The professionals’ role in a post-Covid environment

The ethical challenges for professionals

Digital technologies have made us all global citizens, where, in real-time, we see how business impacts at local and global levels.  These impacts heighten our professional, ethical accountabilities to ensure such impacts are not diminishing human social progress.

The human toll wrought by Covid-19 vividly demonstrated our shared humanity.  To ensure we create a better post-Covid world than the one that existed before, we must draw on our shared humanity and ability to reason. The pandemic exposed the shortfalls of our current leadership models and governance systems that have spawned a winners take all economy characterised by casualised labour, stagnant wages and human slavery; where business corruption is robbing societies of the medical, educational, and social investments needed to protect human flourishing.

Plan a new approach rather than “Snap Back”

The World Economic Forum (WEF) calls on those in power not to “snap back” to pre-Covid inequalities.  Instead, they call on professionals to leverage new digital technologies to design “moon shots” that consciously design for a more humane economy. They recognise that technologies are not neutral and can harm as well as enhance human well-being.  Named  The Great Reset , WEF is engaging leaders and sharing resources to ensure digital technologies are designed to enhance societal progress.

The accountancy profession is already helping to raise the ethical floor below the global marketplace, enabling better governance through integrated reporting. Still there is much more to do to answer Society’s call for ethical leadership.

Business leaders now find themselves on a global stage held to account for the intersection of ethical accountability and commercial imperatives. Existential questions around business’ role in addressing societal challenges, including climate emergency, AI’s impacts on global workforces; global corruption and the shape of humanity’s progress in a digital world, need to be addressed in Boardrooms around the world along with new governance models that learn from the mistakes of the past.

Global societal movements such as #MeToo, Black Lives Matter and climate emergency have made personal and organisational reputations vulnerable to changing societal values.  What happens inside corporations inevitably finds its way into the public arena, where accountability for ethical impacts is increasingly in focus.

New visions of responsible and responsive business goals

The good news is that many global leaders are already responding to WEF’s call for “A Great Reset”. They acknowledge that when the goal of the system changes, the system itself changes. They are talking about transforming capitalism to make it more inclusive and socially accountable and purposely designing human-centred systems.

All professionals have already signed up to protect Society’s interest as part of their professional license.  We need to venture further and assume a proactive role in ensuring new technologies enhance our human well-being. The accountancy and legal professions have a box seat steering the 4th Industrial Revolution, being embedded in institutions in all sectors.  These inhouse professionals can be midwives to the birth of a more socially inclusive world enhanced by digital technologies.

By assisting organisations to focus on human-centric designs as the characteristic of our Digital Age, professional will continue to raise the ethical floor below the global marketplace.


Edited version of the Dr. Attracta Lagan presentation at the APESB 15 Year anniversary event 21 May, 2021.

The APESB website has a range of resources to assist professional accountants with the APESB suite of pronouncements, including links to helpful external resources.

Visit the Resources page to download recent publications.

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    Is your organisational culture fit for purpose?

    We live in an online world where anything inside an organisation can find itself thrown into the public arena and onto the world stage. One tweet by a long-suffering employee or a fellow employee, no longer wishing to be part of a problem situation, and the organisation becomes the latest victim of our cancel culture.

    Is it then timely to “reset” our attitudes and mindsets to employee feedback? Time to move beyond regulatory compliance to a proactive orientation that actively builds the inclusive cultures needed to manage risk in a dynamic digital environment?

    Using evidenced-based research, leaders can design for the behaviours they need to support a “speak up culture.”

    Where do you start?

    In their recent organisational  transformation, global giant  Novartis began at the top by insisting that all their leaders hone a new set of skills to build “a listening culture.” This strategy recognises how leaders play a critical role in enabling employees to raise concerns, not just in how they design systems and processes to allow employees to speak up safely, but equally important in how leaders respond to issues raised.

    Evidence-based research affirms that employees are most likely to raise issues with their direct managers, so skilling middle managers to respond positively is a critical enabler of psychological safety.  Managers can model speak up practices by regularly disclosing their workplace challenges and inviting teams to share their personal experiences.  It is this mutual sharing of challenges and organisational barriers that keeps the focus on the system changes that must happen rather than being side-tracked onto issues of personal character and disposition.

    Organisational barriers

    Current field research highlights the critical organisational barriers that prohibit employees from speaking up:

    • Perceptions of inaction when issues are raised
    • Perceptions of an over-reaction to the issue raised (eg. zero-tolerance policies leading to instant dismissal)
    • Fear of personal retaliation
    • Poor past experiences of raising issues
    • Lack of personal clarity about compliance accountability

    These barriers are “known risks” and the root cause of low trust in organisations.  Organisational culture redesign initiatives can remove them.

    Design your culture to ensure it is fit for purpose

    Unfortunately, too few leaders today draw on evidence-based research and purposely oversee the design of their organisational culture.   Unintentionally they create the whistleblowing scenarios that emerge. They also kill innovation.  If people don’t feel safe, they cannot innovate and leave to find new places willing to welcome and listen to their input.

    Field research suggests that speak-up cultures result from “inclusive” leadership styles that encourage diversity, inclusion, and collaboration.  Leaders actively design their organisational context with strategies to build a social infrastructure that supports their people to:

    • Share their ideas and raise any issues of concern, knowing they are protected
    • Skill leaders at all levels to solicit, listen and respond to employee feedback
    • Put data mechanisms to track behaviour patterns
    • Publicly reward ethical behaviour and publicly demonstrate the consequences of inappropriate behaviour.

    Behaviour science makes it possible for all leaders to purposely design and manage the organisational cultures that emerge on their watch.

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      Give it a nudge

      Behavioural economics, contrary to its academic name, is a very human subject. It’s about the why and how of our everyday decisions – why we do and what we do.


      As such, behavioural economics provides powerful tools for leaders to help shape organisational design decisions to prompt more ethical behaviours. These tools enable leaders to use insights into human behaviour to create environments more likely to result in ethical behaviour as a norm, rather than relying solely on policies and procedures and the personal character of individuals. Behavioural economics points to a people-centred style of leadership, one attuned to human nature and to shifts in culture, as a way of achieving long-lasting positive organisational change.

      For those not familiar with this way of thinking it, Give it a nudge represents a great starting point. As the paper suggests, COVID-19 is a real opportunity to start the journey to rethink and redesign organisations with an understanding of people providing the directional arrows.

      One such insight is that we humans are inherently social by nature and we mostly want to do the right thing. We love feeling good about ourselves – so designing initiatives that acknowledge our social needs is important. It begins with identifying an overall social purpose for the organisation — one that enables employees to feel good about themselves and their role in helping to achieve positive social outcomes.

      For many, I suspect, this a different way of looking at the world. The exercise of rethinking and redesigning organisations based on the insights provided by behavioural economics requires a different type of leadership.

      It requires a mindset shift from control to collaboration, where leaders focus on facilitation and empowerment rather than edicts from on high. And it introduces a wonderful new world of nudges, framing and priming.

      Acting on a key insight for organisations provided by behavioural economics, that they have a social heart – they are social constructs – will go a long way towards helping rebuild public trust and faith in businesses and organisations.

      2021 represents a rare opportunity to break with old ways of doing things.

      Give it a nudge.

      Ainslie van Onselen LLB MAppFin
      Chief Executive Officer
      Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand

      This document was developed and written in partnership
      between Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand
      and Managing Values.




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        Realigning Organisational Values Post Covid-19

        Most organisations have guiding values. These values signal to employees and the marketplace how the organisation intends to pursue success. As employees begin to return to their workplaces, now is the time to review and refresh your values to better respond to the new business environment and be reassured you are meeting your employees’ social needs.


        The Continuum of Values


        Arrow Chart of Values


        Academic research suggests that values lie on a continuum. At one end is foundation values, and on the other, vision values. Focus values are somewhere in the middle. Both employees and organisations can find themselves moving up and down this continuum, especially in times of crisis.


        What Happens in Each Area of the Values Continuum?


        • When in foundation values, employees focus on how to protect themselves. Protecting their back comes at the expense of day to day performance.
        • When in focus values, employees trust their manager because they know what to expect. Managers behave in ways consistent with the organisation’s values. Employees can perform at their best. Together with their leaders, they can look towards a future vision of success for the organisation.
        • In vision values, employees are highly engaged. It is a win-win situation where employees are personally developing from their work experiences, and the organisation is reaping the benefits of high performing employees.

        Good managers keep their people in focus values by behaving consistently with organisational values so that employees know what to expect. When managers or leaders say one thing but do another, people feel unsafe because of the mixed signals. Employees move down the values continuum to foundation values and are robbed of workplace satisfaction and predisposed to disengaging with the enterprise.

        Values-led leaders behave in ways that are consistent with stated values. This consistency enables employees to move towards desired future states. Here, employees embrace new possibilities for themselves and their employing organisation.


        The Effects of Covid on Values


        The social and economic impacts of Covid-19 have demonstrated how uncertainty can push us towards foundation values; we “downshift” into survival mode. Leaders must now find ways to help move their staff back up to focus values. When this happens, employees can get on with their jobs, and the organisation can build towards a vision of thriving in its new context. Enabling employees to move back into focus values involves a lot of reassurance and trust-building. Employees need to know that leaders are focused on keeping them safe even as realigning organisational strategies to respond to the new normal. The additional benefit of working to keep employees in focus values is that it promotes psychological safety and well being and helps address the critical social needs of a post covid workforce.

        Employees can only move to a future vision they can imagine, so leaders must be talking about the organisation’s vision. The pandemic has given everyone an experience of how quickly they can change when necessary and has enabled employees to hone personal skills in change management, so leaning into change has become a new norm rather than resistance to change. Leaders can leverage these new change management skills to help employees reengage or realign with the organisation’s values and contribute to building a shared vision of success.


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          How do I know if I am an ethical manager?

          Field research finds time and time again that how managers behave has more significance on how employees behave and their willingness to accept ethical accountabilities than EXCO teams or CEOs. Such managerial influence brings important ethical responsibilities often not made explicit to newly appointed managers and team leaders.

          Reflecting on your managerial style is the first step to improving your ethical skill development and can begin by reflecting on these four indicators from ethics field research. Positive responses will indicate you are actively addressing the ethical dimension of management:

          1.  My team describes me as a fair manager

          2.  I know the strengths of individual team members

          3.  I know what might make my team do the wrong thing

          4.  I know how my personal biases shape my managerial style


          For those not quite there yet and still aspiring, key steps include:

          • Leading by example by talking about why the organisation’s values matter and linking them to how things get done. Sharing personal challenges in promoting values-based decisions to nurture psychological safety
          • Reviewing mindsets about management moving towards a mentoring style that promotes trust
          • Investing time in getting to know team member’s strengths, needs and preferences to empower them
          • Prioritising clarity on KPI’s while ensuring staff have the necessary resources to do their best work
          • Purposely designing your team’s culture to ensure it is inclusive and maintaining supervising communications to promote well-being
          • Regularly checking in with the team about existing ethical challenges or values tensions to encourage two-way communications
          • Mastering the skill of empathy to promote fairness and effective communications

          Most of us see ourselves as ethical people. Our ability to live up to our ethical ambitions depends on acquiring the skills necessary to respond to contextual challenges and maintaining a commitment to ensuring our impacts stay positive.

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            The role of business in future-proofing employability

            Digital transformation, automation robotics and the Internet of Things are transforming the world’s workplaces at breakneck speeds. By 2025, The World Economic Forum warns 54% of employees will require significant upskilling due to automation and AI advances. The Brookings Institute reports that 25% of American jobs are at a high risk of becoming automated by 2030. It’s not just Americans under threat. Australian employees could face an even higher risk from automation due to our resource-based economy. In the face of this warp-speed change, how are today’s business leaders enabling their staff to remain employable?

            The ever-increasing use of automation, AI and other new technologies heralds the 4th Industrial Revolution. Failing to act now could sentence current and future generations to permanent exclusion from economic participation.

            The workplace is not just a means to a pay packet. It’s where we as human beings develop our skills, find our purpose and self-actualise. If we can’t participate in the economy due to lack of skills, will personal development and social progress be stymied as a result?

            Business is the central institution in the world today. Private enterprise has both the reach and resources to dwarf many national governments. Business is therefore a key player in responding to the increasing employability challenge. It has the luxury of taking the long view while governments increasingly restrict their horizons to the next election date.

            Leading businesses such as Unilever and Ikea are Business could also take the lead in shaping the digital transformation of our economy.

            The interdependence of social prosperity and economic prosperity is undisputed. The devastating social impacts of the GFC on global youth unemployment, and more recently the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, stand as stark reminders of this interdependence. Society’s continued progress now depends on business leaders addressing the impacts that emerging technologies will have and designing strategies to offset potential consequences.

            The good news is that leading brands such as PWC, Accenture, Microsoft or Mastercard, are already investing substantially in upskilling or reskilling their staff to safeguard their employability as the economy evolves. Leaeading organisations are also working alongside national governments and global institutions like the World Economic Forum, World Trade Organisation and the United Nations. These collaborations seek to develop strategies and allocate resources into comprehensive training and skilling programs.

            The challenge today, which every Board and Exco team faces, is the ethical challenge of participating in these visionary initiatives to ensure they are playing their part in protecting society’s place in the work environment. Social progress and prosperity depends on the outcome of this collaboration.

            Visionary business leaders have already moved their HR functions into the strategic domain, on par with other business imperatives. They recognise that investing in organisational learning is critical to long-term sustainability and comes with a significant ethical dimension. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait too long for others to join them.

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