airwaves. At times where a calm voice is called for, or where the strategies are called into question, Shane takes centre stage. We know intuitively that he is always there and that he will take the lead when it comes to the crunch. He is a person of enormous passion and empathy, compassion and inner strength.

In ‘downtimes’ when there are no crises to face, the organisation readies itself for the next one by reviewing and building organisational systems and members’ training. This also involves, engagement and motivation strategies, recruitment, asset reviews, analysis of future potential hazards, talking to its stakeholders so that, at the press of a button, it can be campaign-ready.

Two other Values that are critical to the success of RFS are Community and Environment and Knowledge and Learning. Under Community and Environment, they have the behaviour;  We see building community capacity as central to our mission” Despite the criticism that was levelled at the RFS for its ‘lack of backburning’ by less responsible politicians, volunteers and officers work all year round in managing the circumstances that can exacerbate fire conditions. Knowledge and Learning was added after extensive consultation across the state.  What emerged from these sessions was that there were many innovations at a brigade level, but there wasn’t always a platform for sharing these initiatives and making them standard. A good example of this was the introduction of aerial photographs of the topography of a region to better understand the likely conditions on the ground, including vegetation mix, that might impact on strategies for fighting fires and minimising harm.

Shane Fitzsimmons is a rare but textbook example of a leader “leading from the shadows”.  He empowers and inspires his people. He designs an organisational context where his people can thrive. He is not a crusader but a leader with a real fix on the superordinate purpose of his organisation. Constantly communicating that, in the field, is what sets him apart.

Managing Values is proud to say we walked alongside NSW Rural Fire Services on their two year values clarification journey.

 

 

Please fill out the form below to get in touch with us and to start the discussion about your business ethics issues. You can also call us now on 0430 889 850 or email us directly at attracta@values.com.au.

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Risk Management is about social design, not legal compliance

Despite the millions spent on ethics and compliance training programs, they have largely failed to protect valued brand names of our organisations here in Australia and across the globe.  Isn’t it time to radically rethink our existing approach to business ethics training and move away from a focus on instructing employees on what they can’t do?

Behaviour Science shows us that most people already know the right thing to do but are unable to translate their good intentions into actions.  Personal biases, organisational contextual pressures and a lack of social skills, leaves employees vulnerable to ethical fading and ethical blindness.

Today, regulators know where most of the ethical risks lie in business, so the outstanding challenge for leaders and risk managers is to design better workplace environments to enable employees to be forewarned and forearmed to the ethical challenges they will inevitably face.

Challenging existing mindsets is a necessary precursor to individual and organisational behaviour change.  We can easily observe how people are changing their behaviour all the time especially in response to new technologies. Science tells us that one of the main tasks of our brains is to help us adjust our behaviour when our environment or contexts change.  Let’s leverage this natural disposition to behaviour change and equip employees with the necessary social skills to recognise when they are bumping up against ethical norms of acceptable behaviour standards.

Although organisations talk a lot about ethics and compliance training, typically training initiatives are not designed by social scientists with training in human dynamics.  Instead, content is shaped by compliance professionals within a legal perspective.  The unintended consequence of this is that a lot of ethics initiatives fail to engage employees who see themselves as inherently ethical people. They dismiss such training as not relevant to them.

If then, the typical employees’ sense of self-identity is that of an ethical person, we need to build ethics initiatives from this perspective.  We can engage participants by demonstrating how honing better ethical decision-making skills will assist them to protect their self-image as being an ethical person.

Codes of Conduct have similarly failed to protect organisational reputations. They fail because they do not speak to the actual behaviour promoted or tolerated in the organisation.  Instead, they reflect legal obligations rather than ethical behaviour principles that enable employee’s engagement and commitment to shared standards of behaviour.  Codes of Conduct, like the Three Lines of Defence initiatives, fail because there is no social infrastructure to embed them in the reality of the day to day life of the organisation and its industry.

Harnessing personal motivations to organisational needs requires appropriate social infrastructure.  It is the quality of the organisation’s social context that enables desired behaviour patterns to emerge. Culture is a set of social relationships and, for these to flourish, requires initiatives designed to build consistency in perceptions, attitudes and social skills. It  begins with a focus on employees’ social needs such as a personal understanding of the social dynamics of who, why, how, when and where,  as it plays out in this organisation and its relationship to its external stakeholders.

Every employee wants to be successful so let’s start here and purposely nurture a living organisational social fabric enabling human flourishing.  It will also lead to effective risk management.

Please fill out the form below to get in touch with us and to start the discussion about your business ethics issues. You can also call us now on 0430 889 850 or email us directly at attracta@values.com.au.

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The human costs and consequences of #conflicts of interest

In a globally connected world where the detrimental impacts of self- interested decisions spawn hashtag frenzies of public outrage across the global stage, be it business or politicians, there is a growing consensus that merely complying with the letter of the law is no longer good enough.

Every decision that impacts on humans has an ethical dimension. Conflicts of Interest continue to be the most common type of unethical behaviour in organisations. They prevail because of a complex interplay between personal biases and rationalisations and organisational contextual pressures that promote ‘ethical fading’ and push members into actions not necessarily of their conscious choosing.

To be clear – and it beggars belief that politicians and business leaders with degrees in law, management and accounting, cannot comprehend what a conflict is – a conflict of interest exists where a person, organisation or member of a political party has an incentive to serve one or more stakeholders’ interest at the expense of others;  chooses self-interest over professional accountabilities or uses official capacity to obtain personal benefits. A simpler definition is conflict of interest is a vested interest; if you, or a friend or family member have something to gain or lose by a decision that you make, then you have a vested interest – an inherent conflict of interest prevails. This can mean putting the organisation’s interests before customers as we witnessed in the recent banking scandals; a political party’s interests before that of the communities they are elected to serve or, self-interest before role obligations as many claim has happened in the recent government allocations of sports grants in Australia.

The consequences and human suffering, resulting from these conflict of interest scenarios include:

  • the lack of respect displayed for those discriminated against
  • diminished public or community trust in the idea of procedural justice and fairness.
  • reduced belief in the ideal of professionalism or politicians’ integrity
  • a lowering of community standards around acceptable behaviour
  • environmental degradation
  • collective heightened angst around personal agency, autonomy, safety, rights and welfare

The trust factor is probably the most significant single negative consequence. In an organisation where conflicts of interest abound, people lose faith in their leaders, stop doing their best, tell their friends not to apply for jobs there and ultimately leave themselves because cronyism stifles human flourishing. At a political level, it’s associated with lack of transparency in decision-making, lack of procedural fairness and ultimately accountability, leads to diminished trust. If according to one poll, trust in politicians is as low at 18%, it begs the question, “what if voting was not compulsory?” What happens when people completely lose faith in the political system? Ultimately, it leads to massive tax avoidance – “why would we give them more money when they’ll only squander it?” and in the last stages civil disobedience as we’ve seen recently in Iraq, Iran and The Lebanon.

Despite the millions invested in compliance programs, they have failed to equip people to respond to the ethical dimension. They fail because they are rooted in the law and take their references from the past. Organisations sell their people short when they impose compliance mandates or could it be a case of ‘wilful blindness’?  Commitment to continuous personal reflection, evaluation and re-alignment with societal values rather than the letter of the law is the better investment for those seeking ethical decision-making skills that can respond appropriately to conflicts of interest and restore public trust in our major institutions.

Please fill out the form below to get in touch with us and to start the discussion about your business ethics issues. You can also call us now on 0430 889 850 or email us directly at attracta@values.com.au.

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Conduct risk flourishes where leaders fail to make it easier for their employees to voice concerns

The 2019 Global Business Ethics Survey (GBES) into unethical workplace behaviour again shows that conflicts of interest is the number 1 unethical practice observed by employees with some 34% of those who see it, failing to report it. Globally nearly one-half of all employees reported witnessing conduct risk.

Fear of retaliation – in the form of less working hours, missed promotional opportunities, unpopular work assignments – being a key reason why employees fail to speak-up. Despite the #metoo movement’s efforts to raise consciousness of the pervasive nature of workplace harassment, 46% of those reporting sexual harassment in 2019 continue to experience retaliation.

When employees do speak up, the 2019 survey again confirms that employees raise their concerns with their direct managers rather than anonymously. Typically, Australian workplaces do not provide specific training for managers in how to respond when employee raise concerns– is this an institutional barrier to managing conduct risk?

Lack of respect and civility in the workplace is the second most common type of observed misconduct. Abusive behaviour, i.e. behaviour that is aggressive, degrading and intimidating creates low trust workplaces. It not only lowers an organisation’s ethical standards, it also saps employee commitment and overall performance – another unspoken institutional barrier to increased employee productivity?

It is possible to change our workplaces to make them more civil, more inclusive and better able to listen and respond to employee’s concerns. For example, the 2019 survey found that employees reporting violations of health and/or safety regulations were less likely to experience retaliation ( with 30% experiencing retaliation vs the 46% reporting sexual harassment.)

Isn’t it way past time that leaders allocated sufficient resources to training managers and Exco leaders in how to respond when their people point to risks? Elearning won’t do it!

Isn’t it way past time leaders purposely stepped up to designing their organisational contexts to enable employees to feel safe when identifying organisational risks? We have the science to show us how to develop workplace cultures to encourage speaking up. Let’s use it.

Please fill out the form below to get in touch with us and to start the discussion about your business ethics issues. You can also call us now on 0430 889 850 or email us directly at attracta@values.com.au.

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Personal reputation and ethical challenge

Behavioural science shows that our sense of personal identity as an ethical person is highly valued and when publicly threatened we change our behaviour. The pressures we face in modern workplaces constitute a significant threat to our fulfilling our ethical ambitions as it is the workplace context, not our moral character, that is the biggest influence in how we choose to behave. It is relatively easy to be “ full of good intent”, but it is in “walking the talk” that that most of us fall short. The science shows us that we are inherently emotional rather than rational social creatures.

Forearming yourself against the inevitable workplace ethical challenges that lurk in modern workplace involves becoming familiar with the contextual, social, cognitive and emotional factors that shape our behaviour at work. Contextual pressures such as time, budget, remuneration or sales target pressures; social forces including our need to belong,to feel safe and to experience a sense of achievement; psychological pressures and our innate cognitive biases all conspire to dull our senses and leave us ethically blindsided. Key steps to build your ethical antennae include:

1. Invest time in clarifying what it is that you stand for and this will safeguard against falling for anything when under pressure

2. When under stress, ask yourself, will this action enhance my reputation or diminish it in the eyes of others?

3. Be on high alert when friends or family ask you to do them “a favour” that involves your workplace. Emotional loyalties can crowd out rational thinking.

4. When faced with a seemingly impossible target, ask yourself, how far am I prepared to go to get results and how this action raise or lower my ethical standards?

5. Tune into your rationalisations. The number one reason people do unethical things is to help their organisations, and they then justify their actions on the basis that the had “nothing personal to gain from it.”

6. Keep fit. We are predisposed to unethical actions when we are tired, stressed or believe we the workplace context is “unfair.”

7. Pay attention to how you or others choose to “frame” workplace decisions. “Can we” rather than “should we” frames excludes vital information from consideration. Decision-frames that screen out ethical concerns may be more common than moral compasses at leadership levels.

Developing the skills to canvass the ethical dimension of every workplace decision is a critical life skill in an era of instantaneous adverse media exposure.

Your mission, should you choose to accept, it is to hone the skills necessary to ensure you are capable of acting ethically.

Please fill out the form below to get in touch with us and to start the discussion about your business ethics issues. You can also call us now on 0430 889 850 or email us directly at attracta@values.com.au.

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Ethics in the finance sector starts with you

Isn’t it time we all looked to personal accountability and recognise that if we, as Mum and Dad investors or industry fund stakeholders, go chasing the highest returns through SMF’s or compulsory superannuation funds, then very little is going to change in how business gets done?  As the Westpac scandal unfolds, we are seeing the underside of shareholder supremacy at the expense of stakeholder accountabilities.

Bank leaders say shareholder pressure for short term results is forcing them into short term strategies at the expense of rising to a higher accountability for societal impacts – social, ethical, environmental and economic.  Is leaders’ vision of a sustainable business success curtailed by a tenure of 5.5 years – hardly long enough to set sail for more sustainable shores?

Isn’t it time the public debate focused on how societal values have shifted?  Mum and Dad shareholders now frightened at how today’s wealth is coming at the expense of their children and grandchildren’s futures.

Since we have all played a role in creating today’s business standards, isn’t it ethical that we all now play a role in bringing about change?  What can you do, and will you do it even if it means lower financial returns in the short-term?

Please fill out the form below to get in touch with us and to start the discussion about your business ethics issues. You can also call us now on 0430 889 850 or email us directly at attracta@values.com.au.

Would you like to bring business ethics in your company to the next level? Please fill out the form below to contact us.

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