Thursday, September 4, 2014

Formal and Cultural Influences in Successful Corporate Ethics Training



Ethics training is offered in most workplaces throughout the country in an effort to encourage compliance and the promotion of values. The principles learned within a corporate training session may be short lived without substantial cultural improvements that support appropriate values. A study by Warren, et. al. (2014) delves into the success of such corporate training to help determine whether they have real value or are only cosmetic by nature.  The report highlights the need to provide further support for ethics through cultural improvements.

In a perfect world people will hold ethical values regardless of the environment they traverse. The problem is we don’t live in a perfect world and have to deal with issues related to human behavior, motivation, and decision making. Corporate ethics training is designed to help support ethical behavior in the workplace by providing information on appropriate practices and avenues for reporting unethical behavior. 

The Theory of Responsive Regulation attempts to define regulations purpose and reach in influencing corporate decision making. Self-regulation of behavior is most important and formal controls should only be implemented when this self-regulation fails. A problem should exist before regulatory constraints are needed to curb unwanted corporate behavior. 

Training provides an avenue for formalizing workplace expectations as well as providing information on its legal structure. Strong programs are comprehensive and set a standard while weaker programs simply provide material to show they complied with legal requirements. Too often the benefits of these programs are short-lived as employees must deal with other workers, bosses, and environmental challenges that do not necessarily support ethical behavior. 

The actual environment employees work and live within will have the most profound impact on behavior as they must naturally make decisions based upon the options currently available to them. Work places that only pay lip service to ethics are unlikely to experience higher levels of ethical behavior unless stronger values are implemented into the culture that employees experience on a daily basis. 

The study found that within the first year of ethical training employees were able to discern ethical from unethical behavior.  In the second year they were able to discern differences less but still maintained positive residual benefits of ethics training. Corporate training should be followed by internalization of ethical values systems through cultural adaptation to ensure that results are long lasting. It is not enough to implement ethical training without adjusting the environment to strengthen positive behavioral outcomes.

Warren, D. et. al. (2014). Is formal ethics training merely cosmetic? A study of ethics training and ethical organization culture. Business Ethics Quarterly, 24 (1).

1 comment:

  1. Very informative article. I liked it.
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