Can you proactively deal with ethical code of conduct issues? Each employee at my company used to get a code of conduct book and we had to sign that we had reviewed and understood it. It talked about the acceptable behavior that each employee was expected to follow. We then moved to a computerized training that we could complete where different examples were reviewed and then we were quizzed on the right way to ethically handle the situation. This training made me realize how many situations can occur every day. For people who don’t really understand all of the policies and why they exist, they could fall in the trap of doing something that could get them in trouble or worse get the company in trouble.
Let’s imagine for a second, that you are following all of the rules. However, one of your peers or your manager is not. What do you do then? Obviously, this is a difficult situation to be in and needs to be handled appropriately. Once you know about the situation, you need to do something about it. There are small issues that may be easier to fix. It could be simple as a direct conversation with the person to address the issue and setting expectations going forward. What if it is a bigger situation that could put the company at fault? If a company has an employee who does something that is outside of the code of conduct, the company could still be held accountable.
One example could be a conflict of interest issue where a vendor employee asks a company employee to do something that isn’t right. The right answer is that the employee should tell the vendor no and escalate the situation to both the company and the vendor’s management. Then you have to decide if the vendor should be fired or did the vendor employee do this on their own? You need to pay attention to how the vendor handles it and watch out for any other issues that may occur. You may decide to cut ties with the vendor all together, which may be appropriate, but it has impacts operationally that you may need to deal with too.
Other examples could be insider stock trading, major expense report issues or sexual harassment. These are much larger criminal issues and the exposure is much greater. How would you address these type of issues if you identify them? Do you meet with the person directly? Do you raise the issue with their boss or Human Resources? Do you raise the issue through an anonymous tip line instead (if it is available?) Each company may have different approaches of what to do when you see one of these serious situations occur. It may be a group that you contact within the company that can investigate what you have found or you may need to escalate it to senior management. This is one of the most challenging things to deal with as an employee, but you have to do what is right to address the issue. Share what evidence you have found and what you know so the company can investigate it.
Now you think to yourself, I have done my part and the company will address it. You may not be told how the company will deal with the issue, unless you see that the person is fired. The majority of companies will handle it appropriately and deal with the problem through legal channels. What if the company you work for doesn’t handle it appropriately though? What if they choose to sweep it under the rug and just give the person a slap on the wrist? Now you have a decision to make. By choosing to avoid the situation, the company is now acting unethically and covering up for the person. Do you want to stay with the company? Do you trust that there will not be any backlash on you for raising the issue? Do you trust that it won’t happen again? I would hope that no one would have to deal with this type of situation, but unfortunately it does happen.
My best advice is to be a leader who acts ethically at all times. Have a conversation with your team to set expectations with them that they need to act ethically too. There are so many issues that can occur and it may not be you who finds the problem, but someone who works for you. Understand your workplace processes and procedures on how to address these things. There is an expectation that once you know about a situation, you will do something about it. Escalating the issue and addressing it sends the message that you are a leader of integrity and that there is a zero tolerance for ethical issues.
The ReVISION program can help you focus on action plans and coaching to improve your integrity and your leadership. If you haven’t heard about the program yet or would like more information, you can click on this link and get signed up!
February 20th session will begin at 7:00pm (CST)
February 21st sessions will begin at 8:00am (CST) and Noon (CST)