Business ethics is not a new concept, but it's one that has been gaining greater attention in recent years. While the headlines have been dominated by large-scale problems, such as those at firms like Enron, often it's the smaller issues that take a toll on companies. For instance, in the IT department, you may have concerns about employees copying company software for personal use or falsifying information on their time cards or expense reports. Research from the Ethics Resource Center, a nonprofit organization that promotes ethical practices, has shown that while 52 percent of employees have observed at least one form of misconduct in the workplace over the course of a year, just 55 percent reported it to management. These violations can not only prove costly in a financial sense but also chip away at an organization's positive culture and its reputation. The solution is to look beyond just having a code of ethics and make ethics a core value in your department.
1. Set the tone at the top
As an executive, you set the example for your entire group. If you adhere to the highest standards of behavior, your team is more likely to follow suit. Even one mistruth or lapse in judgment can have negative consequences. For instance, if employees observe you downplay the severity of an IT problem when communicating with other executives, you send the message that dishonesty is acceptable.
2. Develop written guidelines
It is helpful to create a formal document outlining ethics policies in your group. Even if your company has a general code of ethics, you might consider having a brainstorming session with IT staff to customize it so you can include specific examples that are timely and relevant to your department. For instance, technical support staff may face common ethical quandaries in their work, such as what to do when they discover employees have downloaded inappropriate content to their computers, and best practices can be detailed in the document. A code of ethics can serve as a helpful reference when employees are faced with challenges and are unsure of appropriate action.
It is helpful to have a process in place to inform your team. For example, once a formal document is finalized, you might ask staff to return a signed form stating they have received and read through all of the guidelines and agree to abide by them. While this won't prevent all problems, it can provide extra assurance that employees are at least aware of the rules. There may be additional requirements involved so be sure to work with your firm's legal council to determine an appropriate plan of action.