Management theory has long held that if you can’t measure something, you can’t manage it.

A relevant example is your HIV status. Knowing your HIV status and monitoring it regularly is a central feature of the HIV/Aids campaign, and many prominent South African leaders have supported this by publicizing their tests. This approach recognizes that knowing your status allows you to act in specific response to the result: whether maintaining your safe behaviour to maintain a negative result, or seeking support and medication to best manage a positive result.

But, do you know the ethical status of your organisation?

If you doubt this, consider that you would automatically assess the honesty, trustworthiness and reliability of the handyman you allow into your home, or of the garage doing your vehicle repair. If you were taking out new insurance cover, you would assess the company’s fairness. You would almost certainly notice if there was a gap between what the company said it would do and what it actually did if that applied, for example, to your medical aid claim. In other words, you would automatically be assessing their ethical status.

So too do others assess your ethical status.

They assess it based on a myriad of things, from press reports to what your employee said about the company or its leaders over the weekend. It includes how you treat your customers, your suppliers and other stakeholder groups, whether there is a gap between what you say and do, and whether your values are lived or just framed on the wall.

And, their assessment of your ethical status view is important because it affects your organisation, either positively or negatively.

A positive assessment of your ethical status positively influences the quality of your relationships with all your stakeholders, be that employee commitment or customer loyalty, and supports the recruitment and retention of top talent for employees and your board. Other positive results include easier access to capital, lower cost of capital and increased brand equity. Ultimately, this all adds up to a source of competitive advantage, a very valuable commodity in today’s economy.

A negative assessment is of course very damaging on many, many fronts: for corporate reputations, for brand equity, for client retention, or even for the on-going operation of the business. Your negative ethical status will not be accorded any form of confidentiality. Quite the contrary: it may be very newsworthy and widely shared.

But, positive or negative, first you have to know your status. And, not just for today, not just after the bribery or corruption charges have hit the press, but all the time by regularly monitoring it.

You should know your ethical strengths, weaknesses or potential weaknesses. You should know what the most important ethical issues are that require your attention. And, you should know what to do to improve ethics in your organisation and what your priorities are.

Then you have to act on those results, to either maintain or improve them. Action is not an optional extra. It is imperative. And it is a great solution to improving or rebuilding trust and confidence in your organisation.

Tackling ethics often seems like a very daunting task, an area where making a difference appears hard to do. If you are faced with repairing the damage and rebuilding trust, this will be a difficult task - but one which should not be avoided.

The Ethics Monitor is a web-based survey which measures the ethical status of organisations. The survey provides in-depth results to enable focused action in support of the proactive management of workplace ethics. The Ethics Monitor is based on a simple, effective formula: Ethical status = (awareness + measurement / monitoring + action) x per annum.

Persuading your key stakeholder groups to spend 5 minutes to complete the survey may well be the best time investment you make if it allows you to improve ethics in your workplace and achieve a positive ethical status.

Cynthia Schoeman
MD, Ethics Monitoring & Management Services (Pty) Ltd

April 2011

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