‘…biases in how we make ethical decisions can’t be captured in policies, rules and procedures, or a code of conduct.’

‘…biases in how we make ethical decisions can’t be captured in policies, rules and procedures, or a code of conduct.’

A brief AretéThoughts Q&A with Richard Bistrong…

What is the most important contribution behavioural ethics can make to the lives of people in organisations?

As Ann Tenbrunsel and Max Bazerman share in Blindspots: Why We Fail to Do What’s Right and What to Do About It:

“…our perceptions and decision making are constrained in ways we don’t realize.”

And those biases in how we make ethical decisions can’t be captured in policies, rules and procedures, or a code of conduct.

By better understanding behavioural ethics, we can appreciate and address what might influence people in what I call the “I’m not sure zone.” That’s the zone, speaking as former “commercial Richard,” where employees might think they are in the cross-hairs of competing corporate objectives, between the pressure to succeed and the pressure to comply.

If we can use social psychology and behavioural ethics to understand those pressure points and blind-spots, then we can help those who face both risk and opportunity in their work to realize their true potential as ethical agents, and to make good choices when it matters the most, and a tough ethical decision is at hand.

What is your current favourite book or podcast and why?

What I really enjoy are books that are not written for Ethics and Compliance leaders, but which have significant implications and are engaging reads for E & C leaders.

A few examples are Can You Hear Me: How to Connect in a Virtual World, by Nick Morgan, which I think is a must read given our current virtual and hybrid training environment (with thanks to Christian Hunt, one of my favorite podcasters, for the recommendation).

Another all time inspiring read is Fusion: How Integrating Brand and Culture Powers the World’s Greatest Companies by Denise Lee Yohn. This is one of my “must” compliance reads, where Denise demonstrates how when we fuse external brand messages with internal culture, that we unleash untapped talent, engagement and culture within organizations. It’s essentially a call for organizations to think as much about their internal culture and value messages as they do they external branding. By the way, I have a “My Compliance Library” column in Compliance Week, so if anyone would like to email me I would be happy to share my book reviews!

What action could a company take that would make a difference to successful recovery from the pandemic?

Business leaders are rightfully distracted right now, especially as they try to resume operations and recapture market share, often in new markets and with a redefined product/service portfolio. And we know that when there is an increase in workforce stress, uncertainty and anxiety, that there is greater likelihood of an increase in workforce misconduct along with a decrease in workforce engagement. But this doesn’t have to be a perfect storm if we affirmatively address this tension. And I think there are two pillars to proactive outreach:

The first is that it needs to be done often, and avoiding what Amy Edmondson in The Fearless Organization (another favorite book), calls “Dangerous Silence.” No news does not necessarily mean good news, so if you want to make sure that everyone appreciates that as E & C leaders, you are there to make sure that no one person, or the organization as a whole, is left with a regulatory crisis after the current health and economic crisis has passed, then multi-channel outreach is so critical.

The other pillar is to help your business peers appreciate that in this crisis environment, that when messages of ethics, integrity and sustainable business practices come out of their voice, the voice of business, that it sounds so much louder to the workforce. When business leaders are on a forward foot when it comes to setting ethical expectations, it sounds like doing what’s right isn’t a support function, it’s “how things get done around here,” through the corporate narrative, not just the legal one.

Richard Bistrong is the CEO of Front-Line Anti-Bribery and spent 20 years as a global sales executive. He can be reached at richard@richardbistrong.com or his website at richardbistrong.com where you can subscribe to his newsletter. And he tweets, and tweets often at @richardbistrong.