Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Employee Ethics and Behavior Starts at the Top

Poor employee behavior isn't always the problem of a bad apple but can be a symptom of bigger issues at the top of the organization. All poor behavior and ethical lapses occur within a socioeconomic context that includes personal, professional, economic, and psychological aspects that make such actions more or less likely. When multiple poor behavioral situations and ethical lapses occur the top becomes suspect.

The vast majority of people are followers. They follow each other in dress, mannerisms, behavior and thoughts. If someone jumps up and throws an opinion into a crowd people begin to accept that opinion quickly without critical thought only because others seem to agree. Behavior may not be as individualized as we believe.

The behavior of employees and executives is largely determined by the expectations of people around them (Oxley & Oxley, 1963). In other words, a single bad actor could be an outlier but multiple bad actors are more associated with the contexts of where they live and work. Organizational leaders should be held to account for multiple incidents.

Consider how multiple ethical violations from different people are more likely to be a result of leadership. Sometimes these incidents center around a single department or manager while other times they represent the entire organization. When this occurs policies, procedures, cultures, and leadership become suspect.

The people at the top set the expectations in behavior and mannerisms for everyone else. If production is rewarded based on certain metrics then it will be these metrics, and nothing else, that will matter in the overall assessment of performance and its subsequent reward. It is hard to blame the individual employee for doing what is not only in their best interest but also expected by the leadership team.

Change is not impossible but does require some strategic rethinking. The metrics may need to be switched around or rotated with new metrics to keep people thinking and changing. There may be different metrics used to help round out decisions. Lines of communication can be improved and different people can be hired to work within the organization. A better assessment of stakeholder concerns could be necessary and incorporated into the culture of a workplace. 

Oxley, G. & Oxley, G. (1963). Expectations of Excellence. California Management Review, 6 (1). 

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