It’s happening again. Broad corporate (including the public sector) memory seems unable to recall that the following two things do not work to address unethical behaviours occurring within organisations:
A superficial “cultural audit”, “cultural realignment” or any other phase with “culture” simply added for effect
Such an audit being led by the unqualified or dubiously qualified person
Applied organisational ethics is a well-established field of study in its own right. Therefore, allowing the unqualified to have a go at it, because they have been in the business a long time or because they are senior enough, is similar to removing your own brain tumour, or less dramatically letting someone without a law degree, “have a go at” taking care of a law suit against the company. Watch this space as a former this or a former that is dusted off to lead cultural review for organisations that experience everything from sexual harassment to bribery scandals or anything else that is revealed during a royal commission.
Don’t misunderstand me I have a lot of time for drawing on the recent corporate experience of accomplished people. And, a former this or a former that may be a good face to lead sweeping reform, but they will not be successful without applying a valid, proven methodology to the breadth and depth of the problem. In fact, they can often exacerbate the problem if they focus too narrowly on the visible symptoms of a culture in need of help.
So, what is the solution? Bear with me as I pivot (yes-despite Covid, still a valid word) to the Jet Airliner Analogy, to help explain the solution.
A Jet Airliner has many systems that allow it to safely fly passengers from point A to point B. When a failure is detected in one of those systems and the jet is grounded it would not make sense to simply fix and review that single system in isolation to all other systems. Why, because there is too much at stake – including human lives.
Yet when an ethical incident or systemic ethical failures are detected in a sector or organisation the response often concentrates on fixing one system or criteria such as Behaviours (including, for example, unacceptable workplace harassment). The reasons for this are often related to ignorance of the fact that addressing unethical conduct and encouraging ethical conduct and its associated benefits is complex and involves 26 inter-related systems (or criteria) across an organisation.
Assuming that Governments, Boards and Organisational Leaders who commission “cultural reviews” are genuinely interested in improving the long-term viability of their organisations and are not just making a show of it; they must review, address short comings and maximise opportunities across all 26 criteria/systems which contribute to organisational culture. Those criteria/systems are:
The analysis of opportunities and risks regarding enhanced service delivery & market share through examination and recommendations relating to the criteria of, values, behaviours, understanding staff, competitive advantage, key organisational factors & reducing unethical behaviour opportunities.
The analysis of opportunities and risks regarding, improved performance through positive workplaces and organisational culture through examination and recommendations relating to, support mechanisms, achieving goals, positive workplaces, workplace orientations, workplace pressures and customer/client practices.
The analysis of opportunities and risks regarding, enhanced organisational leadership through examination and recommendations relating to, active ethical leadership, leadership training, decision making, motivating, employees, managers/supervisors, senior leaders & the Board.
The analysis of opportunities and risks regarding, improved corporate risk management capability through examination and recommendations relating to, corporate analysis, systems, compliance, internal communications, outward facing communications & internal investigations.
To the decision makers I say, if you are serious, take the time to review and enhance the culture thoroughly as the benefits will pay out for a long time to come.