Q: How can I communicate to employees that my company values ethical business practices?

A: I think that most people in business have forgotten that Watergate started a concern in organizations about mission, vision and values. These items were on corporate agendas for several years. Unfortunately, most of the activity revolved around defining--not implementing--them. This isn't unexpected, as most organizations seem to think that telling people about values or getting them to agree on the right values is tantamount to living them. Of course, companies like Enron and WorldCom showed the folly of that thinking. No doubt all these companies had their missions, visions and values posted on the walls of corporate headquarters and on their Web sites.

It is important that organizational values and business ethics are clearly defined, but that is only the beginning of making them a part of the culture. As a part of training and development of values and ethics, many "what if" scenarios should be developed so that employees can react to possibilities where they might have to make a decision between the right thing to do and something that is a personal or business expediency. Although all situations cannot be covered, you should have enough--20 or 30--so that people can form a concept of the right thing to do.

Once you have defined what's acceptable and what is not, you should plan how the organization will respond to employees who do the right thing. For example, if someone makes a business decision that is consistent with organizational ethics and values, but causes the company to lose business, will the person be rewarded or be criticized and have a black mark on their record? If the organization doesn't hold these people up as positive examples of the culture, chances are that values and ethics will only be something people talk about.

The next thing you should do is examine how you respond to people who do not reach their goals. In my opinion, most lying and cheating in organizations are not for personal gain but to avoid embarrassing or humiliating consequences within the organization. Look at your management practices to see if you frequently take success for granted and consistently punish failure. If you do, you can count on people changing the numbers to look better than they should, blaming others for their mistakes and hiding errors.

Finally, make sure you don't limit winners in your organization. If you talk in terms of the "top performer" or the "best performer," you can be sure that some people will try to win at the expense of other employees.

In summary, you should:

  1. Specifically define values and ethics as they relate to vendors, customers and employees.
  2. Train employees using specific examples as they relate to your business.
  3. Plan and put into practice a positive response to people who make difficult choices.
  4. Examine how you respond to success and failure within your organization.
  5. Make sure you reinforce all who make an improvement, not just a select few.

If you follow these simple steps, people will do the right thing--or at least you'll know that you've done all you can to assure it.

Aubrey C. Daniels, Ph.D., founder and CEO of management consulting firm Aubrey Daniels & Associates (ADA), is an internationally recognized author, speaker and expert on management and human performance issues. For more about ADA's seminars and consulting services or to order Aubrey's book Bringing Out the Best in People: How To Apply The Astonishing Power of Positive Reinforcement, visit www.aubreydaniels.com, or contact Laura Lee Glass at (800) 223-6191 or lglass@aubreydaniels.com.


The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.